May 31, 2009

Why do we work in groups?

"Communicative language teaching sets out to involve learners in purposeful tasks which are embedded in meaningful contexts and which reflect and rehearse language as it is used authentically in the world outside the classroom."

Tricia Hedge, Teaching and Learning in Language Classroom, Oxford, 2000

When reading Tricia Hedge's quote, I thought of the innate characteristics of group work in the classroom. Regardless of your viewpoint on language teaching purposes, we can't deny that language is a key element in life, and life as we know it today necessarily means living and sharing with others. Therefore, it is not hard to believe that one of the key elements in a Communicative Classroom will be PAIRWORK and/or GROUP WORK.

Some of the often given reasons for using group work in a communicative classroom, which I agree with, are that it increases opportunities for practicing the language and it enables students to take risks with the language and to see if they can negotiate meaning. Working with peers gives the students the chance of practicing the language in a more realistic interaction and allows them to develop their strategic competence, taking risks and accommodating their language to achieve communication successfully.

It is important, however, to highlight that working with groups in the classroom may have a main disadvantage reflected on behavior, students may feel that allowing group work and communicative activities are a waste of time and start misbehaving; the teacher's role, there, is to help students realize that within a group there is always somebody who should be interested in keeping the group on task as well as somebody who should be interested in maintaining interpersonal relations within the group.

Our challenge as teachers is to introduce pair and group work in our classroom, and "selling" our reasons for doing so to our students, strongly believing that they will profit from the activities and that in the end they will become BETTER COMMUNICATORS in life. Are we ready for such a challenge?


Based on Tricia Hedge, Teaching and Learning in Language Classroom, Oxford, 2000 (Chapter 2)



  1. Of course we are ready for such a challenge! ;)

    I really think that the easiest way of proving pairwork and group work right is to ask students what the main function of a language is. If the main function of language is COMMUNICATION it is only logical that there should be realistic INTERACTION in its learning. It's true that accuracy and proficiency are essential for communicating successfully in a language but what is also true is that we can only learn how to communicate through interaction.

    Accuracy+fluency+interaction = Communicators

  2. Thanks Alez for your comment... I totally agree with you in the value of students' voice. It should be the key element in our classrooms if we want to foster Communication...THEIR MESSAGE IS ESSENTIAL!!!

  3. Dear Yohi and Alez,
    All the reasons for and against groupwork you've mentioned are worth pondering. In my current teaching contexts, the main obstacle to talking teens into carrying out groupwork responsibly is that they themselves do not believe learning a FL at school can be for actual communication, least of their own ideas! Nevertheless, I'm convinced unless I can persuade them of the validity of this proposal, my job is but a foolish parade, so I'll keep trying to help them see this.

    Always a pleasure to read you, you know!

  4. Thanks Gla for your comments...
    I still thinks we can't move away from our ideals just because our students "don't buy them". Therefore, we should develop our "selling techniques".

    Just my viewpoint :)