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6. Make the most of student discussions. In small-group sessions, students can deepen their learning signi cantly by explaining things to others in the group, and often hearing a fellow student explain something can be more understandable than when the tutor tries to explain it.
7. Use small-group contexts to guide students through how assessment works. Build their assessment literacy
by letting them see how assessment criteria are applied in practice by their assessors. Help them to get into assessors’ minds. Even better, get students themselves assessing examples of work (good, bad, and indifferent examples) so they can internalise the assessment criteria, and do high-level learning-by-assessing. This can be one of the most powerful things to do in small-group contexts, and it’s regarded as so useful by students that the tendency for them to shrug-off the importance of small-group sessions is signi cantly overcome.
VARIOUS WAYS OF FORMING SUB-GROUPS
Sometimes, even when ‘small-group’ sessions are on the agenda, we can end up with quite a large group for sessions where we really want everyone to get engaged. Suppose the ‘small group’ numbers 20 students or more, there’s the danger that teaching and learning could revert to lecture-mode. You might prefer to get them into sub-groups of four or  ve for example. There are several approaches to doing this, each with its own pros and cons.
• Let them form their own sub-groups. These are sometimes called ‘friendship’ groups because of the likelihood of friends already being close to each other, or may be ‘geographical’ groups chosen on the basis of who is where in the room when the groups are forming. An advantage is that students who
like each other or know each other may work well together.
A disadvantage is that there will often end up being a group based on those students who didn’t get quickly into a friendship group, and such students may start the group-work with less enthusiasm.
• Alphabetical groups. Class lists are one way of predetermining the composition of groups. It’s a way of forming random groups, but if the same technique is being used by several tutors the group composition may be boringly similar in different subjects.
• Really random groups. You could go round the larger group, calling out ‘A, B, C, D, E...’ and giving each student a letter, then ask ‘all the ‘As’ collect in this corner, all the ‘Bs’ over there...’ and so on.
• Successively different groups. One way of making this happen is to use sticky labels on which you’ve already written a three-digit code and onto which students can write their preferred names to use as name badges. The code could consist of:
A symbol (triangle, asterisk, square, or sticky coloured dots);
A letter (A, B, C, etc);
A number (1, 2, 3, etc).
The  rst group membership could be ‘all the people with the same symbol collect together...’; then the second group task could
be ‘please go into groups by letter - the ‘As’ over here, the ‘Bs’ there...’ and so on, and  nally the third group arrangement could be ‘all the ‘1s’ here please, the ‘2s’ there, and so on. That way everyone will be in an entirely different group three times over, and students will interact successively with a signi cant proportion of the overall population in the whole room. Example of codes for sticky labels, to get 25 students into three different groups:
FURTHER READING
Meyer, J. H. and Land, R. (2006) ‘Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: an introduction’, in Meyer, J. H. and Land, R. (eds) Overcoming barriers to student understanding. London: Routledge. pp. 27-42.
A1
B2✽
C3
D4+
E5
A2
B3
C4*
D5
E1+
A3+
B4
C5
D1✽
E2
A4
B5+
C1
D2
E3✽
A5✽
B1
C2+
D3
E4
26 IN AT THE DEEP END | LEARNING + TEACHING academy
DECIDING ON SUB-GROUP SIZE
In small-group teaching, it’s often useful to divide the students
into sub-groups, where the sub-group sizes depend upon what you intend your students to be doing. Learning from and with peers can be very powerful when well facilitated (and indeed when students are working under their own steam, if they’ve learned
to value how useful it can be). Some factors you may take into account are listed below.
1. Pairs: these aren’t really groups, but the advantages include the fact that it’s not easy for one member to be completely inactive.
2. Threes: this group size is small enough to avoid most of the risks of inactive participants, and big enough to bring together more experience than a pair. A disadvantage is that trios can often end up with two ganging up on the other one.
3. Fours: these are still small enough to ensure that everyone is encouraged to contribute - many group-work facilitators  nd fours a preferred group size. Disadvantages can include a tendency for the group to split itself into two pairs, and there isn’t a ‘casting vote’ if the pairs disagree on what to do next or how to approach a task.


































































































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