Getting Students to Talk Part Three - Hall Houston

In Part Three of this article, I thought I’d share a few additional tips for increasing students’ participation in group work.


Group Forming

1) Use group-forming techniques to make sure students are talking to different classmates. While the easiest ways to form pairs and groups is to choose students who are already sitting together, this can lead to students always working with the same people. Mixing up the students can make things more interesting for everyone.


Try out some of these simple techniques to form pairs:


- Ask each student to sit with a student he or she doesn’t know well.


- Ask students on the left side of the room to find a partner on the right side.


- Give half of the class blank slips of paper. Ask them to write their names. Collect the slips and randomly pass them out to the others. Tell them to form a pair with the student whose name is on the slip.


- Ask students to line up in order of age. They do this by asking each other their birthdays. Once they’re all lined up, pair up the students at the two ends of the line. Repeat until all students are paired up. (You can use other criteria to form a line: least talkative to most talkative, or earliest to latest getting out of bed in the morning.)


- Put several long pieces of string (one piece for every 2 students in your class) in your hand. Close your fist around the middle. Ask each student to take one end of a piece of string. Let go of the string, and each student will be paired with another.


Assigning Roles


2) Assign roles to students.


Students often participate more if they have a clear idea of what they are expected to do. Some common roles are leader (oversees the activity), secretary (takes notes and prepares a report), supervisor (makes sure that the group is staying on task), and encourager (encourages everyone to speak). You may wish to use only one or two of these roles, depending on the activity. Explain the different roles to students before they begin.


3) Ask students to jot down some ideas before the activity begins..


If you’re doing an activity such as a discussion or a role play, it’s beneficial for students to first write down a few ideas individually.


4) Make it competitive.


In listing and brainstorming activities, groups can compete against each other. Give each group a time limit to come up with as many ideas as possible. The group with the most answers wins.


5) Add some variety to the reporting phase.


As I mentioned in Part 2 of this article, it’s good practice to ask each group to report on a few things they discussed during the activity. However, this can get tedious if you do it the same way every time. Consider these alternatives:


- Ask all groups to share some of their main points with the group to their left, Assign each group to give a report on the main ideas of the other group.

- Tell each group to include one lie in their report. The other groups must listen carefully to spot the lie.

- Require each group to ask one question at the end of every report.

- Assign all students to write down one idea they liked from each group’s report.

- Ask each group to create a poster that summarizes their group work. They can put this up on the wall when they are finished.

- If it’s relevant to the task, have each group produce a visual summary of their discussion, such as a mind map, pie chart or bar graph.


In conclusion, I’d like to suggest that you observe how your students respond to group work activities. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Also, make sure that you use a broad range of activities in your lessons, including teacher-fronted activities (telling the class a story or doing a dictation) and individual work (guided visualization or reading).



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. His first book, The Creative Classroom: Teaching Languages Outside the Box, was published in 2007 and his most recent book is Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT. His third book, The ELT Daily Journal: Learning to Teach ESL/EFL, will be available in 2013.

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