>Grouping students for pairwork or groupwork

> Here are some practical ways to manage a classroom of students in fixed seating. These methods work quite well and I use them constantly.

First you start with a classroom of students. In this case we have 48 seats but some classes may be less. Larger class sizes do exist but are not the rule and you can adapt the methods below for larger classes. Sometimes you may have many more seats than students and the students will spread out and some will sit near the back, etc. I will sometimes assign the latecomers to fill in some of the empty seats in the front part of the class and/or when it comes time to do pair or group work I’ll have some students move to sit near others to make up the right number. When I create pairs or groups I usually walk through the class pointing at each student and showing the student his or her partner(s). Here is our classroom of students:

0000 0000 0000
0000 0000 0000
0000 0000 0000
0000 0000 0000

Obviously, when it comes time for pair work they can talk with the person next to them. This is usually a friend anyway and someone it is easy for them to speak with. Here the pairs are indicated as either “xx” or “oo”:

xxoo xxoo xxoo
ooxx ooxx ooxx
xxoo xxoo xxoo
ooxx ooxx ooxx

I used to have all kinds of sizes for group work but now I strictly limit myself to arranging 4 person groups with rare exceptions. I firmly believe this is the ideal number for group work. When there are more there is a greater tendency for students who are not talking to space out or get distracted. In the example below you can see that some students only have to turn around to create the four person group. Again, the groups are differentiated as “x” groups of four or “o” groups of four.

xxoo xxoo xxoo
xxoo xxoo xxoo
ooxx ooxx ooxx
ooxx ooxx ooxx

Sometimes you feel that the dynamics are not working so well in the pairs. Perhaps some people seem to resist talking to the person next to them. Perhaps some folks who are sitting together are too chummy. I also think it’s good to get students out of their comfort zones, out of their seats, as it gets them a bit more stirred up and although they show a bit of reluctance at first they always wind up enjoying it. Mix things up by giving each student a number or letter, counting them off up to half the students and then repeating the counting. The students then find their partner (“a” finds the other “a” and “b” find the other “b” if you use numbers). In this case students might just stand up in different places of the classroom to do the exercise.

abcd efgh ijkl
mnop qrst uvwx
abcd efgh ijkl
mnop qrst uvwx

But if they sit down it might look like this (below). All that is really important is that a & a get together and b & b, etc. They can be standing around in different places in the classroom but if they did sit down and put themselves in a nice little order they could look like this:

aabb ccdd eeff
gghh iijj kkll
mmnn oopp qqrr
sstt uuvv wwxx

You can do the same thing when making up groups. Just try to find a way to count them off so that they are not already sitting near each other. Especially when doing groups like this the students may abandon trying to sit in seats when doing the exercise. It is really helpful for the students to get out of their seats as it gets their bodies more involved in the class activities (though not in a TPR way) and when their bodies get more involved their minds get more involved.

abcd efgh ijkl
efgh ijkl abcd
ijkl abcd efgh
abcd efgh ijkl

But if they sit down it might look like this (below). All that is important is that a & a & a & a get together and b & b & b & b, etc. Note that two students will turn around to talk with their partners behind them. So the 2 a’s in front will form the group with the a’s behind them and all talk together.

aabb ccdd eeff
aabb ccdd eeff
gghh iijj kkll
gghh iijj kkll

These arrangements will work well with intermediate and advanced students and they will talk and talk. You may have problems with low level students, beginners, etc. as they have a harder time expressing themselves in English and will be more tempted to talk in Chinese. If your students need a little more help to not resort to Chinese you’ll be surprised how effective a “policeman” is. The policeman is told to make sure everyone sticks to English. In this example, groups have been made and one student, marked with a “1”, is asked to act as a policeman. Using our earlier example of groups of four seated students it could be like this:

1abb 1c1d 1e1f
aabb ccdd eeff
1g1h 1i1j 1k1l
gghh iijj kkll

These methods are tried and proven. As long as care is given in assigning good speaking tasks and students are interested in learning English these arrangements will result in a classroom of happy noisy chatting students.

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Filed under english, pairwork, seating, teach

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