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Practical tips

One of the key elements for the success of small group teaching is to ensure that the physical environment is appropriate for the learning that you plan will occur.

Sometimes there is little choice about room size, heating/temperature, noise or facilities and resources, and teachers just have to make the best use of what there is. Paying attention to basic physiological needs (temperature, comfort, space, break times) is always the starting point, particularly if the group is going to be together for some time and you want learning to be productive.

Take a few minutes at the start of the session to make sure that everyone is comfortable in terms of room temperature and lighting, that they know where rest rooms are and when breaks will be, and let them know if you’re happy with them bringing drinks into the session.

Make sure that you are familiar with the learning resources available, such as the computer equipment, know how to load presentations, access the internet and set up the data projector, especially if you are using someone else’s equipment. If you are using interactive whiteboards or other equipment, make sure you know how to use it. Also make sure that other equipment you need for activities, such as flip charts and pens, is available. The technology and equipment should act as a backdrop to the activities and learning, not intrude or dominate because you are fiddling around trying to locate a file on a computer or can’t make the movement-sensitive lights turn off on a sunny day.

Seating layout

One of the important aspects that influences how small groups function is the layout of the room and specifically the relationship between group participants, and between participants and the tutor or facilitator.

The group size and the activities you have planned will influence how you set up the room. Take a little time before the session to make sure that the layout is appropriate and be confident in moving furniture around, if this is possible, so as to facilitate discussion and group interaction.

Here are some examples of room layouts for different activities:

For larger groups, you might place tables, each seating five or six people, around the room in ‘cafeteria’ or ‘cabaret’ style, with the teacher and equipment at the front of the room. This enables participants to talk and work in small groups very easily and also to move around the room. The facilitator can ‘float’ when the groups are working.

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