Small Group Teaching
This inclusive teaching guide is aligned to Baseline Standard 1 and the Professional Standards Framework A2. It provides general guidance on how you can deliver small group teaching inclusively and set up group tasks in a way which promotes inclusive collaboration.
Tutorials and seminars
Create an environment of trust and respect
- Invite your students to agree ground rules for group discussion sessions, such as not talking over each other.
- This will make sure that students from different backgrounds know what behaviour is expected and gives students with different communication needs the opportunity to say what works best for them.
Think about the setting of the class
- Think about the accessibility of your teaching rooms. Rooms with flat floors and plenty of space to move the furniture are preferable for group tasks. This will ensure that any of your students with mobility difficulties and wheelchairs can fully participate.
- Also ensure your students are familiar with the technologies or have guidance if you intend to use this to support their group work. for more advice about synchronous and asynchronous online teaching, see our guide to Delivery in Online Learning Environments.
- Think about the acoustics of your teaching room and whether there are quieter break-out spaces available for groups to use. If some of your students have hearing impairments, attention difficulties or speak English as an additional language, communication may be challenging if there is too much background noise.
Think about how your students will take a record of important points
- Depending on the nature of your session, it may be appropriate to use lecture capture and / or permit personal digital recordings. You should think about taking photos of the whiteboard for sharing with the group or appointing some students to take and share generic notes.
- University Policy on Audio and Video Recording (Secretariat website) states students are not allowed to make recordings without permission. Permission to record may be granted on the grounds of disability, but doing so may inhibit the participation of other students in discussion.1 It is vital that staff understand the disadvantage posed to some disabled students with information processing or handwriting difficulties, who may not have an alternative way of effectively taking a record of points from the session.
Plan small group discussion tasks
- Ask a volunteer from each group to read the task out to the rest of the group. This helps ensure all members understand the task before they start, mitigating against mis-reading by those with literacy difficulties.
Clearly define breaks
- Make sure your students know whether time is intended for a break or relaxation as part of the working session.
- Unstructured social settings can create stress for students with anxiety or autism spectrum condition. Students with a hearing impairment may find communication tiring so may also need a break.
Managing group work
Set clear expectations
- Explain the purpose of the group work to your students and discuss ground rules for this work.
- Students from some cultural backgrounds may not understand the value of learning with and from other students, and may have little experience of this approach to learning.
- Explain what skills and attributes you are assessing through the group work, and how this links to the module learning outcomes.
- If you are clear about the reasons and benefits for using group work, it is easier to offer additional assistance and guidance to students in developing any skills that will be assessed, and to make adjustments if required. Staff should be familiar where possible with any reasonable adjustments recommended in support summaries for disabled students.
Assigning group members and roles
- Assign groups on a randomised basis but try to make sure a diverse mix of background and personalities are included in each group.
- This will maximise opportunities to increase your students’ global and cultural understanding, as well as their communication skills.
- Use your knowledge of your students to allocate roles within groups such as a chair, a note-taker and a meeting organiser if you think they may struggle with this.
- Having clear roles from the outset may help to alleviate some of the anxiety about group interaction and dynamics. In diverse groups there is a higher likelihood that some students may dominate and others feel marginalised. There may also be cultural reasons why some students find certain group dynamics challenging.
Encourage your students to organise work inclusively
- Advise your students to support their group work with technologies that all members of the group can confidently use and access. Group members need to be happy with the way communication (such as organising meetings) will take place. Not all students use social media, for example, so they will be excluded if there is a general assumption that this is how the group will operate. This may lead to students missing planned meetings and not having the opportunity to input, resulting in tension and conflict.
- Encourage your students to identify physical locations for any group meetings outside of contact time, that they are all comfortable with and can easily access.
- Tell your students that outcomes from meetings should be recorded in writing by a nominated person and circulated, rather than just agreed verbally.
- Some students may have difficulties taking notes and following conversations where several people are speaking, or may have social anxiety which makes it difficult for them to alert others when clarification is required. They may leave a meeting with an unclear idea or record of the next steps if this is not agreed and clarified in writing.
Give advance notice
- Let your students know exactly when group work will take place.
- Group work can be a source of anxiety for some students, and giving them advance warning will give them time to prepare themselves or discuss any potential concerns with your which may require specific adjustments.
- Ask your groups for feedback and updates, or monitor their interactions if group work takes place within class time or online in an institutionally-supported collaboration space e.g. within Minerva or a Teams group.
- Early intervention can prevent the group from floundering and wasting time.
- Make sure your students know that they can speak to you about any issues regarding the progress of their group work.
- This will prevent them from feeling isolated and you will be able to help resolve any issues if needed.
- Discuss potential issues that may affect communication or participation in group work with disabled students in advance. Disability Services can provide advice on individual cases.
- Deaf students, for example, may need to see other students’ mouths and eyes, and may have difficulty with more than one person speaking at once. Students with anxiety and those with autism spectrum condition, may have difficulty with social interaction and require greater structure. It is important to help your students to decide if they want to disclose their disability to the group, and how best to do this.2
Guide written by Dr Say Burgin and Jenny Brady | Updated July 2022 by Jenny Brady and Mike Kerr
© University of Leeds 2022 | Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)
- Grace, S& Gravestock P (2009), Inclusion and Diversity: Meeting the Needs of All Students. New York; Oxon: Routledge.
- Getzel, E.E. and Thoma, C.A. (2008), ‘Experience of College Students With Disabilities and the Importance of Self-Determination in Higher Education Settings’ Career Development for Exceptional Individuals 31 (2), 77-84 Hammill Institute on Disabilities http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0885728808317658