Methods and Techniques for Use in Small and Large Group Teaching

Methods and Techniques for Use in Small and Large Group Teaching

Methods and Techniques for Use in Small and Large Group Teaching

Provided below are a selection of common flexible methods one may use in both large and small group teaching. Basic guidelines are provided to demonstrate how each may work in a given situation, like all such methods they are open to adaption and interpretation to suit your individual needs.

The following have been adapted from Brown (1997).

Silent Reflection

This is where you give students a few minutes to think about a problem or issue. Ask them to write down their thoughts or ideas on a note pad. Keep the task specific. For example, ask them to write down the three most important, or positive, or expensive etc. aspects of an issue. It is often useful to ask them to write on post-its and then post them on, say, a notice board or the wall. Alternatively, ask them to share their ideas with their neighbour before moving into a discussion phase. This technique suits quieter students and ensures that everyone has the opportunity to provide feedback.


Where groups are not too large (20 or so) go around everyone in the group and ask them to respond. People often use rounds as icebreakers or as part of the winding-up of a session. Try not to make the round too daunting by giving students guidance on what is expected of them. Keep it short. For example try and avoid questions like "I want everyone to give their name and then identify one aspect of the course that they know nothing about but are looking forward to learning about". In big rounds, students can be quite nervous, so make it clear that it's OK to pass and if people at the beginning have made your point, that concurrence is sufficient.

Three Minutes Each Way

Ask students in pairs to speak for three minutes on a given topic.

Be strict with timekeeping. Your students might find this quite difficult at first, but it is an excellent way of getting students to articulate their ideas, and also means that the quieter students are given opportunities to speak and be heard. The art of listening without interrupting (other than with brief prompts to get the speaker back on target if they wander off the topic) is one that many students will need to foster. This pair-work can then feed into other activities.

Buzz Groups

Give pairs, threes, fours or fives small timed tasks which involve them talking to each other, creating a hubbub of noise as they work. Their outcomes can then be shared with the whole group through feedback, on a flip chart sheet poster, on an overhead projector transparency or otherwise as appropriate. Buzz groups.jpg


This can be a valuable way of stimulating creative free-thinking and is particularly useful when looking for a solution to a problem or in generating diverse ideas. Start with a question like "How can we..?" or "What do we know about ... ?" and encourage the group to call out ideas as fast as you can write them up (perhaps use two scribes on separate boards if the brainstorm flows well). Make it clear that this is supposed to be an exploratory process, establish some ground-rules in advance for example:

  • A large quantity of ideas is desirable, so everyone should be encouraged to contribute at whatever level they feel comfortable.
  • Quick snappy responses are more valuable at this stage than long, complex, drawn-out sentences.
  • Ideas should be noted without comment, either positive or negative - no one should say "That wouldn't work because." or "That's the best idea we've heard yet" while the brainstorm is in progress as this might make people feel foolish about their contributions.
  • Participants should 'piggyback' on each other's ideas if they set off a train of thought, 'logic circuits' should be disengaged, allowing for a freewheeling approach.

The ideas thus generated can then be used as a basis for either a further problem-solving task or a tutor exposition.


This is the term used to describe activities undertaken by groups of students working to a brief under their own direction. They can be asked to undertake internet or literature searches, debate an issue, explore a piece of text, prepare an argument, design an artefact or many other tasks. To achieve productively, they will need an explicit brief, appropriate resources and clear outcomes.

Specialist accommodation is not always necessary; syndicates can work in groups spread out in a large room, or, where facilities permit, go away and use other classrooms etc. If the task is substantial, the tutor may wish to move from group to group, or may be available on a 'help desk' at a central location. Outcomes may be in the form of assessed work from the group or produced at a plenary as described above.

Snowballing (Also Known As Pyramiding)

Start by giving students an individual task of a fairly simple nature such as listing features, noting questions, identifying problems, summarising the main points of their last lecture. Then ask them to work in pairs on a slightly more complex task, such as prioritising issues or suggesting strategies. Thirdly, ask then to come together in larger groups, fours or sixes for example and undertake a task involving, perhaps, synthesis, assimilation or evaluation. Ask them to draw up guidelines, perhaps, or produce an action plan or to assess the impact of a particular course of action. They can then feed back to the whole group if required. You may also wish to try ‘reverse pyramiding’!


Ask for a small group of up to half a dozen or so volunteers to sit in the middle of a larger circle comprising the rest of the group. Give them a task to undertake that involves discussion, with the group around the outside acting as observers. Make the task you give the inner circle sufficiently simple in the first instance to give them the confidence to get started. This can be enhanced once students have had practice and become more confident.

This method can be useful for managing students who are dominating a group, because it gives them permission to be the centre of attention for a period of time. After a suitable interval, you can ask others from the outer circle to replace them, thus giving the less vocal ones the opportunity for undisturbed “air-time”. Fishbowls can also be useful ways of getting representatives from buzz groups to feed back to the whole group.

Some students will find it difficult to be the focus of all eyes and ears, so it may be necessary to avoid coercing anyone to take centre stage (although gentle prompting can be valuable). A 'tag wrestling' version can also be used, with those in the outer circle who want to join in gently tapping on the shoulder of someone in the middle they want to replace and taking over their chair and chance of talking. Alternatively it can be very effective to give the observers in the outer group a specific task to ensure active listening. For example, ask them to determine the three key issues or conclusions identified by the inner group. It is then possible to swap the groups round and ask the new inner group to evaluate the conclusions identified by the first group. Fishbowls can work well with quite large groups too.


Often we want to mix students up in a systematic way so they work in small groups of different compositions. You can use crossovers with large groups of students, but the following example shows how this method would work with twenty-seven students.

Prepare as many pieces of paper as you have students, marking on them A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, B3 and so on (this combination is for creating triads - groups of three). If you want to create groups of four students add A4, B4 etc. (You can do this as a header on handouts.)

When you are ready to have the students go into smaller groups, get them to group themselves with students who have the same letter as themselves: AAA, BBB, CCC and so on for one group exercise. For a second exercise, ask the students to work with people who have the same number as themselves: 111, 222, 333. A third exercise will have students in triads where none of the students can have a matching letter or number: e.g. A1, D2 F3. This will allow you to get students to crossover within groups, so they work with different people on each task in a structured way. This technique also cuts down on the need to get a lot of feedback from the groups because each individual will act as rapporteur on the outcomes of their previous task in the last configuration. As with snowballing or pyramids, you can make the task at each stage slightly more difficult and ask for a product from the final configuration if desired. Crossovers are useful in making sure everyone in the group is active and also help to mix students outside their normal friendship, ethnic or gender groups.

It takes a little forethought to get the numbers right for the cohort you are working with (for example, you can use initial configurations of four rather than three, so that in stage two they will work as fours rather than triads). If you have one person left over, you can just pair them with one other person and ask them to shadow that person wherever they go.

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