53 Interesting Things to Do in Your Seminars and Tutorials: Tips and Strategies for Running Really Effective Small Groups

53 Interesting Things to Do in Your Seminars and Tutorials: Tips and Strategies for Running Really Effective Small Groups


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781743311585
Publisher: Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited
Publication date: 05/01/2013
Pages: 134
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Hannah Strawson is a lawyer. Graham Gibbs was professor at the Oxford Learning Institute at the University of Oxford. Trevor Habeshaw and Sue Habeshaw lectured at the University of Western England.

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53 Interesting Things to do in your Seminars and Tutorials

Tips and Strategies for Running Really Effective Small Groups

By Hannah Strawson, Sue Habeshaw, Trevor Habeshaw, Graham Gibbs

Allen & Unwin

Copyright © 2012 The Professional and Higher Partnership Ltd
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-74331-158-5


Starting off

1 Getting to know you

2 Learning names

3 A group agreement

4 Ground rules

5 Objectives

6 Orientation

7 Starting again

1 Getting to know you

The sooner members of your tutorial group get to know each other, the sooner they will feel easy about working together and participating in discussion. If you spend some time on introductory exercises at the beginning of a course, students will feel that they have made a start in getting to know each other.

There are three sorts of exercise you can do: individual, in pairs, or in small groups. (Whichever you do, don't forget to join in yourself.)

a Individual

Each person introduces herself and says something about herself. It's helpful if you make explicit what this should be and write it on the board.

It could be:
– my name
– where I'm from, and
– why I'm here

– my name
– which options I'm doing, and
– who else I know in this room.

b Pairs

Group members get into pairs and spend three minutes each finding out about their partner. At the end of the six minutes, each person introduces her partner to the rest of the group and tells them something about her.

c Small groups

Students form groups of three or four and spend five minutes finding out what they've got in common with the others in their group: taste in music, 'A' levels, Auntie Annies, and so on. At the end of five minutes they report to the other groups what they have in common.

One advantage of this type of exercise is that it ensures that everybody has the experience of speaking early on. If you want your students to get used to speaking in tutorials, the sooner they start the better.

If individuals join your tutorial group late, don't forget to organise introductions for them. You could say, for example, 'This is Chris, who's transferred from another course. I'd like to welcome you to this group. Who do you know here? ... Perhaps the rest of you would like to tell Chris who you are and say something about yourselves. (I'll draw a plan of the room with the names on, Chris, to help you remember who everyone is.) And then we'll ask you to say something about yourself. OK, who'd like to start?'

2 Learning names

Members of a group cannot work together successfully if they don't know each others' names. When you meet a new group, find out if they know each other, and if they don't, spend some time working on names.

If you have started with some kind of introductory exercise, they will already have heard each others' names. You can build on this in the following ways:

a Get students in turn to say the names of everyone in the group and join in yourself. Then change places and do it again until all the names are familiar.

b On the board draw a plan of the furniture in the room and as students speak, write in each name at the appropriate point on the plan.

c Ask students to say their own name first when they speak in the group for the first few times and when they form pairs ask them to remind their partner of their name.

d Encourage them to ask when they forget someone's name.

e Use students' names yourself when you speak to them.

Students find these activities potentially embarrassing but often remark later how quickly the group gelled as a result.

3 A group agreement

In educational institutions the expectations of students are usually meticulously specified while the teachers have more flexibility and choice. For example, in most institutions deadlines are set for the submission of students' course work but not for its return by the teachers.

If you want to make the situation more equitable you can negotiate a group agreement with your students. The first time you meet your tutorial groups you can say, 'There are all kinds of regulations governing your behaviour on this course and these are all spelt out in the course handbook. (For instance ...) There aren't any regulations for me. I'd like us to spend some time today drawing up some rules which will specify what you expect of me and what I expect of you. Shall we start with a round of suggestions?' (see item 22). These suggestions then form the basis for negotiating the group agreement.

The agreement could be, for example, 'You will submit your course work by the cut-off date and I will return it to you, marked, within x days of your cut-off date' or 'You will do the preparatory reading for each tutorial and I will provide guidelines for each set of reading' or 'We all agree to be here at x o'clock each week, ready to start'.

Normally, the very existence of a group agreement, if it has been freely entered into by all parties, ensures that it will be honoured. If it is broken, however, group members need to feel free to remind each other of the agreement and feel willing to accept reminders from others. You can aid this by encouragement and by example.

4 Ground rules

All groups have ground rules though usually these are not made specific. Tutorial groups normally have unspoken ground rules relating to the role of the teacher (as, for example, 'It is the job of the teacher to devise the tutorial programme, open and close the tutorials, etc.') and ground rules relating to the behaviour of the students (as, for example, 'Students are not allowed to interrupt the teacher though they are allowed to interrupt other students'). These ground rules are based on authoritarian teaching methods and actively discourage student participation.

If, instead of leaving your ground rules unspoken, you give some time at the beginning of the course to specifying them, you have the opportunity to ensure that the group has the ground rules it wants rather than a set of rules based on false assumptions and traditions.

