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Small group teaching is at its best when a social, interactive approach to learning is taken, with the tutor providing the framework for students to construct their own learning from their previous knowledge and experiences. Teaching is still key to the learning, but delivery is through guided dialogue and collaborative problem-solving. 

Key opportunities offered by small group teaching include greater flexibility, intensified teacher-student and student-student interaction, fostering reflection and developing autonomous learning and tailoring the sessions to students’ individual needs and interests.  

The emphasis in these sessions needs to be on facilitation of discussion, active participation by all students and developing peer learning and collaboration. 

Best Practice Tips

  • Ensure as far as possible that the students are aware of the purpose of the session in advance so that they know what to expect and can prepare any reading, questions etc. in advance. 
  • Be clear and explicit with students about your expectations of them and the purpose/aim of each session. 
  • Build relationships – it is important to find out about the students’ previous experiences, understand their motivation and assess their knowledge. Build confidence so students feel comfortable in expressing their ideas/thoughts – possibly working in pairs then with the whole group. Acknowledge and value contributions to build confidence; however, any praise given must be genuine. Learn and use students’ names. 
  • Manage group dynamics – personality clashes can be more evident in small groups than large. Listen sensitively and lead the group. Bring your personality to the group, and model the kinds of behaviours you would like to see in pair work/discussion. 
  • Be sensitive to the needs of the group – assess the contribution of each learner and be prepared to intervene to either help them to contribute more or to gain more from the activity. A useful approach is to use guided questioning, rather than simply telling students the answers, or leaving the discussion completely open.  
  • Don’t worry if you don’t know everything. Share your specialisms and areas of expertise and use this as an opportunity to develop students’ research skills to find answers.  
  • Foster reflection – end each session with an opportunity to reflect with the students on what you’ve discussed, what they’ve learnt, and what they will do next.  

Further Resources and Reading

Mills, D. and Alexander, P. (2013) Small Group Teaching: a toolkit for learning.

Exley, K., Dennick, R. and Fisher, A. (2019) Small Group Teaching: Tutorials, Seminars and Workshops. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge.