Pair Work and Group Work in Foreign Language Teaching

Pair Work and Group Work in Foreign Language Teaching

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By: Marina Jurišić, Croatian and Italian language teacher

Working in pairs and smaller groups can significantly improve learning and help students become more successful. In this way, students are more included in the learning process as the usual pace of the lesson changes with students becoming the focus of attention. This allows the teacher to have more time to observe and move around the classroom with the aim of monitoring the students’ work. Such patterns of interactive teaching enable students to interact with their classmates, to ask questions about the content, to apply acquired knowledge in new circumstances, but also to successfully achieve the shared goal. The teacher is no longer the single person whose instruction students should adhere to. To complete the task, the students must work together, learn how to lead and direct, but also pay careful attention to instructions.


How to successfully choose the right size of a group and what criteria to use to stream students?

Pair work is an excellent choice if you want everybody participating equally in a discussion. It is a good idea for the more vocal students, who can sometimes scare and overshadow others, to be put together to work in pairs or in groups of three. Smaller groups can consist of students with same or mixed abilities, depending on what the teacher is trying to achieve. The role of the Wingman is not insignificant either. It is the wingman’s task to note down everything listened to and observed. The wingman can observe two students, note down their names, put up a sign every time they speak, reference information from a text or change the topic. The wingman can highlight the most important information heard or his/her opinion about the given topic.

What should the teacher do?

It is vital to provide clear instructions and establish aims prior to organizing group work. This can be achieved by demonstrating what the students need to do, employ the help of a student to do this if necessary, and check whether students understood the task at hand. Mother tongue should be used if necessary, as giving out clear instructions and ensuring enough time for the activity itself are crucial. You always need to have extra activities prepared for those fast (and successful) finishers. Do not forget about presentation, assessment and feedback after the task has been completed so students do not feel they have wasted their time.

How to avoid those typical traps?

When organizing such activities, noise is to be expected. It is a good idea to agree on some kind of universal signal – a warning which tells students to keep the noise down. Yelling and talking over one another can only engender a countereffect. If too many students talk at once, it is a good idea to assign roles for only observing and listening to other students, after which, the roles are reversed.

Some good ideas...

  • Divide and Conquer

Longer texts or even an entire novel can be evenly distributed among groups. This enables students to help each other, but also to improve their speaking skills, as well as their ability to form arguments and explanations.

  • Think - Pair - Share

This is a very simple pair-work activity which gives students a chance to think for themselves, work together and present their ideas. The success of this activity depends on the quality of the teacher’s questions. Ten minutes are sufficient for students to think and note down their individual answers. What follows is dividing up students into pairs and seeking a shared perspective. If the majority of the class shares the same opinion, you can pose critical or even provocative questions so students can present their arguments and defend their opinions. The possibilities are endless.

  • Describe and Draw

Students are divided up into pairs or groups. One of the students describes a photograph without showing it to their partner who must draw an image based on this description. Asking additional questions is allowed in order to produce a drawing true as much as possible to the original. Make the objects in the image relevant to the covered content.

  • Memory

This involves showing a few different items to students. The teacher gives them 60 seconds to memorise them. In smaller groups, students write down the objects they have memorised. This activity can be followed up with extra tasks, such as writing sentences about the stated objects, places where the objects can be found, etc.

  • Jigsaw

This activity enables students to become “experts” on some specific area of the task and share their knowledge with the rest of the class. Divide the topic into several components (“jigsaw puzzles”). Each group has a different “piece” of the topic, and, in the end, they share their knowledge with the other students. You can also collect a written report on the work of each group and assemble the real jigsaw puzzle.

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