Original Publication
Open Access

Dr. Novel and Dr. Sage: Developing Expertise in Leading Small Group Discussions

Published: July 9, 2014 | 10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9838

Included in this publication:

  • Instructor's Guide.docx
  • The Case of Dr. Novel.doc
  • Facilitator's Guide for Small Group Teaching.docx

To view all publication components, extract (i.e., unzip) them from the downloaded .zip file.

Editor's Note: This publication predates our implementation of the Educational Summary Report in 2016 and thus displays a different format than newer publications.


As medical schools increasingly move toward student-centered, interactive learning approaches that promote active student engagement and critical thinking skills, there is a clear trend to employ teaching methods that emphasize collaborative, case-based instruction. Small group teaching offer students the opportunity to build upon their existing knowledge by becoming active participants in the examination of a clinical topic or patient case. To be skilled at small group facilitation involves planning and design, managing learning during the discussion, and feedback and reflection after each session. Faculty training is essential for developing the skills necessary to be an effective small group facilitator. The teaching case and accompanying facilitator’s guide included in this module provide a comprehensive set of skills and resources that can be readily used by those charged with leading a faculty development session about small group facilitation. Participants of such a faculty development session work through the problem-based teaching case, and, by addressing common small group discussion dilemmas, learn the skills needed to facilitate an effective discussion.

Author (LF) has presented the “Small Group Teaching” session and case 13 times -- locally at Boston Children’s Hospital, as part of faculty development efforts at Harvard Medical School (HMS), at a national subspecialty conference, and at the national Harvard Medical School CME Course “Principles of Medical Education.” Group size has ranged from four to forty and participants have included residents, fellows, physicians, and healthcare professionals from a wide variety of specialties (e.g. surgery, neurology, internal medicine, pediatric medicine, anesthesiology, adolescent medicine). This case has also been used by an HMS colleague in medical education with positive results.

When asked about a concept learned during the session, participants have commented:

Several methods of how to get all involved in discussions – through body language and verbal language that directs the conversation.
Engaging the quiet student – this was a very engaging workshop, very useful for me!
Challenging students when they are correct, not just when they say something incorrect.
Dealing with group dynamics.
Learned good questions for opening up a group discussion.

When asked about something new the participants are going to try as a result of this session, they have commented:

I have been inspired to present material differently and plan to make a group of 60 new residents comfortable with each other at the beginning of the academic year during orientation.
Strategies to engage all students.
Use of eye contact to elicit response or to direct a student’s comments to peers.
Making a personal connection with learners.
Establishing an educational contract prior to small group sessions.

Educational Objectives

  1. To identify small group facilitation skills that lead to effective student learning in a small group setting.
  2. To identify the responsibilities of the small group facilitator before, during, and after a discussion session.
  3. To model the skills necessary to engage small group participants in active learning that encourages problem solving, verbalization of thought processes, and application and development of ideas.
  4. To provide practical strategies to overcome barriers to learning in a small group.
  5. To introduce the importance of “reflection-in-action” and “reflection-on-action” as essential facilitation skills.

Author Information

  • Laurie Fishman, MD: Children's Hospital Boston
  • Lori Newman, MEd: Shapiro Institute for Education and Research at HMS and BIDMC

None to report.

None to report.


Fishman L, Newman L. Dr. Novel and Dr. Sage: developing expertise in leading small group discussions. MedEdPORTAL;.2014;10:9838. https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9838