One of the big decisions students must make at the very beginning of their History Day process is if they want to work as an individual or as part of a group. This decision, maybe even more so than their topic choice, will have the biggest impact on their History Day process and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I have watched students in many classrooms, when first presented with the History Day project and the individual/group options, immediately start craning their necks to look around the room, seeking out their friends and beginning that silent communication of finger-pointing to indicate potential group members. Understandably, most students latch onto their best friends. But for a project as monumental as History Day, it is always best (for the student and the final product) that a little more thought goes into that decision.
Few things can create or destroy friendships quite like History Day. It is a long, in-depth, challenging project that requires much communication and collaboration, and inevitably, some group members don’t hold up their end of the bargain or group members begin to butt heads when it comes to decision-making.
This is not to say that all group History Day projects are a disaster. Some of the best projects and most enduring friendships come from History Day partners who master the art of group work. But those successes come from students who are adept at doing the following things well: efficiently dividing up the workload, solving problems maturely, making decisions fairly, and communicating well throughout the whole process.
As your students are deciding their group status, encourage them to think about it before beginning the finger-pointing across the classroom. Who can you work with for long periods of time? Will you all do your share of the work? Will any personality differences get in the way?
Ultimately, students who feel nervous or uncomfortable about working in a group can choose to work individually. There are, of course, benefits and drawbacks to this decision as well, but it’s much harder to have a fight with yourself than with your History Day partner.