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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006

Автор: Кандаурова Е. А.

Group and pair work are so much a part of our everyday teaching routine that we hardly pause to think before partitioning the class to tackle some particular communicative task. But group work may not always be the best option. There will be a time and a place for whole-class activities in the English language classroom, just as there's a time and a place for group and pair work.

We were interested in this theme because this activity has great perspective. We find this methodology to be more effective and interesting. Group work makes it possible for the teacher to devote more time to the students' oral production, which perhaps before had not been a priority of the foreign language classroom. Thanks to group work, less confident students get the chance to put their knowledge of the new language into practice in a non-threatening environment, away from the critical eye and ear of the teacher. Instead of being dependent on the teacher, students get used to helping and learning from each other. Meanwhile, the teacher is left free to discreetly monitor progress and give help, advice and encouragement where and when it is needed. Small groups provide greater intensity of involvement, so that the quality of language practice is increased, and the opportunities for feedback and monitoring also, given adequate guidance and preparation by the teacher. The setting is more natural than that of the full class. The atmosphere of the classroom is very important point. Placing students in groups assists individualization, for each group, being limited by its own capacities, determines its own appropriate level of working more precisely than a class in lock-step with its larger numbers. Working in groups is more interesting for children.

The time for old methods has gone; it is the time for communication. Group work is an excellent way in developing speaking. There are a lot of different kinds of grouping (such as seat work, discussion, role-play, games) and an experienced teacher knows time and place for them.

Group work came into the standard EFL teaching repertoire with communicative methodologies in the 1970s (Semon Andrewes). At that time, studies of contemporary foreign language classes revealed that as much as 80% of lesson time consisted of the teacher talking to the students. In a class of, say, 30 students, it is evident that the learner hardly got a chance to practice the language. Teacher Talking Time (TTT) became taboo and ways were devised to stamp it out and train the students to actually perform in the language they were learning.

The use of group work in classroom English language learning has long been supported by sound arguments. Recently, however, a psycholinguistic rationale for group work has emerged from English language acquisition research on conversation between non-native speakers, or interlanguage talk. Provided careful attention is paid to the structure of tasks students work on together, the negotiation work possible in group activity makes it an attractive alternative to the teacher-led, "lockstep" mode and a viable classroom substitute for individual conversations with native speakers.

For some years now, methodologists have recommended small group work (including pair work) in the English language classroom. In doing so, they have used arguments which, for the most part, are pedagogical. While those arguments are compelling enough, group work has recently taken on increased psycholinguistic significance due to new research findings on two related topics: 1) the role of comprehensible input in English language acquisition (ELA) and 2) the negotiation work possible in conversation between non-native speakers, or interlanguage talk. Thus, in addition to strong pedagogical arguments, there now exists a psycholinguistic rationale for group work in teaching speaking. We try to point out some arguments for group work. They concern the potential of group work for increasing the quantity of language practice opportunities, for improving the quality of student talk, for individualizing instruction, for creating a positive affective climate in the classroom, and for increasing student motivation. Let’s begin with a brief review of those arguments.

First of all, it is the increased participation. According to Michael H. Long, if we have five or six groups then there will be five or six times the amount of talking. Class discussions are very wasteful in terms of the ratio of teacher or student-effort and time to actual language practice taking place; group discussions are relatively efficient. Moreover, this heightened participation is not limited to those who are usually articulate anyway; students, who are shy of saying something in front of the whole class, or to the teacher, often find it much easier to express themselves in front of a small group of their peers.

The motivation of participation also improves when they work in small groups. This is partly a function of the release from inhibition described above, but other factors also play a part. The physical focus of the discussion is close and directed towards the individual student; that is to say, whoever is speaking is only a small distance away, clearly audible, facing the others and addressing them personally.

Secondly group work increases language practice opportunities. In all probability, one of the main reasons for low achievement by many classroom EL learners is simply that they do not have enough time to Practice the new language. This is especially serious in large EFL classes in which students need to develop oral skills, but it is also relevant to the EL context.

