How can I best facilitate small group discussions in my class?
Small group discussions are a great way to get students to engage with each other without the fear of having to address a large group. Often times there are one or two students in the group who feel comfortable addressing the larger group and some who wish to participate in discussion without the pressure of public speaking. Breaking students into groups is a great way to leverage this.
When students break into groups, give them a focus. Provide them with a topic to discuss. Let them explore it amongst themselves. Ask them to record the key points of their discussion. They can record not only what they agree on, but what they disagree on as well. Provide them with a brief and focused time frame to complete this task. By providing them with a task, you are providing meaning to the discussion. They now engage in the discussion for the purpose of recording their main ideas.
One the small group discussion is completed ask the groups to choose a spokesperson and have that person share the main ideas with the rest of the class. Provide time after each spokesperson speaks for questions from the larger group. If students are hesitant to engage, ask the spokesperson and their group a question about what they presented. Let the group know that any of them can answer or add to the conversation. Proceed with this until all the groups have had a chance to share their thoughts.
Here is an example of how this can break down in a class of 50 students and a class time of 1 hour and 25 minutes.
Break into groups of ten. Have students count off into groups. All the ones go together, all the twos go together, etc. Provide them with 15 minutes to record their main points.
Provide each group 5-6 minutes to present their arguments to the larger group. This totals to 25-30 minutes for all 5 groups. Provide 5-6 minutes after each group for discussion. This totals another 25-30 minutes. In all this utilizes 50-60 minutes of class time.
This provides you as an instructor with an additional 10-20 minutes of class time. This time can be used for review and to summarize what was covered in the discussion that day.
References and Resources
The following link has some great suggestions for activities that can engage students and get them talking.