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Skills for Educators

All Skills for Educators

Focus Group Guide

by Nadia Shamsuddin and Robert Becker

This focus group guide was originally developed and used to get feedback on a social norms marketing campaign in an urban middle school. The guide can be adapted for use with other audiences and in other contexts.

Time: approximately 90 minutes

Materials Needed:

15 pens
Markers for nametags
  15 response sheets with prewritten questions
  Newsprint with one message prewritten on each sheet
Small plastic cups or napkins
Newsprint with messages with blanks for rewording options
15 nametags
  Newsprint with M&M info
Stipend log
  Blank newsprint
Notepad (for recorder)
  2 posters
  Ground rules prewritten on newsprint    

I. Introduction, Ground Rules & Ice Breaker
(10 minutes)

  1. Permission Slips
    Make sure all students have a signed parent permission slip (see sample parent permission slip), sign in and wear a nametag. Stress that if students do not participate in the focus group, they will not be paid!
  2. Introductions
    Introduce yourself and the person taking notes. Briefly discuss your role and the work you do. Let students know that we are planning to put posters up in the school that talk about some of the things that we have been teaching in the classrooms. Emphasize that the students, in the room today, play a very important role and are going to help us develop this poster campaign for the entire school.
  3. Ground Rules
    Review ground rules that have been written on newsprint with students. Below is a list of suggested ground rules. Ask students if they can agree to these ground rules by nodding their heads. Ask if there is anything they would like to change or add to the list.
    • Maintain confidentiality
    • Give everyone a chance to talk
    • Speak only for yourself
    • Listen to everyone's opinion
  1. M&M Icebreaker
    In preparation, write out the colors of the M&Ms on newsprint. Next to each color write something each person can say about themselves, e.g., - Red = My favorite food, Green = My favorite sport, etc.

    Give each student a handful of M&Ms in a plastic cup. Ask them to pull out two M&Ms. Based on the color, the student has to respond to the corresponding topic listed on the newsprint.

II. Message Related Questions
(40 minutes)

  1. In preparation, write each statement on a separate sheet of newsprint and post one at a time. When talking to the students, the facilitator should use the word "statement" instead of "message." "Statement" generally elicits better feedback.

    • Most students at (mention school, community, town, etc.) don't plan on having sex in the next year.
    • Most students at (mention school, community, town, etc.) want teasing to stop.
    • Most students at (mention school, community, town, etc.) say that when the time does come to have sex, they won't do it without a condom.
    • Most students at (mention school, community, town, etc.) think that when they start to date it is best to choose someone close to their own age.
    • Most students at (mention school, community, town, etc.) think that people their age are not ready to have sex.
  1. Post each statement and ask students to write (on the response sheets provided) their answers to the following questions. Give students about five minutes for each statement.

    • What does this statement mean?
    • Are there any words in this statement that you don't understand?

    Ask students to turn the sheet over and answer the following questions:

    • Do you believe this message? Why or why not?
    • Do you think most people in this school (town, community, etc.) would believe it?
  1. Collect response sheets and ask students to share some of their opinions/feedback, about what they wrote.
  2. Post each message newsprint with blanks (for rewording) separately. Post the different rewording options for each message and ask students:

    • Which one sounds the best? Which one do they like the best?
    • Which one is the easiest to understand?
    • Do they have ideas for rewording the statement to make it more clear?

III. Poster Related Questions
(35 minutes)

  1. Show the students the poster(s) for their review/comments (one at a time, if more than one). Tell students to ignore the message for now and focus on the photos/color, etc. Let them know that one of messages they discussed before will be going with the poster. For each poster ask:

    • What do you like about this poster? If they don't answer, prompt them by asking what they think of the images, colors, design.
    • What would you change to make this poster better, or would you leave it the way it is?
    • What type of font do you like the best (graffiti, cursive, etc.)
    • Do they prefer objects or cartoons vs. pictures?
  1. Discuss ideas for poster designs for each of the different messages. Show any previously created mock-ups to give them ideas and to solicit their opinion.
  2. Ask where the posters should be displayed so that people see them every day.
  3. Ask students if there is anything else that they would like to share.

IV. Closing (5-10 minutes)

  1. Explain to students that you are going to take their ideas and suggestions and work on making some posters for their school. Let them know that you would like them to be a part of another focus group once the posters ready in a month or two, so that you can get more information and help from them. Have them write their names, homeroom class and phone numbers (if they have one) on a sheet if they are interested.
  2. Thank them for their participation and hand out $. (Have them sign the stipend log.)

About the Authors
Nadia Shamsuddin, M.A., Director of School Initiatives for PPNYC, is responsible for the coordination of public school sexuality education
programming in the South Bronx and Lower East Side of Manhattan. Prior to joining PPNYC, Ms. Shamsuddin developed and implemented multifaceted after-school programming for a number of public schools in the Bronx.

Robert M. Becker, M.S., is the Associate Vice President of Education and Training at PPNYC. He has been involved in the field of sexuality and sexual health for more than 10 years and has helped write curricula that address the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents.