Relationships and Sex Education


What the expert say

Experts in relationships and sex education, such as the Sex Education Forum and the PSHE Association, frequently promote small group activities as a highly effective teaching method. So, what are its advantages and challenges and are there any pitfalls compared with, say, a whole class activity or discussion?

What has Apause found?

When developing new resources Apause collaborates closely with young learners, alongside adult and peer facilitators. We have learned, during 25 years or research, what most teachers quickly discover - there is rarely one simple solution.  These are just some of the considerations we have had to wrestle with when thinking about group work: group size; gender mix; self-select or teacher assigned; ability matching; group privacy versus teacher intervention; activation of different language forms; and being creative and fair when facilitating small group feedback to the whole class.

Group Size

When it comes to group size, we have a basic rule of thumb – aim to divide the class into seven groups.  Why? Because if you plan your resource design and feedback for seven small groups in classes of between twenty-one and thirty-five, your small groups sizes will always work out between three and five.  This seems to be the optimal range and you can then develop the activity so that everyone has a good chance of getting involved.


If you allow them to self-select then, usually, they will be sitting near their friends and those will be the people they feel most comfortable talking with and with whom they feel most able to develop their thinking around sensitive issues.   This is important, because these emerging friendships are often the social bases of advice, norms and approval that young people seek as they navigate their way through the challenges of adolescent relationships. 

Any pitfalls?  Inevitably. Some classes form themselves into groups in which one or more individuals are left out.  Some learners prefers it that way, but remember, we are trying to develop relationships skills, so good facilitators quickly explain this exercise can only be done in a group and use their knowledge of the class to integrate the outsiders with an appropriate group, or help them form a group of their own.  This should not appear personal or coercive, just a logistical necessity.  If the learners still do not consent, we provide extra sets or components of the resource so that they can work individually and still be involved in class feedback, but ideally this is a last resort.

.Beyond the classroom

If your session is designed to stimulate ‘appropriate’ forms of social interactions, then these will carry through beyond the classroom and into the learners’ social worlds. This is where health education in general, and relationships education in particular, really needs to have an impact if we want to lay any claim to their effectiveness.


If you have found this an interesting start, watch this space.  Over the next few weeks I will be discussing some more aspects of how to get the best out of small group work.

Please feel free to phone me: on 01393 829450 or by email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

David Evans is the Chief Executive of Apause and the Health Behaviour Group and is a PhD student at Goldsmiths, University of London.