printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Group Focus Sessions


Group Facilitation

The decision about who will be responsible for teaching the curriculum will depend on a variety of factors. One important consideration is who will have the time? Another is to determine to what degree the facilitator is attuned to the affective needs of teenagers. In secondary education, our prowess with students' emotional needs takes second place to our expertise in one or more of the academic disciplines. However in this case, the facilitator must be interested in the student, first. He or she must be willing to get to know these adolescents by focusing on who they are rather than by judging them by what they can or have achieved. The following poem "Do you know me?" illustrates this point.

Do you know me?
They say, "You did not learn your                         THEY say, "I am teaching the
fifty prepositions                                                  scientific process here, and all you
Therefore you flunk English                                  want to do is play.
Composition!"                                                     You get a D!"

But did you know: I read castle in                        But did you know:
the Attic in a day.                                               I can name all the constellations and
The Indian in the Cupboard made                         find them in the sky.
my heart sing.                                                    Now I am learning all the Greek and
And I can answer all the riddles Bilbo                   Roman myths that go with each one.
did to capture Gollum's ring.                                It's exciting!
Did you know?                                                   I have a million questions, but you
                                                                        get impatient when I'm always
They say, "Your book report did not                     asking,
follow the form I gave you.                                   "Why?" Why do you? Did you
You get no credit!"                                              know?
But did you know: I am writing a
book of my own.                                                 THEY say, "You did not do your
I didn't know if I could, but when I                         homework review sheet. You will
tried, the words just came and came.                   stay for detention.
Mom taught me how to use the word                    You do not keep your mind on the
processor.                                                          things that are important."
Now I can save my words and bring
them back whenever I want to.                             But did you know: I can feel the
Sometimes I change them because I                    minute I walk into a room if things
don't always feel the same.                                  aren't going well.
Did you know?                                                    I know when someone needs a hug,
                                                                         and I can give it too.
They say, "You don't join organized                      I can clown and make you laugh or
sports. You don't do anything.                             sit quietly and listen.
What's wrong with you?"                                     And if you share a secret, even if I
But did you know: I wrote a song for                     don't understand
my mom because I found her feeling                     I would never tell. Did you know?
bad.                                                                   Did you know that I can travel
My dad smiled and took his guitar                        anywhere I want to in my mind.
and put my song to music.                                  I can travel far away from you.
We played it for my mom and she                        And I do.
cried, but I don't think it was because                   Did you know?
she was sad.                                                      No?
Did you know?                                                    Because you do not know me.

Pamela Quinn May 1988

Do you know?
Can you answer the following questions?
Do you know what is important to your children?
Do you know what your children care about?
Do you know what interests your children?
Do you know who your children are?

If you haven't recently asked and listened you don't begin to know. You can't begin to imagine. Some of us have done our jobs for many years. We are experienced, knowledgeable, skilled and "been there, done that". Some of us are new and perhaps better able to relate to new ideas. Some of us think we know it all. The reality is that assumptions are frequently wrong, and what we thought we knew we do not know at all.

We don't know where we are,
or who we are.
We don't know one another;
don't know you;
don't know what time it is.
We don't know, don't we?
Robert Frost

The facilitator must be willing to commit to discovering and learning who each of these youngsters are in the course of the journey. They must be knowledgeable about the many ways ). The tecto ask our students about those things important and not. Among them is active or empathic listening. (see Chapter 5 Communications).  The technique of active listening works very well one on one; student to teacher, or parent to child, but when it comes to
classroomunderstandings, values, interests and goals, there is a significant danger that comes from using active listening. The value placed by an individual listening to a group of individuals has a significant possibility of error by virtue of the relative significance placed on the comments of the speaker by the listener. In other words, we may hear what we want to hear or what someone else wants us to hear. By placing an arbitrary value on an individual or group, we may miss the larger group's feelings. It is not only a significant danger but an easy and common mistake.

Group focus provides the structure to help us get to know.
To help you transition to a role of facilitator rather than teacher, information provider, or judgment-maker we suggest that the curriculum be offered in a seminar like setting using a group focus format. Group Focus Sessions is one of the techniques we can use to allow students to explore issues and practice skills. Although a typical group focus sessions has from six to ten users and frequently lasts a long as two hours we have used this technique with great success in classrooms as large as thirty in as short a period of time as short as forty minutes.

Typically, the counselor or teacher plays the role of the group focus facilitator although it doesn't have to be this way. Parents, other faculty members, teacher aides and even students can Becall serve as group focus session facilitators for particular sessions. The primary responsibility of the facilitator is to keep the group focused.Because one of the intentions of the group is to bring out spontaneous reactions and thoughts, the facilitator will have the opportunity to observe these reactions and statements first hand.

