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Tips for Effective Group Work

Beth Kemp | Thursday August 04, 2011

Categories: Hot Entries, Teaching Ideas & Skills Development

Group working can be a highly useful tool, but it can also be an amorphous beast that eats lesson time with little clear benefit.  In this guide, there are some tips for avoiding some of the classic pitfalls and some ideas for ringing the changes, without increasing preparation time exponentially.  Often, organising groups in a different way can create enough of a difference for students to carry out a very similar task to last lesson but have a quite different experience.

Group Work Woes

  • The top problem with group work: It is unclear exactly what has been achieved; students’ feedback is vague and you know you’re going to have to go over the same stuff next lesson to make sure they learn it properly.

Assuming this isn’t simply a behaviour issues, this tends to happen when the outcomes haven’t been explicit and students are not clear on exactly what is expected.  This can be avoided by giving very clear expectations, perhaps in one of the following ways:

  • Setting a precise or minimum number of points that students will need to come up with or discuss.
  • Guiding their research a little more by giving them intriguing questions or clues to what they are supposed to find out.  (See the “information treasure hunt? task in Suggestions for Teaching Linguistic Theory for more detail).
  • Giving an exemplar point (or final product) first, indicating the level of depth expected.
  • Providing a sense of what they will do with the material later (e.g. this information will be needed for your next essay on x).  Appealing to their often very functional approach to life can be productive!
  • The most common complaint: Students feel they don’t learn from each other, they want the teacher’s input.

This is often an expression of fear (or occasionally laziness) from students who expect lessons to be a way to obtain information and are scared of working in another way.  If this is in response to a ‘finding out’ type exercise, the response to this...

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