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Starting the session

The main task for the teacher at the start of the session is to facilitate the group members getting to know one another and starting to work together (forming and norming). To do this we need to:

  • create a positive learning environment
  • outline our expectations and explore those of the group
  • negotiate and set ground rules
  • identify, agree and assign roles and responsibilities
  • facilitate participation and enable communication between group members through setting appropriate tasks.


Thinking points
  • How do you make groups of students feel welcome?
  • What strategies do you and could you use to help them ‘settle in’ rapidly?


The first step is to ensure that group participants feel welcome. Learn people’s names, help them feel welcome through introductions (you might have to actively help other members learn one another’s names e.g. by name badges) and have the room set out in such a way as to facilitate the learning and activities you have planned.

The group members may or may not know each other. If they do not, then ice-breaker’ activities can provide a fun, non-threatening start to group sessions. Examples include asking students to say their name and link it with an animal beginning with the same letter (not so easy for the Xanthes of this world!) or pairing people up and asking them to introduce one another to the rest of the group, with a memorable aspect such a holiday or one interesting or unusual thing about them. Other ice-breakers involve setting people to work in teams on a task (such as revising the anatomy and physiology of the heart) or getting them to line up alphabetically according to the place they are from (or were born) or some other aspect that means they have to talk to people to work out where they fit in the line. For larger groups, people can be given a short list of names of participants they have to meet and exchange information with. Name badges are essential for this task of course.

Once participants are talking, then learning outcomes and needs should be defined and agreed and ground rules established. At the start of the session build in time for students and trainees to define their own learning needs and then translate their learning needs into achievable outcomes. Some tutors agree a learning contract with their students (either individually or as a group) which includes agreeing learning objectives and assessment procedures and criteria, allocating tasks and developing group rules. This involves setting out your expectations for timekeeping and process, including what learners can expect from you and the ‘ground rules’.

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