Division of Academic Affairs
Nancy Cooke, our second new Faculty Fellow, shares her strategies for successful small group activities. She looks at both the logistics for forming small groups as well as some guidelines for managing the small group activities.
Hello. This is Nancy Cooke, Faculty Fellow in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Welcome to Teaching and Learning Matters. An important strategy for helping students to apply what we're teaching is to give them opportunities to collaborate in small groups to solve problems, analyze examples, discuss implications, and so forth.
In our planning for what we want these small groups to accomplish, it is easy to forget about the logistics that are needed to make our activity an efficient use of class time. Without careful planning, we can easily experience chaos and confusion. Today, we will look at both the logistics for forming small groups, as well as some guidelines for managing the small group activities.
The first step is to determine the size of the group. Consider how many students can productively collaborate on the small group task. Typically a group of 3 to 6 students works well to ensure everyone can actively participate.
Next, decide how the group members should be assigned. For example, if you regularly use similar small group activities, you may want to assign permanent groups at the beginning of the semester. You will ask these students to sit in close proximity, perhaps arranging your seating in table formations to easily accomplish this.
Another strategy for grouping students would be to intentionally assign specific students to groups because you want to ensure heterogeneous grouping. For example, you may want each group to include a more skilled or experienced member who can guide others. Or, you may want to assign problems or readings to subgroups in your class and then purposefully arrange your small groups to include one member from each subgroup in order to bring together information from different readings, various viewpoints, or problem solutions.
Random assignment to groups is a way to ensure that students work with a variety of class members. One method for random assignment would be to have students count off. Just remember that the number they count up to is the number of groups, not the number of members in the group. I've made that mistake myself more than once! Instead of counting off, you can hand out shuffled index cards with various stickers, or shapes, or even names of famous people in your discipline. Then all of the students with matching cards belong to the same group.
The next part is really important. Before students start moving into groups, you need their attention to go over directions. I like to post my directions using a PowerPoint slide or document camera.
During the small group time you will need to monitor student groups, circulating to answer questions or helping groups having difficulty. For longer activities you might announce when the groups should be halfway finished. Later, announce when the group has only a couple of minutes to complete their work. Finally, announce when the time is up and get full group?s attention.
At this point you will want to follow up with group decisions, findings, discussion and so on. Depending on the number of groups you may want each group to share or you may call on a sample of the groups to share their conclusions or findings. Consider using Moodle as a tool for groups to share when the class time is insufficient.
I hope the next time you use a small group activity you?ll be able to make use of some of these suggestions. Thanks for listening because ... Teaching and Learning Matters.
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
9201 University City Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28223-0001 · 704-687-8622
Follow UNC Charlotte