Small Group Activities

Small Group Activities to Increase Engagement

Teacher-Author: Sherry A. Johnson

Maslow identified several needs that individuals attempt to have satisfied, in a five hierarchy system. The third level is individuals’ need for belonging. Providing students the opportunities to work in groups will help to satisfy this need and help to raise their expectations for success. There are several group activities that I have used which have proven successful. These include the inner-outer circle, numbered to remember and vote with your feet.
Inner-Outer Circle

Inner-Outer Circle requires the students to form two concentric circles. Each student in the inner circle is paired with a student in the outer circle. The teacher poses a question and the students discuss the question with their partner. The students in the inner circle then move one or two steps to left or right to form a new partnership and the process continues. In Math class, students may be instructed to find the answer to 3X2. Each person would solve the problem individually, and then discuss the answer. They could share whether the answer is called product or sum and justify their response with their partner before the switch occurs.

Numbered to Remember

In numbered to remember, students are randomly numbered and then placed in temporary groups. All of the students with the same number would then meet in a designated area to discuss a topic or work on an activity that requires them to use their schema to further their understanding of the concept. The group is dissolved when the activity is completed. Due to the fact that students are randomly grouped, this strategy allows students to be flexibly regrouped thus getting the opportunity to interact and hear the perspective and opinions of more students.

Vote With Your Feet

Vote with your feet is a strategy involving physical movement. Students are given a question to answer, for example a Math problem. Possible answers are posted around the room, and when student are ready to declare their answer, they walk and stand beside the answer selected. Another version of this activity is 4 Corners, where students go to a designated corner to declare their answer or opinion on a topic. Once they are in the respective groups, students may further discuss their answer choices to deepen their understanding of the topic (Marzano, et al., 2011). In a Social Studies classroom in which students are discussing Texas Revolution, the teacher could ask a question such as, “Who contributed the most to the independence of Texas, Austin, Houston, Santa Ana or Davey?” On chart paper the names of the men could be written and posted in the four corners of the room. Students would then go to the area indicating their opinion and write facts to defend or substantiate their choice.


When using jigsaw, each student in the team is given a fraction of the assignment to complete. When each person completes his/her section, the students put them together and each person reports on his/her section. In Science class for example, the students may be working on animal groups. Each team would be given an animal group to work on and within the teams each person is given one aspect to complete — characteristics, adaptation, habitat, food, and life cycle. When each person completes his/her section, then the entire team would put the pieces together and discuss their assigned topic. The groups can then present their animal group to the whole class creating an even bigger jigsaw, and the entire group benefits from the process.

Facts and Fib

Facts and fib requires team members to write four facts and one fib about a topic they have learned about on cards. Team members then discuss the cards and identify the facts and the fib in their own groups. In another version, each group may work together to complete the facts and fib cards. Then the cards are exchanged among the teams in the class and members discuss the cards, identifying, discussing and justifying the facts and the fib.

Round Robin
Small group teaching

Students discussing math concepts.

In round robin, students are given a category or a topic to discuss. Each member of the team takes turn naming items that may be added to the category. For example if the topic is proper nouns, students would take turn naming proper nouns. The activity done in round robin may be done orally, or students may take turn writing their thoughts down.


When students are properly instructed and adequately motivated to complete an activity, they rise to the expectation. An effective strategy which I have often used to help students raise their level of expectation for success is think-pair-share. Whenever I use this strategy I have to keep in mind that students will need time to actually think about the concept, topic or problem given to them. After students think about the concept for example, they are then paired with another student to share their thoughts. If I want to extend the discussion, I may allow the students to share with a second partner or join two sets of partners for added discussion time. There are times when another version is used whereby students think about the concept, write their thoughts down and then share with their partner (write-think-pair-share). Regardless of the version used, students know that their partners are expecting to hear their thoughts and participation increases significantly.

Give One, Get One

Another pair-share strategy is give one, get one. “This is most effectively done whenstudents are keeping notes or notebooks” (Marzano et al., 2011, p. 26). In Math class for example, after completing a unit on fractions students could review their notes, then are paired with a partner to compare the notes they have, in an effort to give new information and get new information. They may also generate questions for each other to answer (give one, get one), or keep the questions to be shared with the whole class whereby each student gives a question and gets one in return.

I find that pair-share activities are more successful when partnerships are established. The students in my class have four assigned partners, by the end of the school year. These partners have established meeting areas in the room, and I always give specific instruction about which partner will start the discussion. I find that clear expectation and established and practiced routines and procedures make this strategy useful and lasting. It is also very useful to have routines in place to ensure that all participants are actively engaged in the learning process.