Friday, February 4, 2011

Become a Better Language Teacher: Group Work

If I were to shorten "Become a Better Language Teacher" into an acronym it would look like this: BABLT or BBLT. I am thinking of using one of these acronyms the next time I put up a post on this subject.

Today I finished reading, "Teaching Large Multilevel Classes" by Natalie Hess, which I highlighted in a previous post. This book is truly inspirational and if you haven't yet checked it out for yourself I would highly consider doing so. Otherwise, just take the time to think about today's topic which is "Group Work."

In the large class, such as one found in Korean public schools, you often find yourself wanting to put the kids into groups. There can be challenges to this such as not having your own classroom or fearing it might not work. From my experience I have seen group work be a success and also bomb. The tips in this book helped me realize that I wasn't considering how I could have better served my students by giving them a little training in proper group work. Now, you might be thinking what else is there to group work? Just put the kids in groups of 4 or 5 and let them go at it. I use to think that way and now I realize that works for some time, until things continually don't.

Train groups so that everyone gets a chance to speak and has a specific task.

You might start to notice, after doing the same assignment in each class, that there are people in their group who just sit there and do nothing. As a teacher inside a classroom with 5 or 6 groups it can be hard to attend to each one and make sure everyone is active. The following tips will help you set up group work so that every student has a chance to not only speak but be a part of what is happening. Following these will be several activities that will boaster this kind of group dynamic.

Group Work Tips:
  • Match the type of activity with the # of people it works best with. Drills and vocabulary = pair work. Problem solving = groups of 5. Intros & discussions = groups of 4 & mingling activities. 
  • Non-participating members in a group issue: Make them have a primary role such as facilitator or encourager, look up words, present the group's results, rate each other. 
  • Give each person in the group a designated responsibility. For example, if it is a game make sure one person is taking score, another checking the rules, another checking the English spoken...etc.
  • With the class talk about why they work in groups. Go over what makes for a good group and a bad group dynamic. 
  • You basically want to lay out to them that when they are put in groups everyone should be expected to do something. Talk about what kinds of roles there are.
Organizational Activities / Activities to enhance group work:
  • Working Together: Ss get into groups. Meant to practice having roles and get Ss use to having them. Use a group activity as a tester to allow them to practice using their roles. 
  • The Quiet Signals: A lot of us are already doing this. Signals meant to stop group work, such as clapping or saying a line that needs a response. Make to practice it first with the Ss. 
  • Give Me Your Sticks: (I like this one.) Each group member gets 5 sticks. Every time someone speaks they put in their stick. Goal is for everyone to put in their sticks. Once an Ss uses all of their sticks they can't talk unless they ask the group facilitator for permission. At the end of the activity, ask which group used all their sticks, and they get a prize / reward.
Content Based Activities: How language works through the group.
  • The Aquarium: 2 large groups. Inner one is the "aquarium" and they sit together and start a discussion. People on the outside tap an "aquarium person" & they exchange roles and join in on the discussion.
  • The Walkabout: Cut up questions are placed around the classroom walls. Ss work in pairs & make their way around the classroom. One Ss stands back-to-wall & their partner reads the question. They rotate and change rolls.
  • Picture Puzzles: Using a cut up picture groups look at parts of it & discuss what the whole picture is like.
  • Group Cheer: Groups come up with their own cheer for when they want attention or praising themselves. Example, "Smart! Smart! Smart! Terrific Tigers!"
Those are just some examples of simple group activities, but I am sure by now you have plenty of activities and games that you have made for group work. The thing here is to not just give them fun things to do but think of group work activities that can allow for everyone to speak and have a role. Start considering how you can prep your students to work well in groups and get them thinking about being responsible for their own learning. Although I haven't put these new things that I have learned into practice I can see where and when they will be effective. What I have really loved about reading this book is that it put all the jumble of the last two years into a correct place in mind.

I hope these tips and suggestions inspire you to create a better group work environment in your classroom.

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