Small group work

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13. Working in small groups

Small group work is a really important component of any training program. They are one of the best ways to encourage involvement and participation.

Small groups

  • provide an opportunity for more people to have more “air time” to express opinions, add ideas, and ask questions.
  • allow individuals to receive feedback more quickly.
  • allow participants to learn from each other.
  • create opportunities for more people to practice skills or apply knowledge at the same time.
  • make learning more dynamic and active.
  • encourage participants to know each other better, breaking down barriers and creating a more positive learning atmosphere.

As a facilitator you will want to think about the activity you have planned and if it is going to be important to manipulate the composition of the groups. For example, you may think that the participant’s should mix more and NOT be always with the same colleagues. You may think that a better discussion will come from mixing certain personalities more carefully. You may believe that the less experienced participants will learn more if they are encouraged to mix more with others who have more to share. The thought you put into this question can have a very significant impact on the outcome of the exercise, how fruitful it is to all participants and how rich the discussion or resulting work produced is.

Key points about creating small groups

Some activities dictate the number of people you need in each group and it doesn’t matter how many groups you have

  • for example, a role-play activity which requires two people and an observer must have at least 3 people

Some activities dictate the number of groups you need but it doesn’t matter how many people are in each group

  • for example, a topic has five key areas which need discussion and investigation so you would want to create five groups of approximately equal size.

Ways to create small groups

Sometimes you will let people decide which group they want to go. They may choose their group for any number of reasons. Their choice may be based on

  • their interests or expertise
  • their friends’ or close colleagues’ choice
  • where they are sitting and which group is easiest to move to
  • who else is in the group
  • how ‘easy’ they think the group’s task is.

At other times you will want to influence the mix within a group. There are many ways to do this depending on what mix you want to achieve, or the mood of the activity or indeed atmosphere within the whole group.

You could, for example;

  • Assign a number, colour, word such as 1, 2, or 3, green, red or blue or cat, dog, rabbit to each participant and then get them to regroup in the room according to this number or name. This way is likely to form groups with a good mix of participants.
  • Get people to arrange themselves according to which years they were born in 50s, 60s, 70s etc. This will greatly influence the average age of each group and will produce a particularly interesting outcome for a specific purpose. You might want to do this if, say, your activity was examining change over time perhaps.

Whatever method you use make sure that it

  • Serves a good purpose and is appropriate for the group
  • Doesn’t create confusion or chaos
  • Doesn’t waste time
  • Adds to the activity as a whole, never detracts from its purpose.