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Category Archives: groupwork

>By Pete Marchetto

This is an idea I’ve come up with; if anyone else wants to follow this as a blueprint then go ahead. I should be interested to know how you get on.

I set up the ‘English Naturally’ idea in the first instance with printed sheets giving a broad outline of the idea for circulation amongst the students; if they email me this is what they get in return:

ENGLISH NATURALLY

Two English people once told me how they learned French. They had gone to a college in France and the two of them – sharing a room – decided to try doing EVERYTHING using French and French alone. They only spoke French with each other and with other students who would let them do so. They watched French television and listened to French radio. They only read French books.

They didn’t know much French before they arrived at the college and at first their idea proved a considerable strain. For a few months they fell over their words and their grammar, became frustrated, were tempted to stop altogether and start speaking English again… but they persevered. At the end of that few months they realised – to their surprise – that using French had become perfectly natural for them. They thought in French, spoke French without realising it, had come to enjoy their own favourite French television programmes and reading their favourite French authors – they were using French naturally as part of their daily lives as if it was English.

I know that many students on campus have tried to follow similar ideas with English but failed. That failure, again and again, comes from the fact that too many other students in their classes and dormitories are not willing to persevere with the idea. It’s hard enough to do as it is at first, without trying to do it in a room with everyone else there speaking Chinese!

Although there are easily enough students on campus who are willing to persevere to make the idea work you are all in different departments and don’t know one another. The idea of ‘English Naturally’ is to put you all in contact with each other.

Once you’ve made contact then it’s up to you. You can arrange to meet other members for lunch or dinner in the canteen; meet together of an evening in the square; arrange a football or basketball match; go shopping with one another at weekends; meet one another in the holidays if you live close enough or email and telephone each other; anything you can think of, doing it all with the agreement that, whatever you do, you do it in English. The idea is not for all of you to meet as a group – though that would be good from time to time – but for all of you in the group to know who one another is and to agree that your friendships with one another are to be in English only. You can all make a list of the English language books, videos, tapes, VCDs, magazines etc. that you own so that other members can borrow them, finding things that interest them that they want to see, read or hear. There are dozens of things you can do with other members of ‘English Naturally’; anything, in fact, that you would usually do in Chinese, only doing it in English instead.

That, however, is an important point – to do things in English you would usually do in Chinese. ‘English Naturally’ should use English NATURALLY. Don’t set up speaking competitions, conversations with set topics, study corners or exchange text books; use English to communicate what you WANT to communicate; to read things you WANT to read and watch things you WANT to watch; to meet people when you WANT to meet them to do the things you WANT to do. Use ‘English Naturally’ to use English as you would use Chinese and not to do more work. Use it for fun and fun alone. It will help your studies, of course – tremendously if you do it enough – but don’t think of that while you are doing it; just enjoy it.

‘English Naturally’ should be arranged BY students FOR students. It will be up to all of you to find other people who want to join in and to arrange things for yourselves. If you are dedicated enough to the idea it should work really well but you must be willing to BE dedicated. Start speaking Chinese with ‘English Naturally’ members and the whole thing will fall apart.

For ‘English Naturally’ to work, your commitment is everything. If you have felt the need for an English environment, now is your chance to help create one but you must do it properly and be willing to focus your time and energy on it. Remember, ‘English Naturally’ doesn’t involve more work as such; all it means is you doing things you would naturally do – playing games, going shopping, chatting in the canteen, reading books, listening to the radio, watching VCDs – only in English and not in Chinese.

If you’ve always wanted an English-speaking environment then now is your chance but remember – it’s not for me to create it. It’s for you.

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>By Jennifer Wallace – Anhui Gongye Daxue, Ma’anshan, Anhui, China

In my first year in China I was really disappointed in how my students (mostly college freshmen) were doing group activities – or not doing them! I was stumped as to how to manage the classroom to achieve anything better. Various people gave lots of suggestions, and I want to say thank you again for all the help.

This semester all my classes are college freshmen – many barely able to say anything. This semester I got the college to get us the Cambridge Skills for Fluency Speaking (2) book, which I’m now using with them. It’s a task/activity book, unlike anything they’ve ever used or done before, and there are lots of group activities in it. I have 7 classes, all of 30 to 35 students. Each class is now divided into 5 groups, on the basis of their exam marks from last semester’s oral classes. Each group has a manager, a secretary, a monitor (responsible for collecting and returning any written work, etc), a timekeeper and a coach. For a couple of weeks this all felt a real uphill struggle, but suddenly they’re getting their heads round this way of working and the classes are working much better. I’m asking groups to do many activities ending up with a presentation to the whole class, which I tape and mark, and which they’re getting better and better at both doing and listening to.

