Everything You Need To Know About Small Group Instruction

When a teacher finishes teaching a lesson to the whole class, there are always some students who due to some, or other reason may not fully understand it the way other students do. For that, small group instruction takes place. Accompanied by increased instruction and support allows for the grouping of students into sizes ranging from two to six that work towards bridging the learning gaps that might persist in the classroom.

The development of pupils’ intellectual abilities is the only goal of small-group instruction. Many students experience learning gaps in school that introduce many challenges for them to come to the same level as the classroom is expected to be. Within a single academic year, teachers are required to instruct pupils and help them become more academically competent. 

Therefore, in order to effectively fulfill the requirements of their pupils and assure their success, educators use small-group education. Flexible and diverse learning possibilities are provided through small-group education. Since there are fewer pupils, there are more opportunities for participation. Better monitoring by teachers enables them to give more tailored feedback and support to each student.                            

What does research point out?

How small group instruction results in better student performance and enhancement of critical thinking has been talked about by many researchers. Important research[1] was conducted to understand the impact of small group instruction in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) on students. The vital findings of the research are discussed below.

  • Small-group, cooperative training has reportedly been shown to have a significant impact on several additional outcome measures, such as the development of higher-order (critical) thinking abilities and cognitive abilities.
  • Small-group education enables students to cognitively practice and relate course information to pre-existing schema or conceptual frameworks, leading to a deeper, more contextualized degree of topic understanding.
  • A wide range of outcome indicators, including achievement, interest in science and math, critical thinking, and retention, are at least tentatively shown to be impacted by cooperative, small-group techniques.
  • The report also claims that small-group training has “robust” effects on the achievement, persistence (attrition), and attitudes of these three broadly defined student outcome measures.

Another significant research[2] was conducted to understand the effect of small group instruction with reference to reading comprehension. The research included students in first grade in a school based in New Jersey. 10 story books were read to the students to understand their active listening skills. After this, every student was asked to express the story individually. It was found that children who performed in a small instruction group did it slightly better than children who heard stories in a large instruction group. Hence, the research shows that students in a small instruction group are more likely to be better at reading comprehension skills than other students.

small group instruction

Crucial steps to implement small group instruction 

Most teachers and educators have a certain plan; however, a full-proof way to implement small group instructions offers better success and productivity. Check these steps and use them in your teaching journey.

Step 1: Set the Goal

Small group instructions can fail if teachers are not aware of the end goal. Here, first set the achievable goal or targets in a particular frame of time. Once you have decided, communicate the goal to students. Communicating goals enables students to shift their focus on achieving goals instead of putting their efforts haywire.

Step 2: Communicate the Ways of Operating

Teachers function differently with small group instructions so it becomes essential to communicate in these ways. You should make students know what they are supposed to do and how. For example, if a reading session is scheduled during the last 15 minutes, students should know it prior to being prepared for the same. Similarly, any work, discipline measures, or classroom etiquette should be well communicated. 

Step 3: Implement and Evaluate 

After you have followed the first two steps, it is time to watch how students respond to different activities and reading sessions. Implement various strategies and evaluate if students are doing well. You also need to check the areas where students are struggling and the areas where they do well. Make a note of these significant elements in an evaluation sheet or so.

Step 4: Reflect and Offer Feedback

As you identify the areas of strengths and weaknesses, take time to reflect on these areas through appropriate exercises. Also, offer positive reinforcement to students struggling with a particular task or activity. In step 4, offer feedback to all students and try to understand their points of view. With all these steps, you can successfully implement better small-group instructions.

When is it appropriate to use small-group instruction?

Education is ever-evolving and teachers generally use small-group or large-group instruction settings for different students. Adopting effective teaching strategies offers a competitive edge in the educational setting. However, it is important to consider the right time and student engagement before using small group instruction. 

Students should start receiving small group teaching after the first six weeks of school. For students in such a learning environment, teachers should consider using it throughout the school year. For pupils, it is good to utilize at least 3-5 times weekly to reinforce abilities. 

For the implementation of small group instruction, take the first six weeks to gather information and pre-assess the reading and math skills of the students. After this, the data should be analyzed accurately to identify the precise learning objectives that students must meet in order to succeed. Data collection and student regrouping can both be done during the first week of a new unit of study.

small group instruction

Know how to implement small group instruction 

Small group instruction is a special form of teaching hence, teachers surely require relevant strategies and ways to teach and know their students in a better manner. The below-mentioned ways help educators create a significant difference in learning.

1. Use Nominal Brainstorming 

The method of nominal brainstorming is more controlled than brainstorming. It is especially effective at capturing the attention of shy or reticent students. A variation of brainstorming called nominal brainstorming allows every member of the group to contribute. This method of brainstorming encourages students to voice their opinions and also feel heard in small group instruction. To practice, certain activities can be employed.

2. Encourage the Usage of Flashcards

At every point of education, flashcards can be an extremely helpful resource in small-group instruction. They are an excellent way to introduce, practice, and recycle language skills. Children find it simple to learn new facts because of flashcards. When learning a new idea, students frequently retain what they observe. Flashcards are useful for stimulating kinaesthetic learners as well as visual learners. 

3. Promote Classroom Activities 

To make learning more enjoyable and engaging, a teacher can organize various classroom and school activities. Students get the opportunity to exercise the higher-order thinking abilities that teachers love to teach when they work in small groups. In the classroom, playing games boosts student motivation in general. Teachers can also set realistic goals and have high expectations. Activities encourage a progressive attitude rather than a fixed mindset.

4. Invite Group Discussions 

Small group instruction settings can be enhanced by inviting all students for healthy discussions. Inquiry, revision, and problem-solving skills are just a few of the instructional tactics that can be targeted during carefully prepared group conversations that encourage students. Participation, learning, and higher-level reasoning are equally important in small-group instruction. They also act as a formative tool for figuring out the class’s level of achievement, which is useful for making lesson plans.

5. Set Clear Expectations 

Small instruction groups are highly dependent on student-teacher relationships. Here, it becomes extremely crucial that students understand the tasks that they are supposed to do independently. For this, teachers can also write goals on chart paper visible to all students on a daily basis. When expectations from students are instructed clearly, students are more likely to perform in a systematic manner with a problem-solving mindset.

Wrapping up…

Flexible and diverse learning possibilities are provided through small-group education. Enhanced peer collaboration, simple differentiation opportunities, personalized instruction, and growth opportunities are all made possible by small-group education.  Here, it is important for teachers and educators to understand the difference between small-group and large-group instruction to exactly modify the curriculum accordingly. 

It is also significant to know the differences in students’ progress at different paces. Hence, small group instruction may take longer than usual for special or struggling children. With the above-mentioned strategies, teachers can use them for academic achievement and the overall success of small group instruction. 


  1. Cooper, J. (n.d.). Small-group Instruction in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology (SMET) Disciplines: A Status Report and an Agenda for the Future.
  2. The Effect of Small Group Instruction on Reading Comprehension. (n.d.).

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