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Instructor Resources 

Small Group Formation and Interaction – Best Practices

Course-level Planning for the Implementation of Small Group Activities:

So you think a small group activity helps you achieve your learning and relational objectives… We think you’ve made a great choice! Now comes the fun part!

Please consider the following when creating small group assignments and activities. Small groups work best when they are developed well from the planning stages:

Fundamental Structure for Positive Group Interactions 

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Small group activities should be significant enough that it is most efficient and meaningful for a task to be accomplished using a group.

Seek to create environments that foster mutual support within the group (use small activities/tasks to build relationship i.e. get coffee, play a fun game, etc.)

Small group activities should involve group processing and application of content. If possible, groups should be tasked with coming to consensus when solving a problem. Coming to consensus forces the consideration of multiple perspectives and provides a platform for discussion and critical thought.

Consider explaining why small groups are being used and what you hope students will take away from the experience. Identify and articulate the relevance of the small group activity to content, degree, and field.

Explain how students should spend their time in groups, how often groups should meet, what groups should produce, and what groups should consider in the process. It is better to over-communicate than to leave details ambiguous.

It is imperative that instructors navigate throughout the groups while groups working. Try to get on their level (sit among them) and listen. Listen for questions and confusion and for depth of consideration. Redirect as needed. This (instructor presence) should be a staple during group time.

Encourage groups to define both communication channels and expectations for how communication will be carried out.

Be mindful that group cohesion is a process and takes dedicated and focused time. Seek realistic expectations for what can be accomplished within a specific time frame. Content related goals are often more thoroughly accomplished when linked with relational goals when using group work..

Recognize, in the development stage, student needs for self-efficacy, sense of belonging, relatedness, and autonomy. These should be meshed with small group activities. Some examples: how can/do students have recourse for non-participating group member(s), how will students create a sense of belonging within small group activities, how will students be empowered by the small group activity?

Seek feedback from students regarding both relational and content oriented goals. Monitor student performance both academically and relationally.

Small Group Considerations:

Two general forms can be used when instituting small groups. Each has the potential for achieving the educational and relational rewards that can be achieved. However, the creation and development of the groups will differ. Below you will find characteristics and benefits of each form along with ideas for activities for which the small group can participate in.
(Reminder: the form of the group should be selected based on your course learning objectives and lesson plan development.)


Short-term group activities you may want to consider:
Think-pair-share – Students are given a discussion prompt. Students then work individually to craft a response. This response is then shared with a peer. Consensus is then sought. When achieved, response is shared with class.
Fishbowl Activity – Small group is placed in the middle with remaining classmates surrounding and observing (like a fishbowl). Group in the middle is given a prompt or problem to solve.  Classmates on the outside observe the interaction and provide feedback on how the group in the fishbowl accomplished their goal.
Case Studies – Provide students with a problem from experience and ask students to solve using pertinent course content. 
Simulations – Students take on specific “real life” roles as they seek to solve a problem
Peer Teaching – Students are asked to teach a concept to the class or another audience that may benefit from the learning.
Small Group Discussions – Groups are developed and given a topic to discuss. Be sure to provide specific instructions and questions that need to be addressed.
Jigsaw Strategy – Breaks problems into smaller parts and divides these parts among the groups. Groups are to report their piece of the solution to the class. The class can then discuss how all pieces fit together.


Long-term group activities you may consider

Resources for Additional Understanding:

Please send questions and suggestions to Kevin Stoller