Back to Basics: Group Facilitation

Welcome to our Back to Basics series! In this series we explore some of the foundational methods, practices and terminology for teaching reading and writing. This series is for those new to the field of literacy, beginning tutors or those who would just like a refresher. This week we discuss group facilitation.

Group facilitation is an important skill in the adult education field. Facilitation can be used for training tutors, planning programming or teaching in a small group setting rather than one-on-one. An instructor generally lectures and teaches prescribed content. In contrast, a facilitator is more like a guide for learning and a group leader. Each member of the group is encouraged to contribute and share information using their prior knowledge. Watch the video below for a clear explanation of the differences between an instructor and a facilitator.

“The facilitator might also be called the group leader. When the small group is first established, the facilitator might have more of a leadership role but as the group grows and the individual members gain in confidence in skills, leadership is increasingly assumed by the group.” – Community Literacy of Ontario

What makes an effective facilitator?

The NWT Literacy Council outlined a number of skills and the knowledge needed for an effective facilitator:

  • well prepared
  • thinks and acts creatively
  • listens and observes
  • uses visual aids effectively (slides, flipcharts, etc.)
  • records ideas neatly
  • asks probing questions
  • thinks quickly
  • acknowledges and responds to participants
  • summarizes
  • resolves conflict
  • uses humour
  • knows a variety of techniques for group discussions, including problem-solving and decision-making
  • designs or chooses appropriate group discussion techniques
  • understands people and groups, and energizes the group

What makes an effective group?

Effective facilitation also encompasses what makes for an effective group. Some aspects of effective groups are:

  • small in size – ranging from 5 to 15 learners
  • learner centered – adapt the curriculum to the needs and interests of learners
  • experiential – incorporate learners’ experiences, skills and ideas in the teaching
  • cooperative – learners commonly help each other and work together
  • participatory – learners have a say in what is taught and how it is taught, rather than being passive recipients

To learn more about being an effective group facilitator, check out the resources listed below.


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