Two Words: Small Group

By: Mary Kienstra on: December 31, 2016  in: assessment, differentiation, Engagement, feedback

So many teaching strategies come and go.  There’s always a new idea or the latest gimmick to engage kids in learning.  We have endless lists of buzz words and terms that describe various aspects of teaching and learning.  Of all the strategies I’ve employed, the one that engages my students the most consistently is two words: small group.

My favorite place in my classroom is my semi-circle table in the back of my room.  I’ve realized that no matter what I am teaching, I am happiest and my students are most involved when we are sitting around this table.  Teaching students in small groups seems to be the most effective strategy in my class.

trap table

5 Reasons to Teach in Small Groups:

  1. Differentiation.  In small groups it is easier to teach each group at the appropriate challenge level.  Not all students need the same instruction or the same practice.  Grouping according to what each student or group of students “needs” is most effective for differentiated learning and practice.  Keeping the groups flexible is key to focus on the strategy.
  2. Feedback.  Immediate feedback is so much easier in a small group than with the whole class.  The teacher can see quickly which students are getting it and which need more help.  Praise and encouragement and corrections are effective as the teacher can watch students work.
  3. Engagement.  In a small group setting there is no place for a student to “hide”.  Quiet students find a voice and everyone is accountable.  Students typically all get more attention from the teacher and peers than in a large group setting.
  4. Discussion. Not all responses have to be written.  Discussing issues in a small group format allows students to practice adding to the conversation and building on each others’ ideas.  This oral rehearsal gives students the chance to test their ideas.
  5. Assessment.  In a small group setting, the teacher can ask probing questions and listen to the responses in a non-threatening way.  These questions can provide the formative assessment necessary for instruction and for evidence in meeting standards.

No matter what the content or the situation, the small group lesson is the most popular in my class.  My groups change often so they don’t become stale with the same kids all the time or the same lessons.  At times the groups are random and many times they are “strategy” groups.  My goal is for the groups to be interesting and engaging, varying in content and purpose.

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