During the activities I can spend a few minutes with each group, and a bit more time with one particular group. But what’s really nice is that I’m able to relate much more to the students as individuals this way – even though there are exactly the same number of students in the classroom. In their small groups, I can relate to them much more personally, and even though it’s only ever for a short time, it seems to have much more effect than when they were either in the whole class group, in pairs, or in changing groups (i.e. different people in a group from week to week). I feel that they’re developing a different sort of working relationship with me now, as well as my getting to know each of them better. This has been an unexpected bonus and helped me greatly to start to get my head around how to teach using group-work as well as using task-based activities as the dominant method.

This experience has also made me think about some of the recent discussion about our various training courses and qualifications (or lack of them). I did a CELTA course and have about 7 years teaching experience, most of which has been TEFL. I’m in my second year here in China. On reflection, I think my CELTA course assumed group activities would work, it certainly didn’t go into any depth about how to literally train students to work in this way. I think I’d have only got that sort of depth of training on a one-year full-time sort of teacher training course. In Europe I’d used group work and used it successfully. I’d never before had classes entirely of students with no experience of this as a way of working, and didn’t really appreciate how alien it would be to them. My students are not high-scorers in the college entrance test, so will possibly have taken longer to get their heads around this than maybe students will in some of the places other people are teaching. But nevertheless, I’m having to learn as much as they are as regards methodology – and I do wish I’d got more training, not less.

>From Mark Richards – James Lyng Adult Education Centre, Montreal, Canada

Dr. Sid Butler wrote an excellent book called “LifeWriting” which uses stimulating ideas to inspire students to write about their own experiences. Here’s one example.

Students brainstorm lists of their “first times”: first time I drove a car, first day in the army, first time I kissed a girl, first time I met my wife/husband, first time I saw my baby, first day in my new country, first day of school, first day of work, first time on an airplane, etc.

They then pick one which inspires them and they make a stick man drawing depicting this experience. Next they get together in groups and discuss their drawings. (As corny as this may seem, I’ve never had a group that didn’t enjoy talking about their pictures, especially after I’d modeled an example on the blackboard). Other students can ask questions which often provoke more memories of this first-time situation.

Students frequently request assistance from the teacher on how to describe the situation or to express an idea. The last step is that the students sit down to write. Because they have been discussing their anecdote and reflecting on the experience, the ideas and the vocabulary come more easily. A simple way to increase the speaking practice is to put students into groups of three or four and after each student has had five minutes or so to recount their narration you have students rotate to a different group and start over again. In my experience, the more times students retell their stories the easier it is when they sit down to write.

Another suggestion from the book which I have used successfully for brainstorming ideas is “My Favorite Place”. This activity also lends itself to the stick man drawing approach. Over the years, I have read some amazing narratives from even intermediate students.

The book, LifeWriting, is full of ideas like this. I have used it successfully in intermediate to advanced ESL classes in Quebec C.E.G.E.P.’s (middle college). Students are motivated because the topics are interesting and they are about the students’ own life experiences.

In 25 years of teaching, Dr. Butler’s workshop on “LifeWriting” was the most interesting I ever attended and that was almost 20 years ago.

>Self-correction, except for typos or some “absent-minded” errors, is very difficult for students because if they knew it was wrong they wouldn’t have done it in the first place. Peer-correction isn’t fun and it is difficult for students to fully trust their partner’s evaluation. The question that puzzles many teachers is what is the best way to help students to improve in areas where they make a lot of mistakes?

The obvious answer is teacher-correction. But is teacher-correction effective? Recent research shows that students do not make effective use of teacher-correction. The teacher would like to imagine the student takes his corrected paper to a quite place, sits down and pulls out a dictionary and grammar book and carefully goes over the corrections. But in fact, most students only check to see how much “red” is on the paper and then file it away in their book bag never to be looked at again. Much of the teacher’s laborious work of careful correction is actually time wasted.

If self-correction, peer-correction and teacher-correction are not effective, then what is the best way to involve the student in the writing process in a corrective way? How can the student be put in a position to notice grammar or writing in a way that interacts with his previous knowledge and develops a deeper and clearer grasp of English?

I have been doing research in a new method I developed at a university and at multinational businesses where I taught managers and businessmen. I call it Teamwriting. It helps students to benefit from peers, helps students to learn not only from their mistakes but from the mistakes of others and makes the most economical and efficient use of the students’ and the teacher’s time.

I divide the blackboard space into vertical sections large enough to allow someone to stand in front of one section and large enough to contain the writing task (about one-meter wide). Then I divide the class into pairs or teams, assigning each set of students to a part of the board.

