ECRAG meeting summary · Teaching

April 17th: An introduction to small group teaching

The April edition of ECRAG featured a highly enjoyable and engaging workshop on small group teaching run by Helen Timmins and Andy Shanks from the interactive studies unit.


This was one our most popularly attended sessions and involved a lot of participation from the group. Helen and Andy shared fun anecdotes and used a series of “sticky-note tasks” to help ECRAG members understand their teaching potential and how to apply it.


In true ECRAG style, we started off the session with the questions “Do you/have you ever had a pet? And what was it?” Cats appear to be very popular in the department with a fair few moggies gracing our homes and lives!


We swiftly moved on to lunch and the task at hand. We were asked questions such as “what is a teacher?” “Why teach?” and consider our fears and aspirations in the teaching domain.


Knowledge, skills and attitude were the most popular components of teaching, where being flexible and facilitating were some of the key components. Teaching was also considered imperative for re-learning and for training future colleagues. It was important to realise that you do not have to be an expert in the field you are teaching. This kind of unnecessary pressure can misdirect you from your learning outcomes. It is possible to re-design sections of the teaching session to better address the learning targets. One of the more popularly raised fears for members was the concept of being asked a question that they did not have an answer for. A simple solution for this is to turn the question in to a debate and include this in your professional development portfolio for taking initiative to develop the potential of your class.


Another key tip is to remember that Power-point is meant to be used as a visual and not as a platform for unloading streams of textual information.


Here are some of the positive and negatives that members stated during the discussions:



  • Of being insignificant
  • Losing focus
  • Being out of date


  • Learning about yourself
  • Being memorable
  • Benefiting students
  • Inspiring others
  • Having novel ideas and approaches
  • Thought-provoking


In order to overcome any negative thoughts and strengthen our positives, we must focus on being able to laugh at ourselves (not being too serious!), understand and appreciate that silence can be an indicator for thinking time and breathing space, don’t assume that your class is a mirror on your own behaviour or compare with the noise coming from the classroom next door! You can find ways to stand out by carrying out small measures such as getting students to interact, giving feedback and being constructive.


This can be achieved by asking students to list what they have learnt at the end of the session. Students can recap what they have learnt and further strengthens the take home message. This will help in situations where teaching sessions are assessment driven as students can be encouraged to think about how their learning can be applied to an exam question.


If you do feel like you cannot answer a question, it’s not always a bad idea to get students to use their smart-phones to look up things online and further the debate or class discussion by considering the reliability of online sources. If you are short for time, tell students you will inform them on the question in the next session or respond via email. Discussing teaching topics with colleagues is a good way to gage how up to date you are with teaching methods, tools and general information.


Clearly, there was a lot to take away from this session and Helen and Andy did a wonderful job of engaging with ECRAG members. There were also handouts on Kolb’s cycle of experiential learning, Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligences, a clinical communications handbook and information on the 7 styles of learning.


Please get in touch with Farina Kokab or Grace Moran for useful links and contact information on teaching in the department and college.

Sticky-note tasks and lunch
Sticky-note tasks and lunch

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