Small Group Instruction

This teaching approach provides focused attention and individual feedback

Teacher helping students in classroom with small group instruction
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Small group instruction usually follows whole group instruction and provides students with a reduced student-teacher ratio, typically in groups of two to four students. Whole group instruction is a teaching method where the teacher provides direct instruction to the whole group—usually a class. By contrast, small group instruction allows teachers to work more closely with each student on a specific learning objective, reinforce skills learned in whole group instruction and check for student understanding.

Small group instruction gives students more of the teacher's focused attention and a chance to ask specific questions about what they learned. Teachers can use small group instruction to intervene with struggling students as well.

The Value of Small Group Instruction

In part because of the increased popularity of programs such as "Response to Intervention," a strategy for early identification and support for students with learning and behavior needs, small group instruction is now commonplace in most schools. Teachers see the value in this approach. Student-teacher ratios have always been a factor in school improvement conversations. Adding small group instruction on a regular basis can be a way to improve that student-teacher ratio.

Small group instruction gives teachers a natural opportunity to provide targeted, differentiated instruction for small groups of students. It gives the teacher an opportunity to evaluate and assess more closely what each student can do and build strategic plans around those assessments. Students who struggle to ask questions and participate in a whole group setting may thrive in a small group where they feel more comfortable and less overwhelmed. Furthermore, small group instruction tends to proceed at a fast pace, which typically helps students maintain focus.​

Small group instruction can occur in groups of students with similar academic needs or in cooperative groups of students with diverse abilities, putting higher achieving students in the role of ​a peer mentor. Small group instruction encourages student involvement in lessons and can help them learn how to work well with others.

The Challenge of Small Group Instruction

Small group instruction makes it more challenging to manage the other students in a classroom. In a class of 20 to 30 students, you may have five to six small groups to work with during small group instruction time. The other groups must work on something while they wait their turn. Teach students to work independently during this time. You can keep them occupied with engaging center activities designed to reinforce skills taught during whole group instruction that do not require further instruction and free you to focus on one specific small group. 

Take the time to establish a routine for small group instruction time. Students need to know what you expect of them during this class period. Making small group instruction work may not always be an easy task, but with commitment and consistency, you can make it effective. The preparation time and effort become worth it when you see the powerful opportunities it provides, paying big dividends for your students. Ultimately, a high-quality small group instruction experience can make a significant academic difference for all of your students, regardless of their level of achievement.

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Your Citation
Meador, Derrick. "Small Group Instruction." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Meador, Derrick. (2020, August 26). Small Group Instruction. Retrieved from Meador, Derrick. "Small Group Instruction." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).