Inclusive and flexible small group teaching

Small group teaching will be face to face where possible, limited to modest group sizes, with physical distancing and face coverings to protect staff and students.

Some students may not be able to attend small group sessions in person and alternative ways for them to engage will need to be found.


Pedagogical guidance

Interaction between students as well as between students and tutor(s) is central to small group learning and it would be wise to plan for a combination of synchronous face to face and asynchronous remote interaction:

  • Synchronous face to face small group teaching (or remote equivalents on Teams should that be needed) can be used productively for interactions between students and between students and tutors, for example where there is a need for students to discuss, question or practise.
  • Using a variety of activities such as think-pair-share, student presentations, structured debates and working together on a digital whiteboard, can help ensure all students are able to participate in a synchronous session even if it needs to be online.
  • Breakout rooms in MS Teams can be used to organise students working in pairs or smaller groups.  
  • Providing a recording and/or summary of class discussions written by either a student or the tutor can support all students and help to mitigate against potential disruptions.
  • Asynchronous activities that can complement or replace part of a synchronous session can help facilitate discussion, cement students’ learning, and help create a sense of community. For example, smaller groups of students can work via a variety of face to face or online platforms to provide a set of notes after a class, prepare material for an upcoming class, or produce a review of a reading or data set. As well as facilitating moving between different teaching settings, such activities can also help students develop independent learning practices and a range of academic skills.

The visuals below show possible ways in which you might organise a small group teaching session. 

Option 1

sg 1 pathway


Option 2

Small groups 2 tutorial


It is also possible to bring remote students into a face to face small class, although it can be tricky to facilitate so that remote students are engaged. Here are some possible strategies: 

  • Create an online space for the live session. This could be a page in Canvas or a Teams meeting (or Teams channel for a series of meetings).
  • Where the student activity is to read, watch or listen consider if materials can be pre-recorded and made available online in advance. If students will be listening during the live session, ensure remote students are sent PPTs or notes in advance so they can follow even if the internet connection or video is poor. Audio is more important than video (presenters can use a lapel mic).
  • Ask all students to bring an internet connected laptop, tablet or phone to class.
  • Prepare engagement points during the live sessions which allow you to check in how remote students are doing e.g. polls (in a Teams meeting that’s by inserting a MS Form into the chat) or asking a question in the chat (and giving time for responses). Students in the face to face room can also respond to these engagement points in Teams using their phones and that can be a good leveller.
  • When students are working in smaller groups, ask a student with a laptop to ‘buddy’ with a remote student, they can then present the remote student's voice to the subgroup and keep them engaged.
  • Prepare a way for students to present back their work. Again having face to face and remote students using the same tools for this is helpful e.g. all contributing to a shared document on SharePoint (good for text) or OneNote (good for images, equations and hand drawn annotations).

Technical guidance

Canvas and Microsoft Teams (often referred to as MS Teams or simply Teams) provide you with the functionality you need to effectively deliver small group teaching remotely.  

Canvas allows you to create structured content and resources for students to access as well as a means contacting students and receiving work. Discussion boards can be set up to have asynchronous discussions on a topic. Posts in the discussions can have files attached as well as links, images, audio or video embedded within the text.

Teams provides live conferencing with audio, video and screen sharing. The chat functionality is good for informal discussions. If as part of your teaching you want students to “break out” into smaller groups to discuss a topic, explicit functionality supporting this within Teams is expected by Michaelmas Term. Shared whiteboards and polling are other ways to add interactivity to live Teams sessions.

Useful links

Many departments and faculties are reflecting upon how programmes are taught, what materials are assigned and how students are assessed. Academics and administrators who would like to consult with the CTL as they design flexible and inclusive programmes may contact us at

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Resources for flexible and inclusive teaching