Small group discussion is a tried-and-true method for getting students engaged in the class content. To be maximally useful, a small group of 3-5 people should be given a task that fulfills the following criteria:
- The purpose of the task is clear.
- The group knows what to do specifically.
- The group knows the time frame for completion.
- The group knows how to complete the task.
It’s particularly useful to pose a question to the entire class. The best kind of question is one that requires students to make judgements and choices between various alternatives. Here’s one example:
“We have just discussed the origins of Postmodernism. In the next ten minutes, I want your group to discuss the question: “Which 2 artists had the most direct influence on what became the Postmodernist movement? Explain why you chose those two artists.” Write down their names and a brief justification for your choices. One person from each group will report back to the class as a whole.”
One key to success is making sure each group has a “reporter”, in other words, a person who keeps notes and is willing to report the results to the class at large.
You can then use the results of that discussion to continue with a lecture, or as a lead-in to another point or issue.