The writing tasks are everything from brainstorming a subject to writing a paragraph to writing an essay (write small). This works quite well with a class of about 20 but I’ve only been able to do it with a class of 40 when we had blackboards on two walls of the classroom.

Sometimes each group gets a different topic to work on or sometimes it is the same and they compete with the other groups. I get the whole class out of their seats and up to the board. Usually one student will take up the chalk while the rest of the team (from one to three others) offers suggestions and corrections during the writing process. I find this gets the students intimately involved with the language process and able to benefit from the help of some of their classmates – thus the peer-learning factor.

After the writing is done, usually terminated by a set period of time, I will examine each writing sample, one-by-one, with the entire class looking on. First, I will ask the class to offer corrections. The class really focuses on this activity. You can see every eye examining the sample trying to see if it is correct or not. Some speak up. Others may have ideas about the writing even though they may not voice them. But they’re all involved. Then I will offer my corrections, if any.

Some of my classrooms are equipped with AV equipment, essentially a video camera and projector, which allow the projection of books or papers. If the classroom has this sort of equipment the students do not need to write at the blackboard but can do their teamwriting on a piece of paper that the teacher can project and correct before the class.

Teamwriting seems to be more effective than personally correcting individual writings or conferencing with students, and especially so when considering the economy of time. It allows every student to test their ideas about the language, it enables immediate feedback and is a quick, easy and engaging way to “learn from the mistakes of others”.

>By Chuck

There is a Chinese proverb for this (of course):

Sha Ji, Jing Hou. “Kill a chicken to scare the monkeys”.

Another tactic that I use that when doing groupwork is require each group to first choose a captain (or chicken). Then I tell them that the captain’s job is [here insert whatever leadership duties are necessary for the task]. Finally I tell them that the captain’s MOST important duty is to make sure everyone in the group speaks only English while preparing the task. If not, I tell them, I will “kill” the captain. Then I point to each captain and ask them if they want to be the chicken that is used to scare the monkeys.

You’ll find virtually zero Chinese being spoken thereafter. The captains (cum chickens) will take their role seriously. (This all might sound harsh in writing but it’s all done good-naturedly. And your students will be impressed that you know “Sha Ji, Jing Hou”.)

>

By Jennifer Wallace – Anhui Gongye Daxue, Ma’anshan, Anhui

I did a CELTA course and have about 7 years teaching experience, most of which has been TEFL. I’m in my second year here in China. In reflection, I think my CELTA course assumed group activities would work, it certainly didn’t go into any depth about how to literally train students to work in this way.

I think I’d have only got that sort of depth of training on a one-year full-time sort of teacher training course. In Europe I’d used group work and used it successfully. I’d never before had classes entirely of students with no experience of this as a way of working, and didn’t really appreciate how alien it would be to them. My students are not high-scorers in the college entrance test, so will possibly have taken longer to get their heads around this than maybe students will in some of the places other people are teaching. But nevertheless, I’m having to learn as much as they are as regards methodology – and I do wish I’d got more training, not less.

>Jennifer Wallace – Anhui Gongye Daxue, Ma’anshan, Anhui, China

In my first year here I was really disappointed in how my students (mostly college freshmen) were doing group activities – or not doing them! I was stumped as to how to manage the classroom to achieve anything better. Various people gave lots of suggestions, and I want to say thank you again for all the help.

This semester all my classes are college freshmen – many barely able to say anything. This semester I got the college to get us the Cambridge Skills for Fluency Speaking (2) book, which I’m now using with them. It’s a task/activity book, unlike anything they’ve ever used or done before, and there are lots of group activities in it.

I have 7 classes, all of 30 to 35 students. Each class is now divided into 5 groups, on the basis of their exam marks from last semester’s oral classes. Each group has a manager, a secretary, a monitor (responsible for collecting and returning any written work, etc), a timekeeper and a coach. For a couple of weeks this all felt a real uphill struggle, but suddenly they’re getting their heads round this way of working and the classes are working much better. I’m asking groups
to do many activities ending up with a presentation to the whole class, which I tape and mark, and which they’re getting better and better at both doing and listening to.

During the activities I can spend a few minutes with each group, and a bit more time with one particular group. But what’s really nice is that I’m able to relate much more to the students as individuals this way – even though there are exactly the same number of students in the classroom. In their small groups, I can relate to them much more personally, and even though it’s only ever for a short time, it seems to have much more effect than when they were either in the whole class group, in pairs, or in changing groups (i.e. different people in a group from week to week). I
feel that they’re developing a different sort of working relationship with me now, as well as my getting to know each of them better. This has been an unexpected bonus and helped me greatly to start to get my head around how to teach using group-work as well as using task-based activities as the dominant method.

