Strategies for Improving Small Group Instruction

small group instruction middle school

It is a proven way to support and differentiate students by instructing small groups. It is important to understand where students are at in their learning. Working with them in small groups in distance learning is one way to do this. How can small groups be designed to maximize learning? To inform these groups, we know that data is needed. This could be from observation or via a quiz. These groupings can change depending on the feedback and data we collect.

Although small group instruction is not new, we must examine the way we do it and think of new ways to implement it. It is important to make sure that small groups can draw on students’ knowledge and not use a deficit approach. Students should learn to look for each other and not rely on their teacher alone to learn.


Small group time is a great way to learn and listen: Teachers can use small group instruction to get to know their students better. It can be difficult as teachers often feel the pressure to give immediate instruction. Although gathering information is not instruction per se but it is an important part of the teaching process as it helps teachers and students learn better.

A teacher might set up an activity for students and ask them questions. This could lead to improved planning and instruction. This is also a chance to evaluate and identify what students already know. A teacher can either put students in a breakout area or have them do it in the main room during a virtual, synchronous meeting.

A teacher online taught students how to order operations. The teacher then divided the students into small groups and visited each one to look for patterns or errors. An elementary teacher wanted to see how students were learning about collaboration and community. She gave students the option of choosing the activity and then grouped them according. The teacher then observed and, in some cases, videotaped the learning to observe how students learned and what strengths and ideas they brought to show their learning.

Offer, not order: Teachers should tell students that they will receive small-group instruction. Instead, teachers should work with students to make them agents of their learning. Students can decide if they require small group support by using reflective metacognitive strategies and effective self-assessment.

This worked well in a sixth-grade English lesson. The students had just finished reviewing feedback on their argumentative paragraphs. The teacher announced that he would offer a 15-minute lesson on evidence at the center table and that anyone could sign up. While some students didn’t sign up, they continued to work on their next paragraphs. Those who felt the lesson could benefit from it were able to learn from the teacher. Sometimes students make mistakes and these moments can help students reflect.

Distance learning allows teachers to use office hours or schedule virtual sessions that are based on different topics. These lessons can last from 30 to 45 minutes with breaks. Students can then choose which one they want.

Learning extension: It’s easy to forget about the learners who excel in our support of struggling learners. You can offer small group instruction to help students with learning gaps. Students should see small group instruction in small groups as an opportunity to push their thinking and address gaps. This will help to eliminate the stigmatization and labeling of students. Small group instruction is appropriate for all students.

Choose your method Students can get small-group instruction in many different ways. Sometimes direct instruction is necessary, but it’s possible to provide centers and other learning options that can make lessons more engaging.

A teacher in a math class at high school offered not only a lesson but also a recording of a lesson on the computer. A teacher in pre-K offered students a variety of topics. One station was viewing a video, while another was engaging in hands-on activities, and the third was listening to the teacher tell a story.

Distance learning allows the teacher to create a series of instruction sessions for small groups on a topic. Each session might use different methods or tasks. One activity could be to watch and discuss a video while another might be a performance challenge or task.

Student-driven lessons: Teachers can also offer students the opportunity to teach. It can be very funny for teachers to see students grasp an idea from a peer after they have failed to understand it from their teacher. Our students are incredibly talented and have a wealth of knowledge. Students love to learn from their peers. You might consider bringing in students to share their knowledge with other students in small groups. These mini-lessons can be offered in synchronous online sessions by teachers. Students may also record them for later sharing.

Small group instruction is, in essence, reciprocal. It’s a two-way street. “What can my students learn from me?” We may lose the chance to learn from students in our rush to help them. This could make it harder for us to be more effective teachers. It’s not just about addressing learning gaps. It’s also about finding opportunities to empower students and to celebrate their knowledge.