January 26, 2018

What’s the secret for successful small group counseling?

Secrete to making small group counseling effective

Small group counseling is an essential part of a school counselor’s role, and boy is it tough. Facilitating useful small groups goes beyond meeting over lunch. Some confident counselors have tips for how they keep things purposeful, effective, and fun.

Know Your Purpose

The Middle School CounselorI get asked this question all the time, especially since I have written several small group curriculum that have been published. There isn’t just one secret, there are several.


First, it is important to have a purpose. Too many times I hear that counselors just want to meet during lunch with a group of students. There needs to be more of a purpose. What is your why? Determining this will give you a goal and will drive the work that goes on in the group.


Second, you need to prescreen group members. It is important that members know why they are there, that they know the rules and agree to follow them, and that they want to be a part of it. Missing one of these components can hurt the effectiveness of the group for all members.  


Last, you need a plan. You should have a curriculum that follows a group process. Learning, goal setting, allowing members time to respond, opportunities for processing emotions and trust building need to be included.

My most successful groups have between 6-8 members (for grades 6-8–you should have about 4 members for grade PK-2, and up to 5-6 members for grades 3-5) and my favorite groups to run are StarBound for girls, Building Champions for boys, and my Managing Anger group

– Carol Miller, The Middle School Counselor

Set Clear Behavior Expectations

CounselorChelseySmall groups can be tricky. There are so many components of a successful small group – students that are ready to willingly participate, a strong curriculum, engaging activities.


For me, the most important is to set and hold clear behavioral expectations for your students. If students are not focused and ready to learn, they will not be able to absorb any of the group material and may keep other students from learning as well.


My favorite way to set these expectations is to have the students help establish them during the first session. This is a great way to get student buy-in and to set the stage for a successful group!

– CounselorChelsey

Plan a Strong Curriculum

I love running groups SO MUCH! They really are my favorite part of school counseling! After 10 years of creating and facilitating psychoeducational groups, I have definitely figured out the secret to their success: having an excellent session plan or curriculum to follow.


As with anything in life, having a structured plan just makes things flow a little bit smoother. Anything that adds a smooth flow to your groups is a must, since having a bunch of students with life challenges in the same room can be anything but smooth.


Along with a strong curriculum, consistently followed group rules, challenges/celebrations discussions, SMART goal setting, and movement-oriented activities will really help to make your group effective.


I have written a lot about running effective groups, so you can find more tips on running groups at my blog, School Counselor Stephanie. Finally, for a dynamic, clear, and easy-to-follow group curriculum, check out my newest Youthlight book, Get Your Group On!  

– School Counselor Stephanie

Carefully Choose Group Members

Mrs. Bell The Crafty CounselorThe secret to a successful small group is a thoughtful selection of each group member and preplanning of activities.


After I have defined a clear purpose for the group, I think about the best mix of group members. Carefully check for personality clashes as well as backgrounds that may not work well together. I want my groups to be safe places where kids can feel free to share. I make every effort possible to ensure that can happen.


Once I have a clear purpose and the group members identified, I make sure the participants have clearly defined norms for the group. I have found that by allowing them to set norms as a group, the members feel more connected to one another and are more likely to adhere to the rules.


I like to have hands-on, engaging activities for each lesson. Allowing students to talk about tough issues (such as their anger or frenemy tendencies) in creative ways has fostered tremendous growth for my students.

– Mrs. Bell The Crafty Counselor


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