The group focus participants should experience an unstructured, open, welcoming atmosphere that accepts ideas and statements. The reality is that the facilitator must follow a specific procedure common to all focus groups or group focus sessions. The rules are common, simple and almost universally used.

Group Focus Session Rules

1. We stay on topic and task - but the group sets the agenda.
2. There are established rules about sharing information (confidentiality).
3. Ideas are welcomed and all are accepted.
4. Everyone gets to speak and need not wait to be recognized.
5.The recorder will "record ideas" for recollections clarity.
6. Everyone gets to comment.
7. No one is obligated to speak.  Individuals may "pass" or opt to say nothing.
8. There is mutual respect by the facilitator and the participants.
9. Appropriate humor is allowed.
10. The group ideas will be summarized at the end of the session.

The facilitator must not only keep the group on track and "in focus" but also is charged with recording the flow of ideas, comments and feelings of the group. Sometimes groups can appoint a "recorder" who can keep track of the flow of the group using a flip chart, blackboard or overhead transparencies. The facilitator must be careful to never allow an individual to dominate or to opt out too easily. One of the purposes of the group focus sessions is to gather group feelings. An individual who dominates may over represent their point of view. On the other hand, the views of a shy or introverted participant may be underrepresented. A good facilitator is practiced at saying. "Susan, I notice you are very quiet and reflective today. What do you think about what we are saying here?" The facilitator then waits using empathic listening for an answer. The participant may choose to pass and not to speak but then must say so.

After the session is over, the facilitator or the recorder conducts a follow-up discussion reviewing in sights gained during the session.

Conducting the Group Sessions
We suggest that these sessions be offered in a consistent time frame such as weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.  Too much time between sessions will interfere with the group atmosphere and continuity of thought. 
Good times for group focus sessions can include lunchtime "brown bag" sessions, advisory periods, activity periods, and before or after school group sessions.

The optimal size of the group is six to ten. This number not only eases the facilitation process, but enhances the group's ability to bond and establish a comfort zone. Larger groups can work well depending on the topic and the experience of the facilitator. The recommended setting is to have the entire group at a round table or in comfortable chairs seated in a circle. Each participant should be able to see everyone in the room. The recorder should have access to writing material like: sketch pads, markers, Legos TM, index cards and flip charts. The group may also have a need for a tape player, TV, VCR, DVD or CD player.

We suggest beginning each session with a "meet and greet" activity to make all feel welcomed and valued. We describe these activities later in this chapter. After the "meet and greet" activity is completed and the participants are seated, the session unfolds. The procedure for a group focus session is simple. It begins with the introduction of a topic and why it is important (students should be able to relate to it personally). This provides group identification and ownership. Group members may comment about the topic to express their first thoughts. There is an active exploration of the topic or issue with a recorder capturing key ideas and concepts. The facilitator engages the group in an activity that allows them to explore the topic in an interactive way. Examples might include watching a movie clip, reading a few paragraphs of background information, or reading a poem. Once the group discussion begins, the facilitator attempts to keep the group focused and on task. At the end of the discussion, a summary is given of the events or insights during session. Finally, students reflect upon their understanding by recording their thoughts in a journal. By encouraging students to complete a journal entry using various forms of expression such as: a poem, a drawing or a performance piece about the subject matter, allows them to reflect and personalize the insights gained during the session.

Group Focus Session Summary
A group focus session should be an informal, safe, semi-structured environment for students to understand themselves, to share and explore their feelings, and to develop appropriate strategies for success.
Group Size 6-10 ideal (class size is acceptable)
Physical Setup Round table or chairs in a circle
Materials Flipchart, black or white board, transparencies, markers
Optional TV, VCR, DVD, Tape, CD Player
Procedure Introduction of Topic, Exploration, Summary
Follow Up Action Planning, Conclusions, Next Steps
In Depth Learning Journal Activity

Introducing students to group focus session procedures
Before beginning the topics within the Guide, it is important to use the first session to introduce the students to the group focus session format and some of the strategies used over the course of the seminars. For this introductory session, allow the students to select a topic for discussion. Anything that is of concern to the participants within the group can serve as the focus for the session. A strategy called multi-voting is an excellent way for students to share in the decision making process for determining the initial topic for discussion. Multi-voting, described later in the chapter allows students to feel invested in the chosen topic. Because the students will be using multi-voting frequently during group focus sessions, we suggest teaching it as a skill during this introductory session. The following are some topics students might discuss and then multi-vote.

Some sample Group Focus topics to multi-vote.

Why is school important?                     What is the most important thing to do with time?

Why do people hate?                           Why adults don't understand kids?

How should others perceive you?          What is the value of sports in high school?

Why do people love?                                     What can you do when someone is sad?

Should you help someone who              Why does peer pressure work?
doesn't want to be helped?

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.