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Tips to tutors from students

  • Come prepared. Be familiar with the small group procedure, know the learning objectives for the session, and be thinking about the most important points to cover.
  • Be aware of where we are in the curriculum. Use the small group facilitator notes and Blackboard calendar to get a sense of what we have learned and what we haven’t so that you can keep small group discussion appropriate to our level of knowledge.
  • Learn names, especially if you will be seeing students multiple times. However, don’t spend too much of the small group time going around the room with get-to-know-you games. Make use of the handout with student pictures.
  • Eliminate ambiguity about what should be accomplished in small group. Begin each session by going over what will happen in that small group to make sure everyone is on the same page. If applicable, assign specific tasks or problems from problem sets to subsets of students ahead of time to help move discussion along.
  • Manage time wisely. Watch the clock and make sure the group is on track to get through the tasks.
  • Be directive. Make sure that key concepts are covered and that students are comfortable with them.
  • Be involved in the discussion. Avoid lecturing (and definitely do not use a podium!), but do not be afraid to share your expertise, show interest, and answer questions [as appropriate to the PBL process].
  • Jump in when students are off track. Sometimes a sentence or two of explanation when the group is confused is extremely helpful. Don’t be afraid to challenge students, ask them to clarify what they are saying, and correct misunderstandings of material.
  • Maintain a positive attitude towards students. If students have the wrong answer, try to correct them in a gentle way; for instance, by saying, “Well, that wasn’t quite right, but part of what you said was correct...” Students will talk more if small group is a safe place to be wrong.
  • Take time to answer student questions. Try not to barrel through the material so quickly that you leave students behind. At the same time, however, do not let the group get sidetracked.
  • Avoid conflicts between group leaders (if there is more than one leader). Try to meet beforehand and agree on key concepts so that you can provide consistent leadership.
  • Manage differences of opinion between group members. Do not let differences of opinion escalate into conflict. Treat managing differences of opinion as a learning objective for students. Set ground rules at the first small group meeting in Prologue.
  • Invite, but don’t force, quiet students to contribute. Involve individuals in the discussion by inviting them to share their opinion, rather than calling on or putting students on the spot. Say, “SilentOne, we haven’t heard much from you today. Do you have anything to add?” rather than, “SilentOne, can you answer Question 4?”
  • Be available. Let students know the best way to get in touch with you if they have questions following small group, whether that be the Blackboard discussion boards or your personal e-mail.


This guide was prepared by Wendy Ellis, UCSF School of Medicine MS2, based on suggestions from the 2002 Summer Curriculum Ambassadors.