From observational studies of classrooms (e.g., Hoetker and Ahlbrand 1969 and Fanselow 1977), we know that the predominant mode of instruction is what might be termed the lockstep, in which one person (the teacher) sets the same instructional pace and content for everyone, by lecturing, explaining a grammar point, leading drill work, or asking questions of the whole class. The same studies show that when lessons are organized in this manner, a typical teacher of any subject talks for at least half, and often for as much as two thirds, of any class period (Flanders 1970). In a 50-minute lesson, that would leave 25 minutes for the students. However, since 5 minutes is usually spent on administrative matters (getting pupils in and out of the room, calling the roll, collecting and distributing homework assignments, and so on) and (say) 5 minutes on reading and writing, the total time available to students is actually more like 15 minutes. In an EFL class of 30 students in a public secondary school classroom, this averages out to 30 seconds per student per lesson-or just one hour per student per year. Group work cannot solve this problem entirely, but it can certainly help. To illustrate with the public school setting, suppose that just half the time available for individual student talk is devoted to work in groups of three instead of to lockstep practice, in which one student talks while 29 listen (or not, as the case may be). This will change the total individual practice time available to each student from one hour to about five and a half hours. While still too little, this is an increase of over 500 percent.

The third argument - group work improves the quality of student talk. As Patricia A. Porter says, the lockstep limits not only the quantity of talk students can engage in, but also its quality. This is because teacher-fronted lessons favor a highly conventionalized variety of conversation, one rarely found outside courtrooms, classrooms. In such settings, one speaker asks a series of knowninformation, or display, questions, such as Do you work in the accuser’s office at 27 Sloan Street?, Do you come to class at nine o'clock?--questions to which there is usually only one correct answer, already known to both parties. The second speaker responds (I do) and then, in the classroom, typically has the correctness of the response confirmed (Yes, Right, or Good). Only rarely does genuine communication take place. An unfortunate but hardly surprising side effect of this sort of pseudo- communication is that students' attention tends to wander. Consequently, teachers maintain a brisk pace to their questions and try to ensure prompt and brief answers in return. This is usually quite feasible, since what the students say requires little thought (the same question often being asked several times) and little language (mostly single phrases or short "sentences"). Teachers quickly "correct" any errors, and students appreciate just as quickly that what they say is less important than how they say it.

Such work may be useful for developing grammatical accuracy (although this has never been shown). It is unlikely, however, to promote the kind of conversational skills students need outside the classroom, where accuracy is often important but where communicative ability is always at a premium. Group work can help a great deal here. First, unlike the lockstep, with its single, distant initiator of talk (the teacher) and its group interlocutor (the students), face-to-face communication in a small group is a natural setting for conversation. Second, two or three students working together for five minutes at a stretch are not limited to producing hurried, isolated "sentences." Rather, they can engage in cohesive and coherent sequences of utterances, thereby developing discourse competence, not just (at best) a sentence grammar. Third, as shown by Long, Adams, McLean, and Castanos (1976), students can take on roles and adopt positions which in lockstep work are usually the teacher's exclusive preserve and can thus practice a range of language functions associated with those roles and positions. While solving a problem concerning the sitting of a new school in an imaginary town, for example, they can suggest, infer, qualify, hypothesize, generalize, or disagree. In terms of another dimension of conversational management, they can develop such skills-also normally practiced only by the teacher--as topic-nomination, turn-allocation, focusing, summarizing, and clarifying. (Some of these last skills also turn out to have considerable psycholinguistic importance.) Finally, given appropriate materials to work with and problems to solve, students can engage in the kind of information exchange characteristic of communication outside classrooms--with all the creative language use and spontaneity this entails-where the focus is on meaning as well as form. In other words, they can in all these ways develop at least some of the variety of skills which make up communicative competence in the English language.

Next argument - group work helps individualize instruction (Michael H. Long). However efficient it may be for some purposes - for example, the presentation of new information needed by all students in a class the lockstep rides roughshod over many individual differences inevitably present in a group of students. This is especially true of the vast majority of school children, who are typically placed in classes solely on the basis of chronological and mental age. Yet, as any experienced teacher will attest, aggregate scores often conceal differences among students in specific linguistic abilities. Some students, for example, will have much better comprehension than production skills, and vice versa. Some may speak haltingly but accurately, while others, though fluent, make lots of errors.

In addition to this kind of variability in specific EL abilities, other kinds of individual differences ignored by lockstep teaching include students' age, cognitive, developmental stage, sex, attitude, motivation, aptitude, personality, interests, cognitive style, cultural background, native language, prior language learning experience, and target language needs. In an ideal world, these differences would all be reflected, among other ways, in the pacing of instruction, in its linguistic and cultural content, in the level of intellectual challenge it poses, in the manner of its presentation (e.g., inductive or deductive), and in the kinds of classroom roles students are assigned.

Group work obviously cannot handle all these differences, for some of which we still lack easily administered, reliable measures. Once again, however, it can help. Small groups of students can work on different sets of materials suited to their needs. Moreover, they can do so simultaneously, thereby avoiding the risk of boring other students who do not have the same problem, or who do have the same problem but need less time to solve it. Group work, then, is a first step toward individualization of instruction, which everyone agrees is a good idea but which few teachers or textbooks seem to do much about.

