Working in small groups is a natural choice for the language classroom. If one student in each group is talking, the opportunities for practice increase dramatically. But does group work work?
Group work that works (even in large classes) is the title of an interesting article on this subject in the Prof Hacker blog on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s website. Although the article is targeted towards college and university professors, there are some useful suggestions for the ESL classroom.
First is that group work allows students an opportunity to make a difficult decision based on a set of data. An analogy is drawn to a jury which must decide the outcome of a court case based on evidence in a trial. The article argues for posing the same, significant problem to each group and having them report their specific choice simultaneously.
Reporting simultaneously, whether by holding up cards with letters on them, pointing or moving to a wall or area of the classroom, or using clickers, prevents later groups from changing their minds based on previous groups’ answers.
The article goes into much more detail, and is worth a read. How could these ideas be used in an ESL or EFL classroom?
Groups of students could be asked to evaluate a piece of writing and report back on their evaluations. If you received this job application, would you hire the person? Based on the mistakes in this paragraph, which country is the author from? What letter grade should this essay receive? Projects like these could be very engaging ways for students to interact with the target language and each other.