Students who are unused to setting their own ground rules may find it difficult at first to see what you mean and will be wary of making suggestions. They may find it helpful if you take the activity in two stages: first explain the principle of ground rules and together make a preliminary list; then, after one or more tutorials, ask them, in the light of their experience, what changes they would like to make to the list.

Their list could look something like this:

Ground rules for this group:

a Don't interrupt other people

b It's OK to opt out and opt in again

c Anyone can suggest changing or adding to the ground rules at any time

d Every group member is entitled to time

e It's OK to ask other people for help

f At any point anyone can suggest that the group moves on

g We start on the hour and finish at ten minutes to

The best way of ensuring that the ground rules are kept is for group members to be scrupulous from the outset about reminding people when they break them. It is important that you as a teacher don't see yourself as being above the law: you should encourage students to remind you if you break a ground rule and accept the reminder when they do.

See also 3 A group agreement.

Some of the activities referred to in other parts of this book have their own ground rules. These are specified where they occur.

5 Objectives

Teachers frequently specify their educational objectives for course submissions, prospectuses, etc. These objectives are usually well written and, because they focus on behaviour and skills, give a clearer idea of what is expected of students than can be gained from syllabuses, tutorial programmes or reading lists. So it seems a pity that they are so rarely shown to the students.

If you have already worked out objectives for your courses, it will be a very quick job to make copies of them for your tutorial groups. The times when students will probably be most receptive to them will be at the beginning of the course, when they are trying to orientate themselves, and at the end, when they are focusing on the examinations.

6 Orientation

You and your students come to the tutorial from various other activities and events and from various parts of the building or even from outside. It is probably a week since this group of people met in this place for this purpose. So you need an orientation period. If you start the tutorial before you are all oriented, you will not have your students' full attention and they will not have yours.

The simplest methods of orientation are based on increasing everyone's awareness of the room, the people and the purpose of the tutorial. So it is helpful to spend some time arranging the furniture in the room to suit the group (see item 19), putting up posters, writing the programme on the board and so on.

If you get to the room first, you can greet the students by name as they arrive. You can spend time chatting about the course with students as you wait for late-comers. And then, at the start of the tutorial, you can orientate students to this week's work by relating it to last week's and to the total programme and quickly running through what you hope will be achieved today. And in time you can encourage students to orientate themselves, maybe by reviewing last week's tutorial with a neighbour, or by taking some responsibility for the arrangement of the furniture or the drawing up of the programme.

7 Starting again

Students return to courses in two ways: to start the second or third year, or to resume college work after a period of placement.

It can be helpful formally to acknowledge this 'restart' in some way in order to:

a bring the group together again as a cohesive unit,

b enable any unfinished business from the past to be cleared up, and

c signify moving forward to a further stage.

Two examples will illustrate this process:

Rounds(see item 22)

a One thing I liked about last year was ... and one thing I didn't like was ...

b The best thing about my placement was ... and the worst thing was ...

c I think my performance on the course last year was ... This year I would like to ...

Pyramid(see item 17)

a Individually

Students write one list headed 'Good things about my placement', and a similar list of 'Bad things about my placement' (10 minutes).

b Pairs

Students show their lists to their neighbours (5 minutes).

c Fours

Each person has five minutes to describe her placement, explain what work she did and answer questions from other members of the group (20 minutes).

d Plenary round

'The main thing I got from my placement was ...' (This will take one to two minutes per person.)

An additional benefit of this exercise is that it offers some informal feedback to the teacher about the placements.


Student-led seminars

8 Preparing groups for seminars

9 Briefing seminar leaders

10 Supporting seminar leaders

11 Feedback to seminar leaders

12 Self and peer evaluation

8 Preparing groups for seminars

When you are embarking on a series of seminars in which students will present papers and lead discussions, you can be very helpful to the group if you spend some time talking about problems of student seminars, organising the programme and identifying what part everyone is to play.

If this is a new venture for the students or if they have had bad experiences in the past, it's a good idea to give them a chance to talk about their worries. A round of 'The worst thing that could happen when it's my turn to lead the seminar' (see item 22), followed by the pooling of suggested ways of avoiding these crises, will be reassuring for them.

When organising the programme, you can be helpful to students if you give them the widest possible choice of date and topic. Indeed, this is something you may be able to leave entirely to them. If you give them a list of dates and topics and leave the room (see item 32), this will help to accustom them in a small way to making decisions for themselves instead of always deferring to you. Alternatively, you could assign topics to different students and tell them the week in which you want them to be a group leader, or you could simply pick the topics and dates out of a hat. Whichever method you choose, it is generally a good idea to allow the students to switch topics and dates between themselves.

You will need to make it clear to the group that, in a student-led seminar, the immediate responsibility for the session rests with the student leader and that your role will alter correspondingly. If the session is to be a success the members of the group must accept these new roles. This is a difficult adjustment for them to make and they will need help. You could say, 'Next week Rosie will be leading the seminar and I shall be a member of the group like anyone else. People will probably find it helpful, Rosie, if you sit here next week, in front of the board where I usually sit. It'll be up to you, Rosie, to decide how the seminar is organised and when to start and finish. How do you feel about that?' Of course this will only work if during Rosie's seminar you resist all temptations or invitations to take over.

