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Skills for Educators

All Skills for Educators

Managing Small Groups

This article is divided into the following sections:

  • an introduction to the strategy
  • a description of the instructional strategy and its components,
  • tips for using the strategy effectively.


Effective pregnancy prevention programs use a variety of teaching strategies to help adolescents personalize and apply the information and skills taught in the program. One of these teaching strategies is having youth participate in small group activities such as cooperative learning and skill practice. Educators are sometimes reluctant to use small group activities because they feel it is difficult to manage several groups of teens at one time. The following description and six steps outline the purpose and provide a structure for managing small groups in a way that maximizes learning.


Having youth work in small groups meets several important objectives including:

  • provides an environment where youth have an opportunity to share their ideas, opinions and norms about sexual health and risk taking;

  • provides an opportunity to practice a prevention skill such as listening, assertiveness or negotiating protection;

  • provides an opportunity to learn cooperatively thus building connection with other youth;

  • provides an opportunity for group planning and project development;

  • provides an opportunity for shy or reticent youth to share their ideas in a more comfortable environment.

Step I: Preparation Prior to the Session

  1. Review the steps for the small group activity found in the lesson or curriculum guide.

  2. Determine the number, size and how you will form small groups. Usually groups of four to eight youth work best because this range of sizes maximizes the opportunity for interaction. See the Learning Activity Five Fun Ways to Form Small Groups.

  3. Prepare any needed materials for the small group activity. For example, you may want to write the small group questions on the blackboard, or you may write them on 5 x 7 cards for each group.

  4. If youth are practicing a skill, you will want to decide if you want them to practice from a script. If they are using scripts, you will need copies for each small group.

  5. If you are using peer leaders for each group, you will want to prepare them for their role in the activity. For example, they may read each of the discussion questions to the group or they might be the time keeper, etc.

Step II: Prepare Youth for the Small Group Activity

  1. Provide the necessary content or background information for the small group work or model the skill youth will be practicing.

  2. Introduce the activity by explaining its purpose and overviewing how the activity will be done. For example, you might say: "Now we will work together in small groups to practice refusal skills. First I will explain how we will form groups. Then you will move to your assigned groups, and then I will give you instructions for how you will work in your group."

Step III: Form Small Groups

  1. Explain to youth how you will be dividing them into groups. For example, you might say: " I will be numbering you off into small groups of six for your role plays. All one's will be a group, all two's, etc."

  2. Explain how and where you want students to move. For example, you might say: "After I am finished numbering you off, I want all number 1s to go to the back corner, the number 2s to go to the table by the door, etc."

  3. Ask youth to move to their groups. DO NOT GIVE INSTRUCTIONS WHILE THEY ARE MOVING.

Step IV: Give Clear Instructions

  1. Once they have formed their small groups, get their attention again and give instructions for the small group work. It usually works best to give instructions for one task at a time and let the groups complete that task before giving the next instruction. Another option might be to use peer leaders who are versed in the instructions and can help the small group move on to the next step.

  2. Reinforce your oral instructions with written steps on the blackboard or newsprint. It may be appropriate to uncover only one step at a time as you give that instruction.

  3. Ask if anyone has a question about the instructions or have a youth restate the instructions to check for understanding.

  4. Hand out worksheets or things to read only after you have given the instructions. Once youth have the materials in hand, they will start reading and stop listening.

Step V: Monitor the Small Groups

  1. Go to each group to make sure they understand the assignment and are on task.

  2. Don't hover or participate in the group discussion but clarify and help groups to get started or stay on task.

  3. If youth are practicing a skill, make sure they are practicing it correctly. For example, using each of the components of assertiveness like making eye contact, using a firm voice, etc.

  4. Help with timing by promoting slow groups to move along and motivating fast groups to go ahead with additional discussion. Give time warnings like, "You have five minutes left to finish this task."

Step VI: Discuss the Small Group Activity

  1. Have youth report on what happened during the discussion. For example, you might ask representatives from each group to share what conclusions their group came to or what differences came up.

  2. Have youth draw generalizations and/or apply what they have learned to real life. For example, you might ask volunteers to identify one or two situations where they might use the skill they just practiced.

  3. If youth have practiced a skill, you will want to talk about possible barriers to using the skill in real life. For example, youth may be afraid to use refusal skills because their peers will make fun of them. Be sure to reinforce the idea that people respect others who stand up for what they believe in. When responding to barriers, be non-judgmental, acknowledge the barrier as a reality for the youth even if it seems unreasonable to you, and engage the class in identifying ways to overcome the barrier.



  • Working with youth to establish ground rules is a prerequisite to effective small group work. Ground rules should be similar to those described in the Educator Skill Guiding Large Group Discussions.

  • Assign roles to group members. For example, roles might include a recorder, a reporter, a time keeper, a discussion leader, etc. Youth should be clear about the responsibilities for each role. We have found it helpful to have each role and responsibility written on a 3 x 5 card for reference in each group.

  • If small groups are not working as you would like, involve the youth in finding solutions to the problems that are arising.