Institute for Academic Development
Institute for Academic Development

Small group teaching

Aspects to consider when aiming to make small group teaching more accessible and inclusive.

What constitutes small group teaching?

Tutorials or seminars are our most common means of small group teaching. During small group teaching students are often expected to actively participate. This is a fantastic opportunity for staff and students to get to know one another.

However, speaking in front of even a small audience can be daunting for even the most confident students and can be particularly problematic for those students who have hearing impairments or anxiety conditions. It is important to consider the role of classroom presentation in your learning environments.

Things to consider

Preparation and practice: if you have a credit bearing verbal assessment (for example tutorial participation or presentations) students should have had an opportunity to practice and so know what to expect. This is particularly important for students with anxiety conditions.

Seating plan: If you are aware that there is a student with a hearing impairment in your classroom then you should think about your seating plan: horse shoe seating plans are usually preferable and students should be asked to speak in turn (as it’s impossible to lip-read multiple students talking at the same time).

Mixed methods: If students are expected to present core information through e.g. a presentation it would be good practice for the group to be provided with the presentation in advance. This could be circulated using paper copies, or as an e-resource. If students are quiet or nervous it may become harder for their classmates to hear them.

Alternatives methods: Consider whether there could be another way by which students’ participation in small group teaching could be measured.


Example 1: As part of the courses 'Social Cognition' and 'Philosophy of Psychology' students receive an online participation grade which makes up 20% of their final mark. Students are randomly split into discussion groups of five or six people and each group is allocated an online forum. Participants must post a comment in the forum about the reading set for that week by a certain deadline.

Feedback from students suggests that this is a popular form of assessment. It gives a voice to those who might be too shy to speak up in class, and creates a sense of community with other members of the group. It also provides a place to express worries or confusion about the reading which the lecturer can address specifically in the next class.

- Philosophy

Example 2: Having tutorials in open-plan locations is not ideal, but given space resource pressure can be unavoidable. For students with anxiety conditions, hypersensitivity (to light and/or sound), and autistic spectrum disorders, amongst others, this can be highly inaccessible. The maths department have therefore taken the decision to provide a ‘quiet room’ for a small tutorial group to enable those who prefer a small group tutorial a comfortable environment in which they can participate.

- School of Mathematics