Teaching groups

If you are teaching four or more students then organise into groups of similar numbers. This group format is essential for several reasons. If the students work as individuals then the brighter students tend to give all the answers or become impatient if they are not allowed to do so.


In the group situation even the most silent member of the group can watch in action the thinking of the other group members as they discuss matters. The shyness that prevents many students from offering opinions disappear when they are operating within their own small groups instead of with the teacher and the whole class.


Within each group there is more time for back-and-forth discussion, disagreement and alternative points of view than with the whole class. The thinking lessons require  the practice of a particular thinking operation and this is easiest in small groups. It is not a matter of receiving knowledge or finding the right answer.


Forming the Groups


There are several ways of doing this:


1. Groups put together by the teacher who knows the class and divides it into the groups that would work best.


2. Arbitrary arrangement. This can also be done by having the students pick up slips of paper which assign them to a particular group.


The grouping of friends is not recommended since they may find their own company so delightful that little attention is paid to the lesson itself.

Size of Groups


In general, aim to keep group sizes small. The ideal group size is four. More than six is difficult. The more groups there are, the less time the teacher will have to hear all of the output from each group. One way to address this is to ask one group to give a full output and then invite the other groups to add extra suggestions.


Spokesperson


There are times when someone has to give the output of the whole group. This spokesperson should be determined beforehand. The spokesperson may want to take down in note form the output produced by the group. From time to time the teacher may call upon a different member of the group to be spokesperson in order to give everyone a chance to express the ideas of the group.


Change of Groups


The groups may be changed from time to time: for instance after every three lessons. Minor switches can be made if there are personality difficulties or if a teacher notices that a particular group is weak. Sometimes one or two individuals want to opt out of a group to work on their own. This should not be encouraged but may be allowed in exceptional circumstances.


Disadvantages of Groups


Some high-achieving students find that in a group they cannot express their own ideas because of the necessity for compromise or because the ideas are credited to the group. In the lessons there are opportunities for individuals to respond on their own either in the discussion period or in the offering of additional ideas after the designated group has given its output. There are additional practice items that can be set as written output these high-achieving students.


Group Output


The members of a group discuss the situation they have been asked to think about and develop their ideas and conclusions. One of the groups is then invited by the teacher to give its output through its spokesperson. The other groups listen and can then add their own ideas, comments or disagreements provided that they are new points. These additions may be done either by the group spokesperson or by individuals in a group. If they have something to say the groups raise their hands to attract the teacher's attention and the teacher chooses the desired groups.


There are other ways to organize the output. For instance in some cases each group in turn gives one point. In some cases the groups are tackling different situations and here each group has to give its own output. The output is usually verbal but the teacher can also ask for written output.

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