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Planning and preparation

‘One of the most important (principles of good teaching) is the need for planning. Far from compromising spontaneity, planning provides a structure and context for both teacher and students, as well as a framework for reflection and evaluation’ (Spencer, 2003, p. 25).

We have seen that one of the advantages of small group teaching is that it provides opportunities for in-depth discussion, reflection and consolidation of learning. Small group teaching is also costly in terms of time and physical resources, so it is important to maximise the learning that can be achieved by forward planning and appropriate structuring of activities.

Spencer (2003, p. 25) notes that there are four fundamental questions a clinical teacher should ask themselves when planning a teaching session.

  • Who am I teaching? The number of learners and their study level or stage in training.  
  • What am I teaching? The topic or subject, the type of expected learning (knowledge, skills, behaviours).
  • How will I teach it? Teaching and learning methods, length of time available, location of teaching session, access to patients, internet resources, clinical skills models, etc.
  • How will I know if the students understand? Informal and formal assessments, questioning techniques, feedback from learners.

To these we might add the following.

  • What do the learners know already?
  • What are the learners going on to next?
  • What do the learners want to know or be able to do as a result of your teaching? And how will I find this out?
  • How will I build in flexibility to address unforeseen learning needs?

Thinking point

  • Can you answer the above questions for all the groups you teach? If not, how might you find out the answers?


You will find more detailed ideas about identifying learning needs in the Assessing educational needs module in this series.

It can be helpful to devise a lesson plan for each teaching session, this may be very detailed or a simple broad-brush plan, but before the session, you should:

  • define your aims and learning outcomes or objectives
  • think about the structure of the session and timing of activities
  • decide on the best teaching and learning methods to achieve the learning outcome
  • list content and key topics, and research more if needed
  • refine the lesson plan
  • identify learning resources and support material
  • finalise any linked assessment or evaluation.

  See the Lesson plan from the Teachers’ toolkit.

Jacques defines three steps in planning the structure of a small discussion group:

Planning the structure

Thinking points

What sort of group tasks do you think are the most appropriate for:

  •    small group learning in general?
  •    knowledge/understanding-based learning outcomes?
  •    clinical or procedural-based skills?
  •    developing teamwork skills?


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Further information

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Learning activities

Read about the recommended learning activities for this module.