How often do you use group work in your ESL classroom?
Every day? Every class period? Maybe you’ve never thought about why you do it. Maybe you have. Regardless, group work is just a natural part of language class. But group work is more than just a convenient activity for a language classroom. In fact, students receive many benefits from working in groups as they study English and pursue language fluency. Group work aids their language learning in many ways even when they may not realize what is happening. Group work holds its advantages for you, the teacher, too, and who wouldn’t want that. Here are 10 benefits you and your students are getting when you have them work in groups.
Group Work Benefits for Your Students:
Your Students Talk
What is more important in the process of language learning than speaking? Not much. Putting ESL students in groups gets them speaking up and practicing the language that they are trying to learn. Speaking is an important skill, and producing out loud language can be intimidating for nonnative speakers at any point in their journey. You can minimize the intimidation by including group work from the very start of your classes. When your students start speaking in their first ESL classes, it becomes a natural part of who they are and how they learn, and it fails to be an intimidating feat to delay until later in their studies.
Your Students Help Each Other
When group work happens, whether it is in the work place or the classroom, collaboration is part of the process. Your ESL students are no exception. When they work in groups you will see that students help each other learn. Students can answer language specific questions or clarify confusing points of English in ways that ESL students can understand and you may not be able to explain. When they help each other, it benefits both of the students involved. The student with the question will have it answered, and the student with the answer will remember it better because they have taught it to another.
Your Students Challenge Each Other
Students will be intentional about helping each other when they work in groups, but they may not realize that they will challenge each other as well. Studies show that speakers modify their speech to be more like the people to whom they are talking. That means less accomplished students will become better speakers just by talking to others more advanced than them, without help and without pressure.
Your Students Encourage Each Other
Encouragement between language learners can happen in many ways. One way encouragement comes is when lower level students see the accomplishments of higher level students. I have found this to be true particularly in mixed level classes. When a first year student from Korea sees a Korean who is nearly fluent in English, he feels good about it. When students share their experiences as well, one student’s story becomes a blueprint for success for the other!
Your Students Grow Closer to Each Other
By working together, your students will also develop relationships with each other. They will share personal opinions and life goals. They will talk about what they have experienced and what they want most out of life all in the name of learning a language. When they do, they become friends. These relationships are important for international students. For students who travel overseas to study English, having a network of friends is extremely important. Daily cultural struggles can become overwhelming, and individuals submerged in a second language need support. Most often, your students do not have family nearby, so their classmates become their family and offer support and encouragement on a daily basis.
Your Students Use Language Creatively
Communicative classrooms focus on getting students to use the language they know to get their meaning across. This is when creative language happens. Creative use of language makes communication possible even when speakers may not know the perfect grammar for what they are trying to say, and nothing is more true to life than that. When students work in groups, they have to work together to accomplish a goal. Even when grammar takes a backseat in these collaborations, communication happens, and that will give your students a dry run for when they have to face communication in the English speaking world.
Your Students Develop Cultural Sensitivity
If you teach a class of international students, you will see just how much culture affects a person’s beliefs, values and expectations. Some ESL students have never known a person from another culture, and your class will be an opportunity to know people from all over the world. That means encountering individuals with different values, expectations and beliefs. When your students can accept and appreciate their classmates, they will be on their way to doing the same for people all over the world.
Group Work Benefits for Teachers
Group Work Activates Different Learning Styles
Part of teaching is reaching as many different learning styles as possible. One of those learning styles is social, also known as interpersonal. Students who learn this way work well with others and benefit from working things out with groups. When you assign group work and give students goals to accomplish during their time together, these students flourish.
You Get Authentic Performance for Assessments
It can be hard for ESL teachers to assess speaking performance in their students. Putting students in groups and unobtrusively listening to them is a perfect way to see how much they are really putting to use. You can hear pronunciation, spoken grammar, and ability to communicate just by listening in on some classroom group work.
You Know What Your Students are Getting and What You Need to Clarify
When you are teaching grammar in isolation, it’s easy for students to follow a pattern and fill in the blanks. When you have your students working together, talking together, using the right grammar isn’t as predictable as it is in isolated exercises. When you listen to your students’ performance during group work, you can see what concepts they aren’t getting and that you may need to explain again. If you are unsure whether they have really understood a particular language strategy, assign a group task that will elicit it and listen closely.
There is no question about it. Group work is important for ESL students.
What are your favorite group work activities?