Teaching Resources

Teaching in Small Groups: Tips (printable sheet)

Why should you utilize small group teaching?
  • Small-group teaching is a common and effective model for learning medicine.
  • Teaching in small-groups offers important advantages over the lecture format:
    ♦ Facilitates active learning: students can direct teaching objectives
    ♦ Empowers adult approach to learning, an approach to cultivate lifelong    learning
    ♦ Encourages student to take responsibility for their own learning
    ♦ Promotes deeper understanding of the material through interaction with and    among learners and teachers
    ♦ Enhances critical reasoning and problem solving skills
    ♦ Develops skills in communication, teamwork and presentation
What you should know about small group teaching?
  • There are many (often under-utilized) opportunities for teaching and learning in the small-group setting, both formal and informal, and with all levels of learners.
  • Small-group teaching is learner-centered which helps the teacher to understand how learners are progressing, and to facilitate their growth of knowledge and skills, both individually and as a group.
  • In small-group learning, participants take responsibility for their own learning, for the work of the group, and for enhancing their peers' learning.
  • Teaching in a small-group allows the teacher to assume different roles depending on the teaching context and the learners' needs. In fact, the teacher's role may change even within a single session.
  • Learners benefit from their own clinical experience as well as those of their peers. This promotes the integration of what they learn in the "classroom" with clinical experiences. It also allows them to gather a larger number of examples on which to build a rich knowledge base.
  • Small groups offer a powerful context for teaching through role-modeling; values, attitudes, relationships with patient and colleagues, and ways to think about clinical problems can all be learned effectively in small groups. (Derived from: Facilitating a Small Group Discussion, Karen Mann and Paul O’Neill)
Common problems in small group teaching:
  • The teacher gives a lecture rather than conducting a dialogue
  • The teacher dominates the conversation
  • Students are reluctant to participate
  • Students answer questions but won't offer their own ideas or questions to further the discussion
  • Students do not prepare for the sessions
  • One student dominates or blocks the discussion
  • The students want to be given the solutions to problems rather than discuss them
  • The teacher fails to teach broad principles based on the discussion (Adopted from: Teaching Small Group, David Jacques)
Keys to success in small group teaching:
  • More structure, less intervention
  • Ensure that group members have an agreed set of ground rules. For example, not talking at the same time as another group member
  • Ensure that the students are clear about the tasks to be carried out
  • When you present a question don't answer it yourself or try to reformulate it; count to 10 silently before speaking again
  • When you have something you could say (which could be most of the time), count to 10 again
  • Look round the group both when you are speaking and when a student is speaking. That way the students will quickly recognize that they are addressing the group rather than just you. It will allow you to pick up cues from those who want to speak but are either a bit slow or inhibited (Derived from: Teaching Small Group, David Jacques)
How to plan the structure in small group teaching:

Step 1: Determine Learning Objectives
    ♦ specific, measurable and achievable
   For example, students will identify three red blood cell characteristics to differentiate 3 common causes of anemia in children.

Step 2: Choose group task

   For example,
♦ The group is given a problem to solve
♦ The students must monitor the problem solving strategies employed
♦ They then share their findings and compare them with research evidence
♦ They draw up a classification of the findings

Step 3: Organize the session

♦ prepare any materials
♦ explain and check agreement on the tasks
♦ monitor the development of the tasks
♦ control the boundaries
(Adopted from: Teaching small group, David Jacques)