- Key Words: Classroom management
- Learner English Level: Beginner to Advanced
- Learner Maturity Level: High school and above
- Preparation Time: Minimal
- Activity Time: 75 minutes
Group work is a very effective activity for teaching English to Japanese students. Even those students who have no prior experience with this type of task in the classroom can quickly learn to use it. Japanese students do not receive group activity instruction in the classroom, but according to Peak (1991) Japanese society socializes students for group cooperation, making the technique easy for them to learn. The addition of job duties facilitates the group process by eliminating the ambiguity that causes some students alarm and uncertainty when they are asked to initiate and carry out a group activity. Group work is a great way to motivate students toward a more active approach to learning. Specific job duties help students define their individual roles in the group process.
Introducing Group Work
The class is usually begun by explaining briefly the purpose and advantages of using group work in the classroom: (a) it allows students to actively participate in the class with their fellow students, rather than idly accepting ideas from the teacher; (b) group work gives them the opportunity to generate their own ideas; (c) group work develops students' ability to articulate and respond to opinions, and to cooperate with others to solve problems.
Next, students are given a handout that outlines the ground rules for group work and highlights the job duties. The following summarizes key information to include:
- Groups will consist of four to five students.
- Each student must choose a job for group projects.
- The duties for each job should be carried out to the best of the student's ability.
- Students should choose a different job for each group activity in order to give them a broader experience.
- The jobs and their responsibilities are as follows:
Leader: This person is responsible for leading group discussion. They should call on individual speakers for the group, and make sure that everyone is included in the discussion. The leader also reports group progress to the teacher.
Secretary: This person writes down details of the discussion.
Time Keeper: This person keeps the group on task, and reports the time left for finishing the task.
Brainstormer: When needed, this person leads the group in brainstorming sessions as well as recording outlines for the group.
Co-Leader (optional): If the group consists of five members this person will aid and assist the leader when needed.
Four to five members are ideal for group work, but when necessary, group activities can also be achieved with as few as three students, with two of them taking more than one job. I would not suggest doing this activity with fewer than three students in a group, as paired students are easily able to organize and negotiate without the structure of specific job duties.
According to Bredemeier & Stephenson (1968), groups of students become an individual "social system" that differs from the social system of the class (p. 35). Therefore, it is necessary to organize small groups with clear guidelines and responsibilities to help students make the transition from the larger class group to smaller groups. For this reason, carefully go over the jobs and emphasize the importance of fulfilling those responsibilities so that the group members are able to work together as a supportive team.
For this example, the assignment is a group essay about pets for a high-intermediate writing class of about twenty students. (Other skills, such as reading or listening and speaking can be addressed equally effectively in groups.) Once groups have been decided, students should form a circle with their desks and choose job positions. It is important to have all group members engage in leadership by assigning an individual job to each member rather than having one boss (Grove 1976).
Next, the brainstormer should ask for ideas from the group about the topic and write them down, either as a circle outline or in random combinations of phrases and ideas from fellow classmates. At this point the teacher should walk around the room giving encouragement as necessary, and making sure that all the students' desks are facing each other in a circle and that students are not speaking Japanese.
Following the brainstorming, I usually ask students to form their thesis statement for the essay. At this point the leader will take control of the group and the secretary will take notes. All groups should discuss their topic and write a thesis statement with identified topic and controlling idea. It can be checked by the circulating teacher before proceeding to the actual writing of the essay. Then the introductory paragraph, body paragraph and concluding paragraph can be tackled by the group in that order. Again the secretary will record the paragraphs and all the students in the group should offer ideas and work toward completion. The timekeeper will intermittently offer reports on minutes left to complete the task and the leader will call on students so that everyone has a voice in the writing of the essay. This assignment usually takes about seventy-five minutes to complete.
Depending on the level of students it is usually best to have them jump right into the activity as soon as possible with minimal directions. Beginner classes may require a pre-teaching lesson to explain new vocabulary and useful expressions or phrases for group work. On the other hand, intermediate to advanced classes should have little difficulty grasping the directions and organizing into groups. A hands-on approach has proven to be the best teaching method. In a class size of twenty to thirty students some instructions are better given one-on-one or through example as the teacher walks around the room monitoring the groups. For example, I might remind the brainstormer to take notes or ask the time keeper how many minutes are left until the end of the class.
It is necessary in the beginning for the teacher to closely monitor the groups and offer support if they seem stuck or unmotivated. It is also necessary to monitor the noise level (since many students will be talking at once) and keep it to a minimum. Organizing students into groups has many advantages:
1. It allows a break from the regular routine such as lectures, timed writing and exams.
2. It encourages critical thinking skills.
3. It allows students to pool their resources and learn from each other.
4. Students can try out new ideas in a small group, which is less formal and threatening in structure than a whole classroom of students.
Bredemeier, H. C. & Stephenson, R. M. (1968). The analysis of social systems. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc.
Grove, T. G. (1976). Experiences in interpersonal communication. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Peak, L. (1991). Learning to go to school in Japan: The transition from home to preschool life. Los Angeles: University of California Press.