Menu Close



THEME : Achieving Competence and Excellence in ELT through inclusive Pedagogy


There are many reasons for learners to work in groups in any lesson, but when focus is on teaching language, the need to do so multiplies.

What are the reasons why teachers don’t want to use group work?

  • Task too demanding
  • Too much noise
  • Large classes, large / many groups

All the reasons teachers give boil down to a feeling of being unable to control the class.

Class size – Small classes give learners many opportunities to practice the target language.

  • They can easily receive feedback from their peers and instructors
  • Large classrooms are generally difficult to manage or control. Using the communicative, interactive or CBA approaches would be a daunting task.

Here, the teacher is beset by the pitfalls of using group work in large classrooms; for example:

  • How can you be in 10 places (groups) at the same time?
  • How can you hear 10 groups discussing at the same time?
  • How can you control the language they are using?
  • How can you tell if one student had been doing all the talking or if everyone had the opportunity to participate?
  • – How can you control the noise? That’s our learning outcome; learners should be able to express themselves in the target language.
  • How can the noise be “Healthy noise”?

Noise would likely increase as group members increase their pitch in order to hear one another – the volume of noise may become deafening!

Giving the students some responsibility for their own learning is imperative.

It is cooperative learning but many teachers find it difficult to decentralize in order to let the students have a say in how the class in run and reach learner autonomy. Learners can learn effectively by working collaboratively in a large classroom.

In this paper we will look at a few techniques that we can use to organise learners in large classroom discussions as well as in individual and group work without the chaos that occurs when these instructional factors are not planned out in advance.

 Collaborative  learning through group work.

  • Today, most classrooms are still predominantly lecture based; teacher centred, whereas active participation in learning is so important in education

“Tell learners and they forget, show them they remember but involve them and they understand”, as we were taught. Using what we learn helps greatly in our ability to retain information

  • Students learn better and retain more from methods in which they are actively involved. Eg: peer teaching,  practicing doing, discussing etc.

Therefore avoid making students passive learners eg; listening to the almighty teacher lecture, reading, using audiovisual.

  • The teacher’s role is not to deposit information in the learners like you deposit money in a bank account. Guide learners to discover knowledge on their own or think critically about what has been read.

Eg teaching tenses, adjectives nouns etc. don’t just write on the board the past simple tense or types of nouns or adjectives etc. write a few examples and ask learners to add group, discover the tense or word class etc.

  • Experience has shown that we learn language by using it. Practice makes perfect.

Collaborative learning and group work is imperative in language learning and works more than in any other subject.

  • Your classroom may be the only environment where the learner feels confident practicing the language

The ideal group size.

  • Researchers feel the ideal group size is four
  • Pair work is also encouraged in crowded classes
  • With groups larger than four, it is difficult for all members to hear and participate.
  • With large groups, some students become spectators.

Forming groups

  • Arrange desks in a way to enable the teacher move freely and monitor group work (unfortunately our crowded classrooms may not permit this)
  • Benches may be moved earlier to save time and avoid disturbing other classes.
  • Basic education teachers can make good use of this because they have the class to themselves all day long. They may maintain groups for a long time arranging the desks the way they want.
  • Since moving benches may be tedious for large classes, we can ask bench mates on every 2 benches to turn and face each other forming groups of four or six. This method saves time.
  • Create well mixed heterogeneous groups. Eg mixed gender, smart and slow learners, introverts and extroverts, those who can express themselves in the target language to an extent and those who can’t.
  • Find out from students their study buddy ie their study mates out of class and try to fit them in separate groups. Back home they will share what they gained from their groups. Similarly if you can find out where students live, share them in such a way that back home they can continue the discussion, even on their way home.

Keeping track of groups

  • Keep a list or record of group members to be able to arrange students into new groups.
  • Watch out for the active and dormant or passive learners and try to rearrange groups for inclusive participation.
  • Students may work together more than once but try to make them work with as many different students as possible.
  • When you assign spokespersons for groups, try to rotate speakers to make sure all are participating and contributing to the discussion.
  • Do not use numbers to identify group members; members may feel that student number one, for example is better than number two etc. use letters A,B,C etc. All ‘A’s may take the left end of their desks, all Bs the right end, all Cs the middle position etc.
  • You can give instructions and exercises using these letters e.g. all As should stand up, all Cs should pose questions to Ds
  • You may for example say the Es should speak for their groups or group 1 – c, group 2 D etc. making learners take turns as spokesperson when it’s their turn.
  • This encourages the reluctant ones to speak
  • It prevents those who like to dominate from dominating the group
  • This also saves you the trouble of having to learn their names. Some students feel under-rated and even marginalized when their names are never called; the use of letters takes care of this situation
  • Knowing students names may be easier if the class is broken down into groups.

Setting expectations

It is important to set clear expectations on how students should act in their groups

  • Work out expectations with students
  • Decide consequences for defaulters; for example, what to do with a group that becomes too noisy; what to do if someone is not participating
  • Students become the owner of their groups
  • It can be helpful to give each group member a role to help monitor the class
  • Someone to keep group on topic. He/she will help to keep the group focused
  • Assign someone to hold the ‘remote control’. He can increase or reduce volume, praise the mute button when silence is needed
  • Assign someone to remind members to use the target language not other familiar languages.
  • Participation monitor ensures everyone participates and no one dominates the discussion
  • Rotate the roles once in a while to prevent students being bored with their roles
  • Add more roles as you may deem necessary.
  • The students themselves may decide what punishment for a member who does not play his role well eg: He might be asked to stand up for 2 minutes

Anticipating chaos

  •   Group work may be chaotic if your students are not used to doing group work
  • Some teachers abandon group work after their first trial proves chaotic
  • Let first group work assignments be simple and enticing to pull in the students eg: put up leading questions for the discussion eg: group members take turns to answer the following questions written on the chalk board
  1. What is your name?
  2. Where are you from?
  3. What do you like to do in your free time?
  4. What is your best school subject? Why?


Most teachers would complain that their classes are too large for group work. I think the larger the class, the more important it is to use group work. But we must take time to plan and prepare how the groups would be formed and how they would work to avoid chaos.

Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *