We’ve received a lot of questions about how to make small group learning work smoothly for students and faculty.  Here’s one with some answers gleaned from the literature and from experience:

I always seem to end up talking a lot in sgl.  How can I let students talk more?

  • Learn to “teach with your mouth shut.” (Finkel, 2000).  Let the students do the work in their groups and let them take care of the debrief as much as possible.
  • As soon as students are in their groups, get them going on the tasks.  Stop talking.
  • Have faith in the students’ ability to get it, or to help others in the group get it.
  • Plan to speak about 25% of the time, and let groups take the rest of the 75% of the time.
  • In debrief, assign groups to answer.
  • Don’t respond to student answers in debrief, except to say “Thank you.”
  • Ask other groups for agreement, for other suggestions, for challenges or rationales.  If a wrong answer is given, ask the class or other groups if the answer is correct.
  • If there are questions, “Park them” for later discussion on the whiteboard, or to post answers to the MEdTech Discussion Board later that day in the session.
  • If it’s someone showing off their own knowledge by asking a question irrelevant to the class, ask to discuss after class. “That question shows you have a great deal of background in this subject.  The question is not relevant to the what the class needs to know but I’d be very glad to discuss it with you…Will you stay after class, or get in touch with me?”
  • Plan for a mini-lecture time slot (say 5-7 minutes) for you to explain denser or misunderstood topics.
  • Make sure that your activities for the group are challenging yet give the opportunity to learn.

Do you have more answers or other questions?  Please respond to this post!

Finkel, Donald L. & Finkel, Susan. (2000).  Teaching with your mouth shut.  Heinemann.