Archive for Tag: group work

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A-MAZE-ing Activities are a BALL

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

Don’t you just love those professional development sessions when great teachers sit around and share practical teaching ideas? I always walk away with ideas for fresh ways to prompt student practice. Even better, instructors often remind me of old activities I used to use but now lie moldering in a file somewhere, and they often suggest ways to tweak these old activities for use in other lessons. That happened to me recently when I was at a PD session for instructors at the English Language Center at Howard Community College, where I work, and I walked out with one new idea and one resurrected idea.

One of the teachers talked about a way she promotes class involvement when reviewing grammatical forms. Now, I have experimented with using a ball in class before, but her take on this practice was fresh, at least to me. She bought a big cheap ball (in my mind, this would work very well with an inflatable beach ball), which she wrote target grammar prompts all over. She was working on forming questions with her class, so she had written question words on the ball. In the lesson, she had the class stand up in a circle and she tossed the ball to a random student. When the student caught the ball, she had her make a question with the question word that her thumbs were touching or closest to. So, if a student caught the ball like this,

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speechless Lessons for Beginners

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

There was a full moon over us, a forested park before us, and an elfin presence all around us.  It was an ideal setting and a perfect atmosphere for watching a performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The scene was in the medieval Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov, and we, the audience, were waiting breathlessly in the castle park for the actors to appear beneath us and our revolving, open-air amphitheatre… and then they did appear, and they did play, but they did not speak.

We wondered, watched, and continued to listen, but not a word was spoken.

And then, soon enough, we realized who we were.  We were an audience of individuals, foreign tourists, who spoke some European language, Asian language, and other language as a first language, and many of us did not speak Czech, the language of Cesky Krumlov, and the players and the producers knew all that.

So, believe it or not, they performed a wordless version of Shakespeare’s play.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What’s the Brain Got to Do With It?

By Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels

The Magic of Flying

I am not a nervous flyer, but I really have no idea how a plane actually manages to stay in the air. I mean, if you drop a rock, if falls. So, how on earth does an airplane, which weighs so much more than a stone, even manage to take off from the ground? Of course, there is a scientific explanation for this, but as I strap myself into my tiny little seat on the plane, I am just glad that I can get from my home in Belgium to my mother in Western Canada in hours rather than days.

Similarly, for a long time, I was content with being ignorant as to how learning physically happens in the brain. Just like I can fly all over the planet without understanding exactly why I am able to do so, I had been comfortable teaching without understanding exactly what was happening in students’ brains as they were learning (or not). However, in recent years, I have come to learn that this learning isn’t something opaque or magical. It is physical, and it can now be seen with a microscope because, “[t]hanks to neuroimaging, scientists can now see inside a living, thinking brain.” (Zadina, 2008) How exciting is that!

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Not HER Again!

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium

A couple of semesters ago, I had a problem in my French class. It all started on the first day of the class. I wandered in and took a seat. The seat next to me was empty, but before the class began, a student (I’ll call her Ms. Steam Roller) came in and sat beside me. She seemed nice and her French was good, so I felt like I could learn from her. However, by the mid-semester point, I had found that I did not enjoy working with her at all. Because her French was better than mine, she ignored my suggestions when we had to write dialogues. Doing pair work with her was like standing in the path of a steam roller. Sure, she was a nice person, but if I had to keep working with her, I was going to scream.

So, after the class, I approached my teacher and said that I would like the chance to work with other students. She asked me why I didn’t just change seats the next class.  But I felt that, since I had been sitting in the same place for months, it would be a bit rude to change that late in the game. I needed another solution. My French teacher was great. She worked out a system that allowed us all to change partners every class, so I got away from Ms. Steam Roller without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Changing it Up – Why Bother?

This experience has impacted my own classroom management style because I now go out of my way to make sure students don’t always work with the same partners. I know from experience that students, for many reasons, may not want to work with the same person class after class. There are other reasons, too, to change it up a little.

First, students need exposure to different kinds of English and different levels of ability. If a Korean student always works with a Brazilian student, both students will eventually become accustomed to each other’s pronunciation and errors. That can feel more comfortable, certainly, but we all know there are a wide variety of different accents and a huge continuum of abilities, even in one class. It is better, in my opinion, for students to be exposed to different kinds of English so that they have to work at negotiating meaning, which, according to Folse (2006), is an important part of language learning.

Also, working with students of different levels allows for a wider variety of learning opportunities. When I had to work with Ms. Steam Roller, I constantly felt like the slow student. However, when I worked with other students, I sometimes got the chance to teach them, which helped me learn the skill better myself. I don’t always want to be the “helper” and I don’t always want to be the “helped”. It’s nice to have a little variety.

