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Small Group Learning Activities

"Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do." - Goethe

The following are examples of activities applicable to small group learning:

Solve a Problem/Send a Problem

Each group receives a problem in a folder and reaches consensus regarding the answer. The answer is written on the back and the folder is passed on to a new group. This group discusses the question and comes to some consensus; they then compare their answer to what is on the back and may write an alternative to the originating group's answer. This continues with each group in the classroom. Eventually the folder returns to the original group who reviews and discusses the alternative responses from the other groups. Finally, each group reports to the entire class on their problem and gives the solution(s).


Divide the class into several expert groups and assign each group separate topics (or sub topics) related to a common theme or topic. Each group researches and discusses the topic. The groups are then reorganized so that there is an expert from each original group in every newly assembled group. The newly formed group members teaches their area of expertise to their new team. Alternatively, the newly formed teams could collaboratively solve a task requiring the expertise of each group member.

Think-Pair-Share or Think-Write-Pair-Share

Students think quietly about a problem and then discuss their answer with a neighbor. Or, they think and write their thoughts and discuss their written response with a neighbor. Volunteers are asked to share their common answers.

Learning Cell

Students read an assignment and prepare questions. When they return to class they are randomly assigned to a partner. Partners ask each other their questions and discuss the answers.


Students are put into groups or asked to form teams. Then have students work individually to answer instructor-posed questions followed by a "showdown". When every student on a team has finished the first question, they put their pencils down and have a "showdown" by simultaneously showing their answers to their teammates. If there is consensus, they encourage one another and move on to the next question. If there are differences, they work together to come to a consensus before moving on to the next question. This activity works best with questions that have clearly right or wrong answers. Remind students that this is not a show-up activity. They share/compare their answers to reach consensus, not to see who's right or wrong.

Venn Diagram

This is an activity to visually help students see the relationships between concepts, ideas or objects. In groups, have students draw two overlapping circles on a large sheet of paper. Select two concepts and have students brainstorm characteristics that make each concept unique and characteristics that are common to both concepts. The characteristics that make each unique are written in the outer halves of the two circles. What they have in common is written in the middle where the two circles overlap. Students can use these diagrams to write reports or review for an exam.


Abrami, P.C. et al., Classroom Connections: Understanding and Using Cooperative Learning. Toronto, ON: Harcourt Brace and Co. 1995

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R., & Smith. K., Active Learning: Cooperation In The College Classroom, Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co. 1998

Kagan, S., and Kagan, M., "Timed-Pair-Share and Showdown: Simple Co-Op Structures for Divergent and Convergent Thinking," Cooperative Learning and College Teaching, Winter 1997,Vol 7, No.2.

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