Group dynamics: Giving your course a beginning and end

Nathan Ducker, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University


Quick guide

  • Keywords: Group dynamics, classroom relationships, group closure
  • Learner English level: Any
  • Learner maturity: Any university class
  • Preparation time: None
  • Activity time: 90 minutes
  • Materials: White board, magnets, note-taking paper


Dornyei and Murphy (2003) explain that good group dynamics enhance classroom learning, while poor classroom relations can block learning. To develop good classroom relations, they prescribe developing intermember acceptance through learning about each other as the class forms. Additionally, they explain that providing group closure at the end of a course can validate, support and reaffirm the development that has taken place during the course, while also reducing the stress students feel when leaving a class. This fun activity, which should take place in the second or third week of the semester when students have already shared information about themselves with each other, uses the same format and materials at the beginning and end of the course to achieve these goals.



Step 1: Hand each student a blank piece of A4 paper. Tell them not to write their names on it.

Step 2: Allocate a predetermined topic and have students spend three minutes to draw on the A4 paper a personal picture in relation to the topic. For example, I use my hometown and students draw an important, fun, or famous place from their hometown. Strictly no lettering is allowed on the paper. Students must not let anyone else see their picture, which should remain anonymous.

Step 3: While students are drawing, on the board create a grid with enough boxes for each student’s picture. Label the horizontal axis alphabetically and the vertical axis numerically.

Step 4: Collect the pictures, and assign students to a group (three or four members).

Step 5: As students form groups, randomly attach the pictures to the grid squares on the board.

Step 6: Give students 10 minutes to approach the board and look at the pictures (For larger classes you may need to stagger the groups). Caution students not to reveal which picture they drew. After 10 minutes, students return to their groups.

Step 7: Pre-teach discussion questions. For example: What is the picture of?, Where is it?, and Who drew it?

Step 8: Students discuss for 10 minutes who they think drew each picture.

Step 9: Have one team choose a picture, describe it, and identify the drawer. (To see who goes first, teams can volunteer or do jan-ken). To scaffold their responses, I write on the board: This is a picture of xxx, This is xxx city, and, This picture was drawn by xxx.

Step 10: If the guess is correct, give the team one point. Then take the picture down from the board. If the guess is incorrect, the picture remains on the board.

Step 11: Repeat steps 9 and 10 until all the pictures have been identified or 45 minutes elapse.

Step 12: Once the game has ended, store the pictures until the end of semester. 

Step 13: At the end of the course, repeat this game with one change: once the original artist has been identified, return the picture to the artist.

Step 14: Familiarity with the game means it will not last as long the second time. Use the remaining time to have students write thank you and goodbye messages on the back of their classmates’ pictures so that each student has a class souvenir.



A wide range of alternative function structures can be taught to help with the discussion phase of this activity. For example, with higher-level classes I review and encourage use of modal verbs for reasoning, such as It must be… and It has to be… With lower-level classes, we work on opinion structures: I think it is… and I am sure it is…



This is a fun activity that helps students bond in class. Revisiting students’ personal pictures again at the end of the course helps students have closure on the class in a fun way.



Dornyei, Z., & Murphey, T. (2003). Group Dynamics in the Language Classroom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.