Group work and specific learning difficulties

A list of suggestions to help facilitate the inclusion of students with splds in group work situations

Considering learners with specific learning difficulties in group work situations

Students with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia will often have an IQ in the top 10% of the population – but their processing speed, short term memory, and reading and writing speed can be in the bottom 10% compared to students of a similar age. These students can bring many skills to group work situations (creativity, problem solving and strategic thinking can be real strengths) - but in order to facilitate their participation, other group members will need to be aware of the challenges that they face.

The suggestions below aim to facilitate effective team-working by providing information about the impact of having a specific learning difficulty on group work. Awareness on the part of other team members will help the group to function more effectively by creating an environment where all members of the team will feel able to contribute their ideas. 

1)      Set ground rules for the group

Most people work best in a structured environment with clear rules and expectations.  This helps to create a calm rather than chaotic work setting.  Autistic students particularly benefit from an approach where ground rules and expectations are clear from the start.

2)      Consider the setting

Some students (such as those with autism or AD(H)D) are sensitive to noise, light and smell.  If possible, choose a quiet place to meet that is free from distractions.  

3)      Provide an agenda for group work meetings

Planning meetings in advance and producing an agenda means that group members can come prepared. Students with dyslexia, for example, will need more time than other students to read and research material in preparation for a meeting. They will not be able to read and immediately understand material that is presented in the meeting itself.  Providing an agenda also reduces anxiety for students who find group work challenging.

4)      Provide time for group members to process information

In group work meetings, discussion can be fast-paced and sometimes unstructured. This is difficult for students with specific learning difficulties who need more time to process information in order to understand it.  When new ideas are being generated, slow down and take opportunities to summarise and reflect on what others are saying. Phrase such as ‘So, are you suggesting that…’ and ‘Can I just check that I have understood your idea?’ are useful ways of consolidating the information.  This is essential for students with specific learning difficulties who often need to hear information more than once (and using different forms of words) in order to process and remember the information. 

5)      Assign the note-taking role to a member of the group who is confident in this area

Writing speed is often significantly slower in students with specific learning difficulties. The task of listening, processing and then writing a full set of notes at speed is therefore very challenging.  It may be more efficient to choose a note taker who is confident in this area – and who can then type up and share the notes with other members of the group.  Students with dyslexia may be prepared to take on other roles – such as producing the agenda for the meetings – in place of the note-taking role.   

6)      Create a positive environment that boosts confidence and creativity

If ideas are written down on a whiteboard or flipchart, don’t criticise the spelling or grammar of group members.  If the ideas are captured in ways that everyone can understand, the spelling is unimportant.  If other group members laugh at spelling or grammar, the team member with dyslexia is much less likely to contribute ideas in future meetings.  It may also deter other group members from contributing.

7)      Allocate writing tasks well before the deadline

If the group are producing a report, bear in mind that students with specific learning difficulties will need more time than other students to produce their section. The process of research, note-making and writing can take weeks, so plan what each team member needs to produce well in advance of any deadline and avoid last-minute allocation of tasks. Some students can write 2,000 words in one sitting – but students with specific learning difficulties cannot do this.   Planning writing tasks well in advance will also help students with autism and anxiety – as well as those who have long term health conditions that flare up when under stress.  

If you have any questions about this information, please email the AccessAbility Centre:     


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