How to get the most out of interaction patterns
I don’t think that pair work needs any kind of introduction. However, if you are hesitant about pairwork, or group work for that matter, consider the following scenario: there are 10 students in your 60-minute lesson, you want them to have an equal amount of speaking opportunities but you’re not into pair work, you prefer the teacher-fronted way. Let’s say that the whole 60-minute lesson will focus on speaking. How many speaking minutes is that per student? 6? Probably more like 3 if we include you leading, contributing and commenting in between. Is 3, or even 5 minutes per lesson a sufficient amount of time to improve a student’s speaking abilities?
If you did the maths in the exercise above, you probably know by now that the most obvious positive of pair work is maximized student talking time. However, that is not the only one. The fact that it allows for idea sharing gives it multiple uses in the classroom and means that it often saves time. Strategic pairing can help you bridge the divide between strong and weak students and ensure that “trouble makers” are kept as far away from each other as possible.
There are some students who will not want to work with so and so (and the next day that person will be a perfectly acceptable working partner while so and so number two will be a problem). My recommendation would be to just go with the flow. In my experience, if you get into the habit of changing pairs early and often, students will quickly realise that it is often not for more than an activity or two and adapt to it without any major complaints. What’s more, I find that students often complain about pair work when they feel they are not getting sufficient feedback from the teacher. It can get noisy and more difficult to monitor, but as long as you’re not resorting to mini-teaching each pair it shouldn’t be too demanding.
Suitable classroom tasks
There are the common ones, such as:
- pair/compare stages after individual work
- role plays
But pair work can also be used for:
- brainstorming activities
- preparation stages
- collaborative creative tasks
If you are interested in finding out more about the benefits and potential downfalls of group work, come back for Part 4 of this blog series.