The Usefulness of Small Group Discussions in Class

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:

  1. The purpose of the task is clear.
  2. The group knows what to do specifically.
  3. The group knows the time frame for completion.
  4. 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.

This entry was posted in Actively Engaging Students in Classroom, Lectures - Best Practices, Teaching Practice, Working in Groups and tagged , , , by Jane Alden Stevens. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jane Alden Stevens

Jane Alden Stevens is a photographer and educator who is Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at the University of Cincinnati. An active artist, Stevens has exhibited and published her work extensively both in the US and abroad. She is the author of “Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered” (2004). In the course of her teaching career, Stevens taught courses in film, photography, and professional practices for fine artists. Her interest in teaching practices was deepened when she started teaching the "Graduate Teaching Workshop", a required graduate level course for fine artists and art historians that prepares them to teach the courses they will later be assigned. She was also involved in the Preparing Future Faculty program at the University of Cincinnati, which prepares masters and doctoral students across all programs for teaching at the university level. She has conducted pedagogy workshops for a variety of universities, as well as participated in academic practicum panels at educational conferences. The recipient of numerous teaching awards, Stevens was honored with the all-university Cohen Award for Excellence in University Teaching at the University of Cincinnati in 2002 and Professor of the Year honors in her college in 2011.

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