3 Tips on How to Teach A Really Small TBL Class

Sep 7, 2021 • 2min read


The Team-Based Learning methodology as defined by Larry Michaelsen is an instructional strategy based on the development of high levels of team cohesiveness in students' learning groups, resulting in a wide variety of positive learning outcomes. TBL involves students working intensively in teams that result in deepened learning for the students. 

Instructors find it easier to implement team-based learning methodology in large class sizes. In a large class, the instructor can easily fade away into the background, allowing teams to have deeper discussions. However, often instructors are reluctant to implement team-based learning in small class sizes. But, so many instructors have replicated the positive outcomes of a team-based learning approach for class sizes of even 10-15 students!

Here are some tips that would allow you to implement team-based learning methodology in smaller class sizes: 

  1. Leave while students discuss

    During TRAT, some instructors leave the room and come back during TRAT discussion. In the online environment, it is easier to send teams to breakout rooms for their discussions. Many instructors visit the breakout rooms only when teams have a query or need help. Some instructors have even shared their experiences of teaching a TBL class with just one five-student team. During the 4S application activity discussion, the instructor can ask probing questions to the teams. Another technique is to ask the team to defend their answer. In this way, the instructor instantaneously becomes a member of the discussion and can probe the topic with all team members, resulting in a deeper and more inclusive conversation. 

  2. Team sizes should be 4-5 students per team, irrespective of the class size

    Team sizes, irrespective of the class sizes, should not be too small or too big. For instance, for a class size of 40 students, usually, the instructor will form eight teams of five students each. Similarly, for a class size of 8-14 students, the instructor should form two teams. A team size of 4-5 students allows for a richer discussion within the team. If the team size is smaller than this, a team might struggle with hard-level RATs and application questions. As an instructor, do note that it will take less time for teams to finish the activity than you are used to in the large classes.

  3. Engage teams in richer discussion

    If you only have one team, telling them what typical scores are on the RATs incentivizes the team to do well. As an instructor, you can have applications in a gallery walk format, and you can re-create two or three answers from previous classes while teams work on the applications. Then, you can do a simultaneous report and get a thoughtful discussion as they critique the answers submitted by a previous class. This technique works well even with two or three teams if you want to get more diverse conversation.

Team-based learning methodology fosters richer discussion and improves the performance of both low-performing and high-performing students. It works well for both small and large class sizes. 

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