Sample Small Group Exercises

Small Group Exercises Sample Formats

Answering Key Questions

Give each group a list of strategically designed questions that they must answer about the text/object/concept that will promote the development of a critical skill.

1. Give each group: either (a) a different list of questions, or (b) the same list of questions but with a different analytical slant assigned to each group.

2. Give them time to answer the questions.

3. As a class, go through the answers and discuss the connections and differences between each groups’ answers.

Solving a Problem

1. Find a compelling problem concerning the text/object/concept.

2. Choose several different perspectives from which to approach the problem.

3. Assign each group a different perspective.

4. Give them time to solve the problem.

5. Each group takes turns presenting their solutions.

6. After each group presents, the other groups should be given a few minutes to question/challenge/ debate with them.

7. Close the exercise by finding the connections between each of the solutions, showing how they complete each other.

The Jigsaw

This exercise works with any complex problem that can be broken down into 4-5 substantive components.

1. Assign each group an area in which to develop expertise.

2. Give the groups time to analyze the text/object/concept in-depth from their respective angles of expertise.

3. Re-shuffle the groups so that there is one member from each of the original groups in each new group.

4. Now have each group solve a problem concerning the text/object/concept with their four experts weighing in with each angle of analysis.

5. Have each group present their results and discuss the differences.

Debate or Trial

This exercise is about preparing a persuasive case

Divide the class into half, instead of groups of three or four. The groups should then divide themselves into defense and prosecution sub-teams.

1. Give each half of the class a different cause to support that links the learning goal and the text/object/concept.

2. Give them time to prepare evidence to support their case.

3. The first group presents their case.

4. The second group’s prosecution team then cross-examines the first group.

5. The first group defense team responds.

6. Repeat these three steps with the other half of the class.

7. You (as judge) decide which case is more persuasive and why; but be sure to acknowledge the strengths of both sides!

Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning

There are times when students feel so confused by new concepts that they don’t know what questions to ask. Guided reciprocal peer questioning provides students with higher order open-ended questions to generate a focused discussion in a small group setting. The questions are generic prompts students use to generate specific content-based questions.

The instructor gives a mini-lecture in class and then provides a list of open-ended questions. Below is a selection of question formats, including questions that encourage synthesis, comparison and contrast, and extrapolation to other contexts.

Explain why _______ .

Explain how _______ .

What is the meaning of _______ ?

Why is _______ happening?

What is the main idea of _______ ?

What is the solution to the problem of _______ ?

What if _______ ?

What conclusions can I draw about _______?

What is the best _______ and why?

What do you think causes _______ ? Why?

How does _______ affect _______ ?

How does _______ relate to what I’ve learned before?

What is the difference between _______ and _______ ?

How are _______ and _______ similar?

How would I use _______ to _______ ?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of _______ ?

What is another way to look at _______ ?

What is a new example of _______ ?

What would happen if _______ ?

Why is _______ important?

How does _______ apply to everyday life?

Students are then given a few minutes to individually prepare several content-specific questions aided by these open-ended questions. The students form groups and take turns asking their questions and discussing possible answers. Alternatively, the instructor can assign reading prior to class and provide the open-ended questions as a take home worksheet. With this variation, it is helpful to set aside a few minutes at the beginning of the next class for students to review the reading assignment and questions.

Guided Peer Reciprocal Questioning” Sources

NISE site:

King, A. (1993). “From sage on the stage to guide on the side.” College Teaching, 41(1).

Millis, B. J., and Cottell, P. G., Jr. (1998). “Cooperative Learning for Higher Education Faculty,” American Council on

Education, Series on Higher Education. The Oryx Press, Phoenix, AZ.