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Small class teaching


Small class teaching implies a limited number of students – often between 10 and 40. This offers good opportunities for the students to apply theories and methods and develop skills within such fields as argumentation, analysis and calculations. They also have an opportunity to enter into academic dialogue with their fellow students and the teacher. In the organisation of students’ homework between teaching sessions, fruitful interaction may be created between independent academic activities before, during and after the sessions. To a great extent, the teacher becomes the facilitator of the students’ independent academic work and of the classroom activities – and of the connection between these.


Academic Skills

Small class teaching is particularly well suited for the students’ development of academic skills through their work with the theories and methods of the course. Small class teaching should focus on the learning objectives which are difficult for the students to fulfil when working on their own. In class, the students’ knowledge may be challenged, and they practice argumentation and discussion skills regarding academic content or are gradually introduced to the solution of complex tasks or issues. Some types of small class teaching can give the students access to equipment and software which would not otherwise be available to them.

In other words, focus is on dialogue, training, clarification of misunderstandings and a deeper understanding of the academic material. Small class teaching may also provide an opportunity to test, experiment and work with empirical material and data.

Time with students

Teaching sessions provide an opportunity to gain insight into the students’ learning process: What do they know? What skills do they possess? What are their challenges? Such insight may be gained through academic dialogue and discussions or when students receive feedback from their fellow students and the teacher. It is also when students meet their teacher and fellow students in class that they have an opportunity to receive response on their learning progress and to rectify any misunderstandings. You may for instance begin a classroom session by explaining the connection between the activities of the day and the course in general. Subsequently, you may include a work phase with joint learning activities, which provide an opportunity to uncover any misunderstandings and ask questions. It is recommended to include feedback from fellow students and the teacher as well as regular assessment in small class teaching. Moreover, it may be a good idea to end the Small class teaching by summing up and making agreements with the students regarding their preparation for the next classroom session.

The teacher's role

In many ways, the teacher’s task is to make sure that the students are given the possibility to develop academic skills in relation to the theories and methods of the course. In order for the students to be able to work independently, you must design the tasks in a way that provides and opportunity to work with the subject in a concrete manner. It is important that student preparation is included as a fully integrated and necessary element in Small class teaching. Actually using their work in class and seeing that this is relevant for the instruction increases the students’ motivation to do homework. The tasks must be precisely defined and should preferably result in a visible product, e.g. a written response to a question, minor tasks, peer feedback activities or drafts for parts of a larger project. It is important to consider which student activities should be included in their homework, and whether these are best processed individually or in collaboration with fellow students, and which activities should be included in the small class teaching.

Teachers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Which academic activities can contribute to the learning outcome of the course?
  • Which academic activities are best suited for individual work, and which are ideal for group work?
  • How can the students’ independent studies result in something that makes their work concrete and visible?
  • How can the students’ independent studies become a necessary and integrated part of class activities?
  • How do you make sure that the students receive feedback and are given the opportunity to improve their learning process on the basis of the feedback?

Further reading

  • Herrmann & Bager-Elsborg (2014) Effektiv Holdundervisning [Effective class teaching], Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur (publisher).



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