Changing it Up – The How To

I try to shuffle my students at the beginning of class. Sometime, I just count off. If I have 12 students, I count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The 1s get together, the 2s get together, the 3s get together you get the idea. They actually pick up their books and move everything to sit with their new partner. At first, this takes a while, but after a few lessons, students expect to have to move and it only takes a minute.

If I am feeling more creative, I work the shuffle into my warm up. I might have a set of index cards, one for each student. Half the cards have pictures or definitions or gap fills (depending on the level of the class) and the other half have vocabulary words. The students stand up, walk around the room and say their word until they find their partner. Then, they move their stuff and sit together for the rest of the lesson.

A couple of years ago, I went to a session at TESOL called “Get into Groups Made More Efficient and Effective” by Kitty Purgason. She suggested doing the above activity with questions and answers or using common idioms or phrasal verbs cut in half. In Maryanne Wolfe’s presentation at TESOL 2010, she suggested an interesting activity if space permitted. She gives each student a card with some information (in the demonstration, the information on the cards was the life expectancy in a number of different countries) and told students to put themselves into a line from the longest life expectancy to the shortest . Then, once the students are all lined up, she folds the line in half, like you would fold a string, so the students at the end meet up and become partners, all the way down the line. What fun!

Students deserve to have a little variety in their partners. They may seem to be happy working with the same person day after day, but I bet that many of them will welcome a change. The class gets to know each other better, the affective filter is lowered, and students develop new friendships. It’s a win, win, win!

Folse, K. (2006) The Art of Teaching Speaking, University of Michigan Press.
Olson, K. (2010) Movement and Learning, Paper Presented at TESOL 2010: Boston.
Purgason, K. (2007) Get into Groups Made More Efficient and Effective, Paper Presented at TESOL 2007: Washington.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Student-Teacher’s Concerns about Group Work: Three Quick Solutions

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

The “bubbly” Beata, one of my former student-teachers, regularly avoided incorporating group work activities into her lesson plans. She thought of group work as a fail-proof recipe for a classroom fiasco. She considered facilitating pair work now and then, but never quite incorporated it, nor did she include any group work activities in her plans. However, after a brief pep talk one day, one in which I laid out some of the advantages of student collaboration, Beata agreed that her hardened aversion to group work was more reflexive than rational.

Concerns about Facilitating Group Work

When asked why she resisted group work activities, Beata shared the following concerns:

1. that students would not want to talk
2. that students would never finish their task on time
3. that most students would not listen to their peers’ presentations

Overcoming the Problem: A Little Nudging

Since people often learn well by experimentation, I resisted equipping Beata with a set of ready-made solutions, thinking that I would deprive her of instructive experience. Instead, I suggested that she simple change the “would” in the expression of her concerns to a less pessimistic “may.” I also encouraged her simply to experiment some with group work techniques as the teaching practicum continued.

Basic Quick “Fixes”

In the end, to encourage Beata to start testing out her ideas for group work, I did provide her with a few basic quick “fixes” to the classroom problems that she feared were likely to occur.

Concern #1: Students would not want to talk.
Quick Fix #1: Bring a CD Player.

“Controlled noise” seems to get group discussions going. Background music (played at a relatively low volume) tends to come in handy when students feel self-conscious about being heard by the whole class. One of my college professors would often turn on the radio as soon as he asked us to do a group work activity; it worked like magic.

Concern#2: Students would never finish their task on time.
Quick Fix #2: Bring an Alarm Clock.

Deadlines for group work completion seem to be respected more regularly if students are aware of how much time is remaining. Often, actively involved in discussions, students lose track of time. Putting on the board updates on how much time is remaining, or setting an alarm clock to go off five minutes before the task needs to be completed, often does the trick.

Concern#3: Most students would not listen to their peers’ presentations.
Quick Fix #3: Keep a Physical Distance from the Presenter.

Often, student-presenters speak to the teacher, not to the whole group. The closer the teacher stands to the presenters, the quieter their performance becomes. All that may result in students’ losing interest in what is being shared. I’ve noticed that either by sitting together with the non-presenting group or simply by standing as far from presenters as possible, I, as the teacher, have “blended in” and thus encouraged the speakers to address the whole audience.

I’m wondering if any of you have worked with student-teachers who expressed concerns about facilitating group work. If so, what were their worries about? Did you have similar concerns as you were beginning your teaching careers?