Tips from the McMaster Community

Sometimes I find it difficult to accommodate small group activities in a large class.
Jim Nishikawa, Department of Medicine

As part of a series of non-compulsory integrative lectures for junior medical students, I carry out a participative workshop on the topic of clinical epidemiology of hypertension. My objectives are to facilitate small group learning within the group of 100 students by problem solving a number of issues simultaneously and to add to the knowledge of the large group by including all of the students in a small group discussion.

No matter how large the class, I divide them into groups of five or less. To do this I hand out cards to every fifth student while they are sitting, waiting for the class to begin. These cards I have made up beforehand. The three or four people sitting around the person with the card form a group to work on the issues raised in the session. Each card has a number and a letter written on it; for example 1-D or 4-B.

I begin the session by describing a problem and issues I feel the problem raises ( with more time issues could be generated by the students). The issues are listed on an overhead, each identified by a letter. The small groups have five to ten minutes to
discuss the issue identified by the letter which matches the letter written on their card. The discussion is based on their previous studies. I take up the issues in the order voted on by the class (in case time runs out before all are covered). I ask for input from the three or four groups who have been discussing the issue (identified by group number), and then from the class as a whole. At the end of each issue I present a brief "lecture", offering a framework to the issue, the evidence behind the answers or emphasizing the key points.

I continue this process until all issues have been discussed. At the end I summarize the main points of the session with an overhead and a one page handout.

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