Definition of Small Group Teaching

Definition of Small Group Teaching

Definition of Small Group Teaching


The term 'small group teaching', or 'small group learning' as it is often termed, means different things to different people. Some are familiar with the tutorial as being their experience of small group teaching. The tutorial is usually linked with a series of lectures and its role is to complement the lecture. Problem Based Learning Groups have very specific procedures in how the information is discussed, i.e. Brain-storming and reporting back on information, often completed in a 7 step procedure.

There is no magical number that defines a group as a Small Group. A lecturer used to taking 400 in a lecture would define 50 as a small group. As there can be sub-groups within groups, it is hard to define small group. In a discussion, where participation is assessed some students may not speak up in a group that begins to be get bigger than 10 participants and in addition tutors would find it hard to assess participation by individual students in groups with numbers greater than this.

Ruddok (1978), Luker (1989), Griffiths, Houston & Lazenbatt (1996) researched that students enjoyed and benefited from small groups. The tutorial in particular has been noted for its value in:

  • Complementing knowledge in lectures
  • Expanding on the concepts considered in lectures
  • Encouraging student reflection
  • Developing students' communication skills
  • Encouraging active life-long learning

An element, often over looked, is the role of online discussion groups in facilitating ongoing information sharing and knowledge construction. These may be used in conjunction with both the lecture and traditional tutorial, adding an additional element of large to small group collaborative interaction. An issue that arises is how may one assess and/or evaluate online participation and contribution.

Creanor (2004) offers a simple dual guide to identifying individual elements within contributions and their level of critical thinking and how they interact (collaborate) with the wider cohort.

Types of Online Contributions

Individual Thinking:

  • Offering up ideas or resources and inviting critique of them
  • Asking challenging questions
  • Articulating, explaining and supporting positions on issues
  • Exploring and supporting issues by adding explanations and examples
  • Reflecting on and re-evaluating personal opinions

Interactive Thinking:

  • Offering a critique, challenging, discussing and expanding the ideas of others
  • Negotiating interpretations, definitions and meanings
  • Summarising and modelling previous contributions
  • Proposing actions based on ideas that have been developed


Back to Engaging StudentsContinue to Dealing With Common Small Group Problems or Issues


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