9 Briefing seminar leaders

Students who are to lead a seminar are usually expected to do the preparation for it on their own. If, however, you offer individual students the facility of discussing their seminar with you beforehand, this will give them an opportunity to try out some of their ideas and give you the chance to offer practical suggestions and support.

When they come to see you, they will probably have a fairly clear idea about the content of the seminar but will not have thought about the process. You can be helpful by suggesting that they:

a list their objectives (see item 5);

b consider what methods they are going to use to involve the other group members (see, for example, items 22 and 24);

c draw up an outline plan for the session to include the methods they are going to use (see, for example, items 13 and 14), and an estimate of the timing;

d list the questions which they intend to put to the group (see item 28). They will find it helpful if they make a list of direct questions, in inverted commas, rather than a list of question topics;

e make copies of their presentation/handout material as appropriate.

Time spent at this stage is never wasted.

10 Supporting seminar leaders

A student who is leading a seminar will need your help in adopting and carrying through her new role.

You can help her in specific ways, for example, by sitting in a different seat and letting her sit in the place near the board and, in particular, by not talking too much yourself. Indeed, you may like to try keeping totally silent for the first half hour, say, or even try staying away from the first seminar altogether to give the group a chance to adapt to student leadership.

If the seminar leader does appeal to you to take over some of the responsibility by asking you when she should start or what she should do next, you can pass the responsibility back gently by saying, 'This is your seminar, Rosie. It's up to you'.

If she gets into serious difficulties and dries up or gets totally confused, there are two kinds of help you can give her. The short-term solution, which is humiliating for the student and likely to undermine her confidence for future such occasions, is to take over the seminar yourself. Long-term solutions, which enable her to continue for herself, are to prompt her by saying, 'You were talking about x' or, if she has panicked, to say firmly, 'It's OK, Rosie. Carry on'. You can talk about this further when you are giving her feedback later (see item 11).

11 Feedback to seminar leaders

Leading a seminar can be a frightening and potentially upsetting experience for students and one in which they often find it difficult to evaluate their own performance. If you set up the opportunity for the seminar leader to evaluate herself and get feedback from the group or from you, the seminar is more likely to be a positive learning experience for her.

If the members of the group feel comfortable with each other, they may give feedback to the seminar leader quite spontaneously without being asked. If they don't, or if their comments are a bit vague ('Very good' or 'Well done!'), you will need to set up a structure for them.

One simple structure is the round (see item 22) in which all the group members, including the seminar leader and you, say one thing they liked about the seminar. This guarantees positive feedback from everybody in the group and ensures that the comments are fuller and more specific than just 'very good'. It also gives everyone some extra practice in evaluating.

Another similar structure is self and peer evaluation (see next item).

If you have the facilities, you could video record the student's performance for her to watch back in her own time. This will allow her to privately critically evaluate the work she has done. However, be sure to also provide her with feedback in another form in case she does not like watching herself on screen, or in case there are areas of improvement that she is unable to spot herself.


Excerpted from 53 Interesting Things to do in your Seminars and Tutorials by Hannah Strawson, Sue Habeshaw, Trevor Habeshaw, Graham Gibbs. Copyright © 2012 The Professional and Higher Partnership Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Titles in the series vi

Foreword vii

Preface to the first edition xi

Chapter 1 Starting off 1

1 Getting to know you 3

2 Learning names 5

3 A group agreement 7

4 Ground rules 9

5 Objectives 11

6 Orientation 13

7 Starting again 15

Chapter 2 Student-led seminars 17

8 Preparing groups for seminars 19

9 Briefing seminar leaders 21

10 Supporting seminar leaders 23

11 Feedback to seminar leaders 25

12 Self and peer evaluation 27

Chapter 3 Groupwork 29

13 Breaking up the group 31

14 Breaking up the task 33

15 Sub-groups 35

16 Line-up 37

17 Pyramid 39

18 Debate 41

19 Furniture 43

20 Rearranging the furniture 45

Chapter 4 Encouraging students to participate 47

21 Getting students to speak 49

22 Rounds 53

23 Gifts 55

24 Students' questions 57

25 Students' interests 59

26 Thought shower 61

27 Buzzer 63

28 Open and closed questions 65

29 Getting students to stop speaking 67

Chapter 5 Encouraging students to take responsibility 69

30 Distribute group roles 71

31 Working alone 73

32 Leave the room 75

33 Carry on without me 77

34 Self-help groups 79

35 A new teacher 81

36 Group grades 83

Chapter 6 Evaluating the work of the group 85

37 Group self-monitoring 87

38 Observers 89

39 Checking it out 91

40 Record your tutorial 93

41 Consulting the group 95

Chapter 7 Written material 97

42 Display 99

43 Group charts 101

44 Students' notes 103

45 Handouts 105

46 Writing 107

47 Open-book tutorials 109

48 Essay preparation 111

49 Coursework feedback 113

Chapter 8 Expressing feelings 115

50 What's on top 117

51 Self disclosure 119

52 Praise and encouragement 121

53 Concluding 123

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