I did a CELTA course and have about 7 years teaching experience, most of which has been TEFL. I’m in my second year here in China. In reflection, I think my CELTA course assumed group activities would work, it certainly didn’t go into any depth about how to literally train students to work in this way.

I think I’d have only got that sort of depth of training on a one-year full-time sort of teacher training course. In Europe I’d used group work and used it successfully. I’d never before had classes entirely of students with no experience of this as a way of working, and didn’t really appreciate how alien it would be to them. My students are not high-scorers in the college entrance test, so will possibly have taken longer to get their heads around this than maybe students will in some of the places other people are teaching. But nevertheless, I’m having to learn as much as they are as regards methodology – and I do wish I’d got more
training, not less.

>By Janet Elfring

I have had the “We want to talk all the time” request from a number of people in various classes over the past two and 1/2 years and I have found that it is not always suitable for teaching and or learning. There are a fair number of fair to midling level of students who only want to come to class and gab with their friends at the level of ability they have reached. They have no desire to work and attain a higher level.

They can only all talk if I break the class up into small groups and then I am only participating with one group at a time. If I give them subjects to talk about, they may do it for awhile but they usually fall back into gossip pretty quickly. I’ve tried recreating the groups so they are no always with their buddies. I’ve had students complain to me that there is too much discussion in class and they are not progressing because they are just talking to their friends and not gaining any real instruction.

I try to get them to talk in the class as a whole, but only a certain group are really ready and willing to do that and they dominate the discussion.

>Eve Ross – Beijing Institute of Machinery, China

I constantly struggle to get students to use English rather than Chinese.

Some use of L1 helps with understanding, but in my opinion, there should be almost no need to use the L1 in class after the first year or so of L2 learning. The three exceptions I would make to that rule are:

1) grammar is such a complex beast that it’s often best explained in the mother tongue.

2) occasionally an L1 “word is worth 1000 pictures”. When trying to explain a new word, *after* giving as many L2 verbal definitions, synonyms, and visual examples as possible, if students still don’t understand, *then* it’s okay to give the L1 equivalent of the word.

3) if a focus of the English course is translation or interpretation, then L1 obviously must be used.

Use of L2 in class is especially important in an EFL context, such as here in China, where it is nearly impossible to get students to speak English among themselves (or with anyone else) outside of class. So, if the students are going to practice their oral English, it will probably only happen if the teacher encourages speaking English in class.

One idea that I got from another teacher is to assign some students to monitor the others. If anyone speaks in the L1 during oral group work, the monitor-students give that group a slip of paper, which means reduced participation points at the end of the class period. When I use this method, I find the students all speak only English, so those assigned to be monitors actually get bored, because they have no one to give the slips of paper to! However, this activity proved to my intermediate and advanced students that they can speak only in English, that L1 use for them is just because of laziness at this point.

>By Margaret Orleans – Meiji Gakuen Junior/Senior High School, Kitakyushu, Japan

Joe Tomei of Kumamoto Gakuen University (a private four-year school known for its barrier-free campus in Japan) provided a series of well-thought out projects he uses to force/encourage his students to use English with each other outside the classroom.

The work for each project takes up the final twenty to thirty minutes of four consecutive once-a-week ninety-minute sessions. The earlier part of each class period is used for teaching/reinforcing skills/language that will be useful in carrying out the project. (Feedback language, types of questions, etc. for survey project; discussion phrases, postcard writing, etc., for good country project, etc.) The fifth week’s class is entirely consumed with oral reports on the projects. Each class having been divided into eight groups, one group is stationed in each corner of the room, while the remaining half of the class is randomly assigned as audience for each of the presenters. After a ten-minute presentation (given without notes but with a prepared poster), the audiences rotate and the groups present again.

After the fourth time through, the presenters and audience switch roles for the second half of the class.

The projects? His favorites over the years have come down to:

1. an interview (conducted in English, the students eventually realize, because it is much easier to ask the questions and get the answers in English than to translate all the questions and answers from Japanese afterwards) of students on the campus on any issue they wish

2. creating a flag, history, and economy for one of the eight fictional countries Joe has carved out of a world map

3. explaining and justifying their plan for spending $2 million on campus improvement

4. identifying problems with accessibility for any building on the campus and interviewing one of the handicapped students at the university.

5. a project that goes over very well in all-female classes is planning a wedding (including the writing of the vows)

The very nature of the projects, as well as the time necessary for completing them, necessitate the students meeting and working in English outside the classroom.