Structuring small groups
Facilitators of small groups need to make ‘strategic interventions’ in order to maintain the group as a functional unit. These comprise a number of interlinked activities, including:
- time management – starting and finishing on time, ensuring outcomes and tasks are explained and that the activities conclude with learning outcomes and needs being achieved
- maintaining the flow of content – ensuring learning follows in a logical sequence, is scaffolded, providing stimulus materials, questions and making connections to other topics and learning
- managing group dynamics and attending to the emotional/psychological needs of learners
- facilitating achievement of outcomes – of the wider curriculum, of the session and those identified by the learners themselves
- managing the physical learning environment.
Small group sessions work well if there is a mix of activities and timings, with activities selected so that people can work individually, in different-sized groups and with and without teachers or facilitators. A rule of thumb is that real concentration on one activity, such as listening to someone talk, lasts around 10 minutes without a break or change of pace. It is important therefore to keep the session flowing, and concentration and learning occurring. This is facilitated by time structuring which includes breaks and opportunities to move around. However, it is equally important to allow time for groups to bond and work together on shared tasks and not to keep switching people round for the sake of it. We look at some of the different activities you can use further on in the module.
Here are some suggested timings and tasks for a 60-minute small group session which includes different types of learner- and teacher-centred activities.