Learning activities that require students to discuss and explore concepts in small groups can be very effective. Sometimes, however, students end up talking about what they did last night instead. Here are two small design changes that can have a positive impact on the success of small group work:
Be strategic about the amount of time you allot: Make sure you don’t give groups too much time. Figure out how long it will take for most of the students to accomplish the outcome requested. Tell them how much time they have to work – perhaps 5 or 10 minutes, depending on the outcome. Let them know when half their time is gone. If everyone isn’t done when you call time, tell them that you want them to present as much as they were able to accomplish. If you do choose to give them a little more time to finish up, make sure it’s only about 2 minutes. This will send the message that they need to work more efficiently to deliver a finished product next time. They will notice that others were able to finish.
Be highly specific about the requested outcome: Nonspecific instructions usually beget nonspecific results. While it’s important to allow small groups the liberty to process in their own way – taking turns talking fully one at a time or an animated discussion for example, it is equally important to provide details about what you want them to deliver at the end of their process. Here are a few examples of not-so specific (NS) and more specific (MS) outcomes:
(NS): Look at these two images and decide as a group which one uses color placement more successfully.
(MS): Look at these two images and decide as a group which one uses color placement more successfully. Write down a suggestion for how the not as successful image could be changed to make better use of color placement.
(NS): Discuss the reading and determine the author’s purpose.
(MS): Discuss the reading and write a group statement that describes your interpretation of the author’s purpose. Each person in the group should also be prepared to point to evidence of this interpretation within the text.
(NS): Discuss the given scenario and determine how power and word choice affected communication.
(MS): Discuss the given scenario and as a group write what you think each person in the scenario would say about how power and word choice affected communication for them.
Wishing you big results from small group learning activities,