Pair Work in the EFL Classroom

This post is inspired by newbie EFL teachers who often have the misunderstanding that it is important for their students to talk to them (the teacher).  The classic teacher-centered classroom.

Well . . . that’s NOT how it should be!  I wrote part of this section originally for TEFL Boot Camp – but it is useful here as well.

Pairwork and Working in Small Groups

Most speaking practice in the classroom should be done in pairs and small groups with students talking to each other.  It is a common mistake of the untrained teacher to think that students must or need to talk to the teacher.

While talking to the teacher is certainly useful, each student in a small class of only 15 will get at most three minutes of talking time in a 45 minute class if conversation is teacher centered.  In pairs those same students could be directly involved in conversation as much as twenty-two minutes.

See the difference?  That is a seven-fold increase in the amount of time a student can practice speaking, listening and interacting in English.  And one of the biggest problems EFL students have is the very limited amount of time they actually get to practice speaking and listening in direct interaction.

The teacher’s role during pairwork and small group time is to rotate around the classroom encouraging students and helping them focus on the target language/concepts of the lesson.   Including pairwork and small-group work in your PPP/ESA lesson is critical to the success and improvement of your students.

If your classroom is very large and very mixed in terms of ability, sometimes small groups of four or five are useful to have students with lesser skills matched to students with a higher level skills.  Or shy students with more outgoing ones or any other mix you might useful to help bring out the best in everyone.  Try different mixes for different classes to see what works best for you.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Small group or pair work is the best way to maximize “student talk time” in the classroom.  It can also be useful to overcome other imbalances in the classroom.  Use it in every conversation class if you can.