Contrary to what a new teacher might think, the challenges of motivating small groups to learn is successful planning. Whether you have a case of missing children due to end of the year activities or you are a new teacher planning instruction for smaller groups, you need to be prepared for the problems and challenges that arise form teaching small groups.

  • Benefits of Small Group Instruction
  • Possibilities for more student-teacher interaction
  • Opportunities for students to become much more involved
  • Teacher can provide guided practice and help struggling students

Small group instruction works similarly to whole class instruction. Here are some ways to do this:

Small Group Teaching Skills

You may need to diversify your instruction by providing more guided practice on areas that may cause your students some difficulty. For instance, when teaching ESL reading skills, you may need to include more in-depth reading strategies than you would ordinarily do during whole class formats. Also, you may want to spend more

Motivating Lessons for Small Groups

This is the time for your students to shine! A variety of formats work well such as group work, pair work and individualized instruction. A plus is of course, knowing the level and progress of your students, so you can balance different activities. A small group lesson could look for example, like this:

    • a quick 5-10 minute review activity.
    • then frontal explanation of the main activity. (your lead-in) (5-7 minutes)

transitioning them into the main activity. Use minimal explanation but accurate instructions. (2-3

  • minutes)
  • Main task (20-25 minutes)
  • Summing up. (3-4 minutes)


As you can see, you will want to teach them by means of review or a skill enhancer, so that they can work on task with minimal intervention from you in 20-25 minutes, which is the bulk of your lesson. Ideally, you will want to bridge instruction from previous larger group isntruction, otherwise, you might find yourself explaining too much new(er) material, which is okay unless you have another objective in mind.

Motivating Teaching Ideas for Small Groups

When a subject is hot, like debating on the pros and cons of children’s uniforms, group instruction can take an entirely different course. The dynamics and energies rapidly change and students become much more involved. Different skills are of course, used. These lessons can become often the students’ most memorable. Other ideas include:

  • Plan information gap type activities
  • Plan discussions based on motivating topics that have already been covered in class.
  • Use songs for teaching and encouraging self-expressions
  • Preparing for an oncoming test. Students like review sessions.

Use part of the small group lesson as mini “tutorial sessions” as you share with the students what they are missing as part of their grade while the others are on-task.

The Challenges of Small Group Instruction

Initially, a new teacher might find him/herself in a situation where students are not motivated to study. Some feel that the others are left off the hook because they are not studying the material together with them. Prepare yourself for accounts where they may verbally express themselves. But you as the new teacher, should explain assertively your objectives, the importance of the activity and how the activity will help them. Always work from the point of view of how the students can benefit, and you will have a much more cooperative group. Have patience!
Contrary to what other teachers may think, planning small(er) group lessons is a challenge within itself. But with the right thinking and attitude, you can motivate your students to success!