Interaction makes learning powerful. Small group work, sometimes called cooperative learning, requires students to work together to exchange ideas, make plans and propose solutions. Small group work addresses both academic learning and social skill learning. Small group learning supports understanding, long-term retention of information, problem-solving skills, critical thinking and development of positive attitudes, and improves reflective practice. Teachers must give careful thought to how to manage the classroom during small group activities to ensure success.
Advantages of Small Groups
When students work in small groups, they think through an idea, present it to others so that they can understand, and often exchange alternative ideas and viewpoints. Students learn faster and more efficiently, have greater retention, and tend to be more positive about the lesson. This:
- Encourages positive attitudes toward sexual health;
- Increases students’ self-confidence;
- Promotes intellectual growth, and;
- Enhances social and personal development.
There is no one “right way” to approach small group activities. Teachers must choose models and methods that match their particular teaching styles, their students and lesson content. Following some basic steps at the beginning will help small group activities be more effective.
These basic elements of cooperative learning should help you get started.
- Positive interdependence
- Social skills
- Individual accountability
- Group processing
1. Positive Interdependence
Students need to work cooperatively with all members of the group and contribute to the goal. To increase comfort level of students working in groups they are unfamiliar with set up an ice breaker for them to get to know each other before the lesson begins.
A common ice-breaker involves pairing students together, with each gathering basic information and interesting facts about their partner. The group reconvenes and each student presents their partner to the group. Students tend to be less embarrassed and more willing to share with the group.
Also remember ground rules to help provide transparency on acceptable behaviours and attitudes during the session.
2. Social Skills
Small group work requires students to listen to one another, ask questions, clarify issues, and re-state points of view. Teach students these skills through demonstration and direct instruction:
- Listening when others speak
- Eye contact and positive body language
- Encouragement and respect
- Speaking quietly and without hostility
3. Individual Accountability
For small group work to be successful teachers must ensure that the lesson includes an opportunity for individual accountability. Each member of the group must be motivated to contribute to the final goal.
4. Group Processing
Have students reflect on the positive ways the group interacted together to achieve their goal. Ask students to write down what was helpful in getting the group to achieve their goal. This opportunity for reflection will clarify the processes and improve their cooperative learning skills. Students should be encouraged to ask questions and seek answers as a group.
Types of Small Group Activities
Think-Pair-Share: Students work independently to write down thoughts or ideas about a topic, and then share these ideas with a partner. Partners probe one another to ensure complete understanding.
Jigsaw: Divide class into groups. Assign each group a separate topic. Everyone in each group must be become an expert on the topic by the end of a given time. Form new groups made up of one member of each original group. “Experts” share findings from various topics from their original groups with the new group members.
Two Truths and a Lie: Have each student make three statements about themselves, two are truths and one is a lie. The group then has to decide which statement is not true.
Round Table: Students brainstorm a variety of ideas or responses to a topic for a limited time period without critiquing the value of the ideas. Once groups have completed this activity, these lists can be used to facilitate group and class discussion.
Group Investigations: Students work to produce a group project, which they may have a hand in selecting.
Circle of Voices: Students are given a topic and a few minutes to organize their thoughts. Each student has uninterrupted time to speak to their small group. Each person should be assigned and required to stick to the same amount of time. After everyone has had a turn, the group can now discuss the topic. During the general discussion students are only allowed to build on what someone else has said and not their original ideas.
Snowballing: Students are divided into pairs, with each pair being given the same material on a sexual health topic. They then join with another pair to compare and contrast differences in their understanding. The groups combine again, and repeat the compare-contrast process5.
An Important Note About Assessment: If work accomplished within a group is to be used as part of the student’s mark, it is important to remember to use two levels of accountability. The group must be accountable for achieving its goals, and each member must be accountable for contributing his or her share of the work.
Tips for Using Small Groups
- Work must be directed towards a clear goal or set of goals.
- Tasks should be specific and outlined in detail.
- Give each group member a specific task (leader, recorder, reporter, monitor, etc.)
- Groups need to be interdependent – relying on all group members to accomplish a goal.
- Provide groups with appropriate workspace where they can work face-to-face without disruption.
- Keep close observation during group activities to ensure students remain on task and on track.
- Reinforce positive contributions and remember the ground rules.
- Don’t forget to allow time for feedback and reflection at the end of each session.
Small group activities can be found within the lesson plans. Activities are located at the end of each lesson.
- Grade 4 Lesson 1 Body Changes Assign each group to a category to brainstorm all of the changes that occur during puberty under that category. Categories include Body Changes, Thought Changes, and Relationship Changes.
- Grade 7 Lesson 1 When I Was Your Age… Have groups brainstorm a list of questions they would ask a trusted adult about their adolescent experience.
- Grade 9 Lesson 1-Healthy/Unhealthy/Abusive Relationships Each group is given cards with characteristics of Healthy/Unhealthy/Abusive relationships and together they decide which characteristic matches which relationship.