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Cambridge LibGuides

Tools for Teaching

Small group teaching: introduction

The tips, tricks and case studies below relate to small group teaching, for example seminars, hands-on classes or supervision-style teaching sessions, often with groups of between around 2 and 10 people.

Small group teaching: tips, tricks and case studies

Tips and tricks

  • Try to have a mixture of demonstrations/slides, hands-on activities, and group work
  • Some students might be hesitant to contribute to verbal discussions, so software (e.g. polling software, links to anonymous Google docs or message boards) that preserves anonymity might make the less confident students more willing to contribute
  • For in-person teaching, activities which involve card-sorting, flip charts or whiteboards can be a good break from activities involving software
  • Make sure that students are given slides or a handout (either printed or online) at the end, so they have something to refer back to
  • Ensure that everyone is finding the content relevant by leaving time for questions throughout
  • Be guided in content by what the participants are finding useful and relevant

Four people having discussion round table with screen in background showing diagram on slide

Case study examples

Hands on activities and group work: "I originally taught literature searching in a very software-dependent way: I demonstrated a search on a database, and asked students to translate what I was doing to their own search topics. It was hard to gauge comprehension this way, unless students were prepared to share their searches on the projection screen with the whole class. I later switched to a method where students were given an example search topic, and a series of cards (for search terms, Boolean operators and so on) and asked to work in groups to combine them, prior to using any databases. This allowed for much more self-teaching, peer learning, and reflection, and was a quick way for me to assess the effectiveness of my own teaching. Students tended to enjoy this activity, as it was a low pressure way to ease into what can be quite a complex topic.

My library has translated this card-sorting exercise into editable Google docs which we share with the students, when we teach this class online. The Google doc lists search terms and Boolean operators out of order, and the students are expected to sort them in the doc." 

Adapting sessions based on needs of learners: "In a 'Delivering Presentations' small group teaching situation, we discussed the presentations that each participant was going to give, worked through the slides, and also left lots of time between each slide for questions and areas that participants were particularly concerned about." 

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