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.


Introduction: 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. Methods: 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. The resources are intended to be used during a stand-alone, live, interactive training session. The case is structured using a problem-based learning format so that participants can experience small-group teaching in the role of the learner. The intended audience for the faculty development session is junior faculty or novice facilitators as well as senior faculty or facilitators, who will more than likely value the opportunity to share their own experiences in leading small-group discussions. Results: This small-group teaching session and case has been presented 13 times at Boston Children’s Hospital, as part of faculty development efforts at Harvard Medical School, 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 40 and participants have included residents, fellows, physicians, and health care professionals from a wide variety of specialties. Discussion: Through the experience of presenting this session on multiple occasions, we have learned that it is best to start by asking the audience members to assume the role of participant-observers; in other words, to participate in the exercise, but at the same time take a mental step back and observe the teaching strategies the facilitator models during the session. It is also helpful to mention that the facilitator will be modeling, and then stopping to point out, certain teaching behaviors, strategies, and nonverbal gestures/cues throughout the session. 

Educational Objectives

By the end of this module, the learner will be able to:

  1. Identify small-group facilitation skills that lead to effective student learning in a small-group setting.
  2. Identify the responsibilities of the small-group facilitator before, during, and after a discussion session.
  3. 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. Provide practical strategies to overcome barriers to learning in a small group.
  5. 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