Teaching and Learning Resources

Small Group Teaching

Small group teaching (SGT) includes a variety of types of classes such as seminars, tutorials, workshops, problem-based learning and Inquiry-based learning. Commonly the instructor or tutor works with a small group of students to discuss a specific issue, topic or problem. 

The benefits of SGT for students are many. A few of these include:
1. developing intellectual understanding through opportunities for students to clarify concepts and  ideas by
    speaking, thinking and sharing together.  
2.  developing communication skills through practice of discussion, explanation and constructive feedback.
3. developing critical thinking skills through practice in thinking and problem-solving.

There is also a growing use of the ‘virtual’ small group method which uses information technology to enable instructor and students to interact at a distance. This means that discussions and learning can take place over a longer period of time.

Another important category of small group teaching is small groups in the large classroom.  Dividing and organizing a larger group of students into a series of smaller groups allows the instructor to use many small group approaches in the large class.

Consensus suggests that the optimum group size is between five and eight suggesting that below five the diversity and variety of interpersonal interaction diminishes, and with more than eight members the contribution of some members begins to decline.      

Related Resources

Small group teaching is an interesting site from The University of  Nottingham that highlights video clips of instructors’ discussing teaching methods, views and experiences of teaching small groups.

Tools for Teaching - Collaborative Learning: Group Work is a comprehensive guide written by Barbara Gross Davis on types of small groups and collaborative learning. 

The Higher Education Academy has created Planning for small group teaching a page that discusses the basics of planning a group as well as valuable tips to address challenges with this type of teaching.

The Discussion Class presents a detailed outline of this teaching method and answers questions about leading successful classroom discussion.