Thursday, June 22, 2023

Techniques of Teaching: Course Opening Technique 3: Team Motivation and Grouping Techniques


Today, we have covered the course opening techniques, specifically focusing on team motivation and grouping techniques. It's important to note that these techniques are not necessarily "required" for every course. In fact, in more than 60% of cases, or even a higher percentage, grouping may not be necessary. This means that the grouping technique is not a mandatory skill. If the instructor has rich personal qualities, captivating charisma, or if the students have strong learning motivation and the learning environment is well-crafted, the use of grouping mechanisms may not be needed and could even be seen as a waste of time.

Imagine a teaching scenario where the teacher stands at the front, delivering a rich experience while the students diligently engage in learning. The teacher's role is simply to convey their wealth of experience to everyone, and when students don't understand, they raise their hands to ask questions. Throughout the day, the students maintain a strong learning motivation, staying focused and eager to participate. Discussions and exercises occur naturally, and everyone is proactive, eager to take the stage. At the end of the lesson, everyone leaves with a sense of fulfillment, expressing gratitude to the teacher before going home. Isn't this a pure and wonderful learning environment? In such a scenario, why would we need the external influences of grouping and team motivation, potentially affecting the purity of the learning experience?

Therefore, if your students are actively seeking knowledge, enthusiastically participating, highly motivated, and maintaining unwavering focus throughout the entire course (which does happen, for example, when students voluntarily sign up for an expensive course or when their fate depends on a certification decision, figuratively speaking), as a teacher, you may not need to focus on course openings, learning motivation, incentives, grouping techniques, or even any teaching methods. Simply delivering the content will suffice, as the students will listen attentively, take diligent notes, and genuinely learn. They might even ask questions without the teacher prompting them!

However, I would like to ask: "When was the last time you experienced such a wonderful classroom, with exceptional students and an exceptional teacher?"

Snap back to reality! Most professional trainers don't encounter such "wonderful and pure" teaching environments (or maybe it's just my unluck, haha!). I often face a group of professional but generally unmotivated corporate learners. Even after introducing myself, showcasing expertise, captivating their attention with stories or interactive elements, and explaining the course and learning objectives, most of my participants still have plain and passive expressions, simply waiting for the day to unfold (Well, some might be happy, but there are also those who remain unhappy. I really wish I could take a camera at that moment and capture their faces!).

But that's okay! I will do three things next. I will immediately disrupt the calmness and transform the learners from silent "plants" into prepared and engaged "animals" ready to learn.

First thing: Group Disruption

"We will be conducting today's full-day course in small groups. Feel free to choose your seats. Now, I will assign each of you a number. 1-2-3-4-5(assuming there are 5 groups in the room), and let me start calling out the numbers. 'Alright, those with number 1, please sit in the first group; those with number 2, the second group.' Following this rule, everyone please find your new group!"


By doing this, you will notice that everyone has to move and find a new position. During the seating arrangement, people tend to sit with those they are most familiar with, and the numbered grouping will separate them from their closest acquaintances. This not only quickly mixes and disrupts the groups but also gets them out of their stationary state and away from their preferred and comfortable positions and spaces. Of course, laptops and computers should be turned off and moved to the new location as well. (A-fu's secret tip #1)

Second thing: Group Self-Introduction

After settling into their new positions, I will strike while the iron is hot and continue with the following statement:

"For the next 7 hours, you will be interacting with your group members. Let's take this opportunity to get to know each other. I would like each group to share the following four pieces of information: your name, department, zodiac sign, and interests. Allow me to demonstrate: I'm A-fu, the co-founder of  Great Focus International Limited and SFCLASS LTD. My zodiac sign is Cancer, and I enjoy engaging in challenging sports and computer programming. Now, it's your turn. Each person will have 20 seconds to stand up and introduce themselves to the group. Let's begin!"

The above statement contains several important know-how techniques. I'll let you discover them on your own without spoiling the surprise.

The third thing: Competition Mechanism and Game Rules

To maintain high levels of motivation throughout the day, I always carefully design gamified teaching mechanisms that keep participants engaged (I'll write about gamification in another article). But at this point, I will introduce the rules and prizes of the game to set the participants' expectations. For example:

"Throughout the day, we will be conducting our course in small teams. Your performance and participation will earn you points. At the end of each class, we will calculate the latest scores and announce them at the back of the classroom. The team with the highest score will receive a fantastic prize prepared by me, which is this (display the prize). The second-place team will also receive a prize, which is this (display a different prize that differentiates it from the first-place prize). As for the third-place team, they will receive this (a smaller prize, perhaps even just one! Everyone will have a laugh). The last two teams will be responsible for... Let's give them an encouraging round of applause! Of course, the competition is not just about the prizes, but also about prestige! Don't you agree?"

I would like to emphasize that prizes can be intangible (promotion, certification) or tangible (toys, snacks, books, medals, certificates, local specialties). They don't have to be expensive, but they should be special or unique enough to appeal to the participants' competitive spirit. For example, if the first-place team receives an iPhone X for each team member, there will definitely be fierce competition throughout the day, and students will be extremely motivated. However, the teacher may end up bankrupt for the rest of the year after just one class. Although I deliberately exaggerated the example, my dear fellow instructors, it's true that they put a lot of effort into preparing course prizes!

Take my amazing teammate, the super-numeric MJ, also known as the "Impulsive Brother." He always prepares high-end gifts that cannot be found elsewhere. And the innovation guru, Adam, carefully selects prizes before teaching in China. Let's not forget the influential figure, my good partner Xian, who always picks out excellent books to provide students with fantastic learning motivation.

You may not believe it, but for a box of building blocks, a vice president of a listed company would say to the team members, "Today, we need to perform well and secure the first place to bring the building blocks home. Got it?" The participants would be almost in tears (the pressure is intense), and I would be standing there laughing. With the vice president's salary, he can afford as many of those building blocks as he wants. He doesn't care about the "prize"; he cares about something deeper. The prize is just a ________ that gives everyone a reason to strive for success!


Teaching techniques come in numerous variations, and there is no absolute good or bad technique. What matters to me is the effectiveness. In other words, what do students learn, remember, and apply after the teacher has taught? As professional educators, we pay attention to the students' state, motivation, engagement, and attention at every moment of the course. What should the instructor do to effectively adjust and facilitate better learning? The opening is the beginning of the entire day's course and the first interaction between students and the teacher. It is during this time that professional teaching techniques are employed to establish trust, create simple interactions to captivate attention, provide an overview of the course to build expectations, and utilize competitive group mechanisms to motivate participation. The duration of the opening varies depending on the length of the course, ranging from 3-5 minutes to 10-20 minutes, depending on the individual style of each instructor.

"The techniques of teaching" are merely external, while the "essence of learning" is the inner cultivation. The best teaching combines both technique and essence. Only then can students enjoy learning, even forgetting about time and entering a state of flow in their learning. Believe me, it is truly achievable! You just haven't found the method yet! This series of writings on "teaching techniques" aims to provide you with more methods to achieve better teaching outcomes.

Of course, the opening is just the beginning, and the day-long course is still ahead!

If you're interested in "Teaching Techniques" and related courses offered by SFCLASS LTD., you can fill out the course priority notification form below to stay updated on the latest course openings (so you won't miss out when courses are already full!). And don't worry, we won't spam you with advertisements when there's nothing happening XD

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