Pair Work vs. Group Work: What's Better For The Learner?
Pair Work vs. Group Work: What's Better For The Learner?

Pair Work vs. Group Work
What's Better For The Learner?

Tara Arntsen
by Tara Arntsen

Both pair work and group work have a place in ESL classes.

Using a variety of seating arrangements and groupings of students is important as it allows learners to practice different types of things. Working with others gives students the opportunity to interact with a variety of people and learn from one another. It also encourages cooperation which will help students get along in class and could reduce the number of student outbursts too.

The Perfect Balance Between Pair Work And Group Work

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    Appropriate Activities & Benefits
    Pair work is great for practicing model dialogues, playing games such as battleship, conducting vocabulary checks, and completing worksheets. Working in pairs gives individual students a lot of speaking time. If working together, students will often have more confidence than when completing exercises individually. If students are competing with their partners, they will be more motivated. Students can work in groups or form teams for role plays, races, games such as board games or card games, and discussions. Groups give students the opportunity to create more complex dialogues, explore relationships between characters, pool knowledge together, and have a more social learning environment. Additionally there is a better chance for self correction or peer correction and for a discussion on a wider range of thoughts and opinions with larger group sizes. On the other hand, individual speaking time is limited when working in groups. You can increase the amount of speaking time students have by decreasing the size of groups to three or four people. If you are in a large class and want all the groups to present material at the end of the lesson, larger groups may be necessary but limit group size to about six.

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    Pair work is harder to monitor than group work because there are going to be many more pairs of students than groups of students. Be sure that everyone has a very clear understanding of the material before beginning any activity. The best way to monitor students working in pairs or groups is to walk around the classroom during the activity correcting students who make mistakes and answering questions. You can gauge the effectiveness of the activity by doing comprehension tests afterwards. If students are having difficulty with material after completing an activity, it is likely that they practiced incorrect structures during the exercise. This is unfortunate and highlights why it is so important to ensure that students understand material by completing practice exercises as a class before asking them to work in pairs or groups. If you find that students have practiced incorrect material, you have to review the key points of the target structure again and be sure to explain everything more thoroughly before using the same activity with another class.

  3. 3

    Pairing/Grouping Students

    If students sit in the same seats for the entire year, they are likely to be paired with the same person throughout the course. For pairs that work well together, this is a good thing but usually not everyone benefits from having the same partner for a long period of time. Try to change the assigned seating regularly so that everyone can maximize the amount they learn in class and have an opportunity to work with different people. Creating different groups of students is easy especially if seating arrangements change throughout the year. If your class size is under thirty, you may be able to group students by row or column for activities. You can also tell students sitting near each other to form groups or have students count off for example from one to five and then ask students who said the same number to form a group. In order to better facilitate this method of forming groups, direct students who said each number to different areas of the room. Keep in mind that if students count off from one to five, there will be only five groups so you need to determine which number will divide your students into appropriately sized groups.

Besides pair work and group work, students can also complete activities individually and as a class.

Mixing up the structure of your activities will keep classes interesting but be sure not to waste a lot of time rearranging the classroom. If you make groups for an activity at the beginning of class, it may be best to stick with that arrangement for the duration of the lesson.

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