Working in small groups helps students share ideas and develop skills. Small-group work is recommended throughout these materials. You can keep the same groups through a series of activities or vary their composition from one series of activities to the next.
Successful small-group work depends on three elements:
- clear instructions about the task(s);
- time available;
- imaginative and effective presentations to the larger group.
Working in small groups enables students to:
- practise oral and written communication skills and cooperative problem-solving;
- assume leadership and responsibility;
- report or disseminate information;
- be more likely to participate actively than if they were in larger groups;
- share and develop ideas, hear new ideas, and make decisions;
- experience teamwork;
- be exposed to a range of new information.
- to engage every student in discussion and problem-solving
- to develop skills in leadership and cooperation
- When appropriate, have students first write down their ideas before sharing them with the group. This helps them formulate their own ideas before hearing those of others.
- Determine the size and type of group needed in relation to the purpose and desired outcome of the activity.
- Use pairs of students exchange personal experiences (some of these can be shared with the entire group and some with just one other person) to compare individual perspectives or to agree on one point of view or one course of action.
- Use small groups of three to five people when you want to provide every student with an opportunity to express his or her views on an issue.
- Form groups of students according to different criteria, depending on your purpose: by level of competence, by the experiences they bring to the particular activity, by age, by gender, by whether they sit next to each other, by ability etc. Students in homogeneous groups can work at the same pace together, which may be faster or slower than other groups. In heterogeneous groups, some students may assume leadership or coaching roles, while others may be stimulated by the interaction with peers who have different skills and experiences.
Leading the group
- Clearly state the task and the expected outcomes.
- Identify and provide the resources needed for the task.
- Set a time limit for the task.
- Ask that responsibilities be assigned within the group: moderator, note-taker, and reporter.
- Explain the tasks of the moderator, note-taker and reporter, and assist students in carrying out their roles.
- Determine the format for reporting the work of the group: oral presentation, drawing, diagram, freeze frame, drama, etc.
- Circulate among the groups, ask questions and monitor their progress. (Be careful not to take over the work of the group.)
Dealing with difficulties
- If students do not focus on the task or do not understand the instructions, restate the task or ask a student to do so; you can also write the instructions on the board.
- If members of a group are not able to work out their disagreements, work with the group to arrive at a consensus or have the group present their conflicting points of view and explain how they plan to continue their work in the future.
- If some members try to dominate a group, reiterate the purpose of small-group work and the importance of each member in accomplishing the task.
- Group presentations may become repetitive. If this happens, ask only one group to make a complete presentation and then have the others add any additional elements.
Assessing student learning
- How well were students able to work together to accomplish their task?
- What skills did students demonstrate?
- What group-membership skills do students need to practise?
- How did the small-group interaction contribute to students' understanding of the subject?