Canvas Groups: An Introduction

Many instructors use groups in their courses for collaborative learning. This entry explains how to create Canvas groups and gives some suggestions for how to use them. But before we dive into the “how-to’s” of Canvas groups, we need to explain a few things about how this tool works.

What Should I Know about Canvas Groups?

Please be aware of the following before planning to use Canvas groups:

  • Groups are not the same as sections. If you want to use Canvas groups for sections in your site, then you’ll have to manually create them.
  • Selecting “This is a Group Assignment” isn’t enough to make a group assignment. You’ll also need to make Group Sets and Subgroups (please see the next section for instructions). We recommend making Group Sets and SubGroups before you set up a group assignment.
  • Teachers and TAs can access any groups in a site, but students can only access groups to which they’ve been added.
  • By default, SpeedGrader lists group-assignment submissions by group name, not by individual student. If you select “Assign Grades to Each Student Individually” for an assignment, then SpeedGrader switches back to the student-name list.

Now that we’ve covered how Canvas groups work, let’s take a look at how to create them.

How Do I Create Groups in Canvas?

Creating groups in Canvas is a two-step process:

1.) Create a Group Set:

A Group Set works like a category for organizing Subgroups (Canvas’s name for student groups). So, for example, if you want to assign group presentations, start by creating a Group Set (You could call it “Presentations” or something else that indicates the purpose of the Group Set).

Here are instructions for making Group Sets:

How do I create a new group set?

2.) Select the type of Subgroups:

You must decide which type of Subgroups—the groups of students who’ll work together—you want in the Group Set. You have the option to let your students pick their Subgroup by having them sign up; to have Canvas automatically assign students to Subgroups; or to manually create Subgroups, which means you can handpick the students for each Subgroup.

Here are instructions for setting up self-assign (students’ choice) Subgroups:

How do I create self sign-up groups?

Here are instructions for creating auto-assign (Canvas’s random selection) Subgroups:

How do I automatically assign students to groups?

Here are instructions for creating manual-assign (instructor’s choice) Subgroups:

How do I manually assign students to groups?

Please note that you’ll also need to assign students to each Subgroup if you use the manual-assign Subgroup option. There are instructions for how to do this in the “Manual Assign via . . .” sections in the link above.

Once you create Group Sets and Subgroups, your students can start working in their groups.

When Would I Use Canvas Groups?

Canvas groups are great for the following (please click on links for instructions):

How Can I Get Started with Canvas Groups?

You can begin making groups immediately after students are added to your Canvas site.

Please note that it’s best not to manually assign students to groups until after the add-drop period; otherwise, you may have to rearrange group enrollments if students drop your course.

Please contact if you have any questions about groups in Canvas.

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