Getting Students to Talk Part One - Hall Houston

One of the most ubiquitous language learning activities is known as group work, where several students work together in a group to have a conversation, solve a problem, or have a discussion in English.


Despite the fact that pair work and group work are often very effective ways of learning a language, some students do not participate in group work.


Based on my experience, there are a number of reasons for this:


* Some students are not used to this type of language learning – Students who have spent many years in Taiwan’s high school system may only have experience with teacher-centered learning – sitting in a classroom where the teacher lectures and the students listen. Therefore, they might be unfamiliar with group work and skeptical of its usefulness.


* Some students are afraid to speak out – A fair number of students have a lot of anxiety about speaking up, worried they will make a mistake and be humiliated by their teacher or peers. They would rather sit in silence.


* Some students don’t want to practice speaking – Students might prefer to learn vocabulary, grammar, listening, or reading.


* Some students just don’t want to be there – Some students have no desire to be in class and are only there because their parents insisted that they study English.


* The lesson plan is a bad match for the students – Either the material is too difficult or is based on a topic that students know nothing about. For example, if you’re teaching a beginning level class and you want them to talk about current events in Syria, you will probably get very little discussion.


Despite all of these reasons, it’s highly beneficial for students to practice speaking in pairs and groups. Here are a few reasons:


- Students get into the practice of using English to communicate. This means it will be much easier for them to communicate in a real situation, such as living, working or travelling overseas.


- Students become responsible for their own learning. Instead of passively listening to the teacher, they become involved in learning English by asking questions, introducing new topics, and turn-taking.


- More students get a chance to practice when students work in groups. If a teacher controls the discussion, only one student can speak at a time. If students work in groups, everyone gets a chance to speak.


- Students can learn from each other. Students at higher levels can support those who are not as fluent.


- Students get to know each other through group work, therefore creating a more cohesive class.


However, group work is not the only way to learn a language. Individual work and teacher-fronted activities also have their merits.


In the next article, I will present a few suggestions for dealing with classes that don’t want to speak.



Hall Houston teaches at Kainan University in Taoyuan County, Taiwan. His articles have been published in periodicals such as It's for Teachers, Modern English Teacher and English Teaching Professional. He has written 3 books: The Creative Classroom: Teaching Languages Outside the Box, Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT, and The ELT Daily Journal: Learning to Teach ESL/EFL

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