10 Ways to Make Small Groups Terrific

Read Time:  min |  Group Counseling, Uncategorized

Facilitating fantastic small groups is one of my favorite parts of being a school counselor. Small groups offer opportunities for social growth that working one on one with a student does not afford. Often, small groups are the first time students have a safe place to heal. This is their chance to process their emotions, with same-aged peers, who are experiencing similar struggles. Incorporate these ten elements to make your small groups terrific.

Clear Purpose

Ensure that there is a clear purpose for your group and a reason why each student was chosen to participate. Why are they in your group and not sitting in class? Student growth is maximized when students understand the purpose of the group.

Well Thought Out Lesson Plans

I find that small groups that have a solid lesson plan run smoothly and have more meaning. Preplanning six to eight-weeks worth of lessons, with lessons that seamlessly flow from one to another with skills that build upon each other, end up being my most terrific groups.

Screening of Members (Age, Purpose, Personality)

Take careful consideration to group students by age and small group purpose. In my opinion, it is more important that same-aged students are grouped for the same small group purpose, rather than grouping students based on gender or friendship levels.

It is important that all students feel comfortable participating in the group. Think of personalities and behavioral clashes when thinking of possible group members.

Build Rapport With Each Individual Student

It is important that each student feel comfortable around you as their counselor and group leader. A level of trust and a bond between you and group members allows the group to be more relaxed. Each group member will be more willing to share their thoughts and feelings or may ask any lingering questions that are on their mind.

Clear Expectations, Group Norms and Goals

People do their best when they know what is expected of them. Set group members up for success with clear expectations, group norms, and well-set goals. Let group members know what you expect from them to maintain membership in the group, including behavioral expectations.

Fun, Engaging, Crafty Or Artistic Lessons

Participation in your small group is a student’s rare chance to get out of class and be able to freely express themselves with more lax rules than within the classroom. Fun, engaging, dynamic lessons (like Counselor Keri’s movement based lessons) or activities that allow a student to express themselves through art, are a great way to get students to work through their big emotions without pressure.

Plan For Behavioral Issues

What do unacceptable behaviors look like in this small group? How are those who exhibit/display these behaviors handled? What are the group’s consequences for misbehavior?

Allow the group members to come up with the norms, group expectations, and consequences for unacceptable behavior. This gives students a feeling of ownership over the group and a buy-in for good behavior.

I like to give students silent reminders and warnings to help them curb inappropriate behaviors. As needed, I pass out modifier and motivator cards to help prompt students to think about their behavior and give them a chance to correct any actions that are inappropriate.

Ten Ways to Make Small Groups Terrific

I also use these cards to show students who are meeting expectations that I notice them and give them the motivation to continue to work hard.

Progress Checks

For some, data is the most boring of the ten ways to make small groups terrific; however, data is extremely important. Data is how we prove what we are doing is working.

Giving group members a pretest during their first session and that same posttest during the last group session allows you to gather data. You can analyze that data to assess student growth and progress.

Having this data allows you to evaluate yourself, measure student growth and shows you areas you should modify and tweak for the next small group. Having the data allows you to prove your students are learning the skills you are trying to teach them.

Have A Clear End Date

Make sure group members are aware of the end date of the group. This is especially important for students who do not like change or who may struggle with losing the small group support. Some students take the group coming to a close pretty hard; therefore we should prep them so that they are prepared and do not feel abandoned when they no longer have group sessions to attend.


Things are going to happen. Schedules are going to get mixed up, sessions are going to get canceled, and lessons will get derailed. Allow yourself to be okay with not being fully in control of your own schedule and allow for flexibility. Do what you can to go with the flow as you steer your lesson back on track.

These ten ways to make small groups terrific are sure to help your kids get the most out of their small group sessions! What tips would you add? What helps you to facilitate successful small groups?

Small groups at the elementary level can be difficult. Being proactive by having a clear purpose and pre-screening members helps your small group run a little smoother. Set your small groups up for success with these 10 ways to help make your small group sessions terrific.