Also we can say group work promotes a positive affective climate. Many students, especially the shy or linguistically insecure, experience considerable stress when called upon in the public arena of the lockstep classroom (Patricia A. Porter). This stress is increased by the knowledge that they must respond accurately and above all quickly. Research (Rowe 1974 and White and Lightbown 1983) has shown that if students pause longer than about one second before beginning to respond or while making a response, or (worse) appear not to know the answer, or make an error, teachers will tend to interrupt, repeat, or paraphrase the question, ask a different one, "correct," and/or switch to another student. Not all teachers do these things, of course, but most teachers do so more than they realize or would want to admit. Freedom from the requirement for accuracy at all costs and entry into the richer and more accommodating set of relationships provided by small-group interaction promote a positive affective climate. This in turn allows for the development of the kind of personalized, creative talk for which most aural-oral classes are trying to prepare learners.

Next argument - group work motivates learners. Several advantages have already been claimed for group work. It allows for a greater quantity and richer variety of language practice, practice that is better adapted to individual needs and conducted in a more positive affective climate. Students are individually involved in lessons more often and at a more personal level. For all these reasons and because of the variety group work inevitably introduces into a lesson, it seems reasonable to believe that group work motivates the classroom learner (Michael H. Long).

Empirical evidence supporting this belief has been provided by several studies reported recently in Littlejohn (1983). It has been found, for example, that small-group, independent study can lead to increased motivation to study Spanish among beginning students (Littlejohn 1982); learners responding to a questionnaire reported that they felt less inhibited and freer to speak and make mistakes in the small group than in the teacher-led class. Similarly, in a study of children's attitudes to the study of French in an urban British comprehensive school (Fitz-Gibbon and Reay 1982), three quarters of the pupils ranked their liking for French as a school subject significantly higher after completing a program in which 14-year old non-native speakers tutored 11-year-old non-natives in the language.

The last argument. Group work frees the teacher from her usual role of instructor-corrector-controller, and allows her to wander freely round the class, giving help where needed, assessing the performance of individual students, noting language mistakes for future remedial work, devoting a little more time to slower learners. She also has an important role to play in leading and encouraging discussions.

Finally, there is scope here fore peer-teaching. In the course of group discussions, students will learn from each other, whether consciously or unconsciously. They may correct each other’s mistakes, help out with a needed word; and of course they will teach each other some non-linguistic material as well, through the content of the discussion.

On the other hand, there are also disadvantages. Analysing group work. We may note some arguments against group work. There are various problems associated with group work.

First teachers fear children may lose control, that there may be too much noise. There are may be students who don’t want take part. These points have to do partly with that nebulous quality called ‘discipline’, partly with practical organization. As regards discipline: this basically depends on the personality of the teacher, her class, and the relationship between them, not on the type of activity. On the whole it is safe to say that a class which is controlled in frontal work will be controlled also in groups (PennyUr).

Also teachers fear that their students may over-use their mother tongue. Children tend to lapse into their native language when not under the teacher’s eye.

Pupils can do the task badly or not at all. The teacher can’t control all groups simultaneously. While teacher helps one group, pupils of another group can wander from the task. Not everybody wants to contribute. Some people - both learners and teachers – dislike a situation where the teacher cannot constantly monitor learner language. Some students prefer to work individually. Some are not engaged in the work. Some students do not know how to distribute work. That is why better students work for weaker ones.

By the way, teacher can have some difficulty in evaluating. Last argument against - group work takes a lot of time.

Therefore, examining this theme, we can make a conclusion that it is necessary and important to use group work at the English lessons. We use group work activities very often. Working in such way pupils learn to work together, learn to contribute to the group success. We think the usage of group work is very effective. It gives a high results of learning teaching process as it deals with an activity of pupils. It makes situation of creating process.


1. New ways in teaching speaking./ Kathlen M. Bailery & Lance Savay, 94.

2. A course in language teaching./ Penny Ur. Cambridge University Press, 91.

3. Speaking./ C.N. Candlih & H.C. Widdowson. Oxford University Press. 93.

4. Communication in the language classroom./ Tony Lynch. Oxford University Press. 94.

5. How languages are learned./ Patsy M. Lightbown & Nina Spada. Oxford University Press,95.

6. Teaching large multilevel classes./ Natalie Hess. Cambridge University Press,97.

7. Gold mine/ by Melvin S. Shahtz,93.

8. Role play./ Gillian Porter Ladousse, 87.

9. Discussions that work./ Penny Ur. Cambridge University Press, 91.

10. Teaching English as a second or foreign language

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006

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