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by Erica Fischer on Mar 30, 2012

Creating Groups to Support Communication Skills

Hello everyone and welcome back to #langchat!

Thanks to everyone for joining us this week. Our topic was centered on how to create student groups to support communication skills. We had an excellent turnout and a fast-paced discussion, and participants shared a wealth of useful tips, activity ideas and resources. Thanks especially to our moderators for the evening, Don Doehla (@dr_dmd), Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) and Kristy Placido (@placido).

If you missed the discussion, check out the summary below and feel free to join us in the comments section. Your colleagues would love to hear from you!

Grouping Strategies

We group students in class to allow communicative opportunities in a friendly, team atmosphere. Especially in large classes, it’s difficult for every student to get an opportunity to speak. Groups are great chances to get kids speaking with each other. @dr_dmd has classes of 36 students, and he finds that a well-designed group takes away a lot of the pressure. Without groups, it’s challenging to get around to all the students.

Participants’ preferred methods of grouping students for activities vary. Some participants mostly prefer to group students randomly, while others prefer to be more deliberate in their group compositions. @dr_dmd believes the most important aspect of forming a group is fostering a sense of community and showing students that everyone belongs, is important and has a right to learn. @SECottrell believes that an important consideration for groups is frequent group composition changes in order to maximize acquisition.

@placido usually randomizes groups, but she mentioned that sometimes grouping students of similar ability levels can lower their anxiety about speaking. She’ll also sometimes put her quickest students together so they don’t get tired of being “the tutor.” @MmeLayman also groups by similar ability, but she likes to mix in other students of varying ability who are willing to help others.

@SECottrell asked when participants might consider grouping students of low ability levels together. Several participants mentioned they would do so when they have the time to give them focused attention. Other participants mentioned putting lower-level students together with average students, but that lower-level students with advanced students might result in the advanced students doing all the work to make sure it’s correct. Low levels together is probably only best when reteaching or when other groups can work well on their own.

@profesorM usually groups randomly, but he sometimes lets students pick their partners. He sits student by ability levels, high-ability students next to low-ability students, to encourage mixing. @MmeLayman also allows students some choice so students can talk about similar interests. Several participants mentioned that they find that friends working together can do highly motivated work. Other participants mentioned that students will always pick the same groups if given the choice, so they like to avoid this strategy. As @mmebrady mentions, however, letting students choose from time to time can also be a nice gesture of goodwill to students.

To help her decide which students to put together, @MmeLayman gives all students a survey asking questions about their comfort in the target language, using technology, etc. Check out her Google Forms survey on her blog.

Group Durations

How long do you keep groups organized? Many participants only group students by the activity, but @RonieWebster runs the same groups for four weeks at a time. She does quite a bit of team building during that time to encourage strong groups and grow the class as a whole. All @dr_dmd’s units incorporate projects, so he keeps students together for the length of a unit and then switches with the next project, about every 6 weeks.

When changing groups, @RonieWebster also switches students’ locations in the room around. This is like starting a new school year, and keeps the atmosphere fresh and exciting.

Seating Tips

Several participants mentioned configuring students’ seating to encourage mixing for groups and other activities. For example, @profesorM often allows students to pick their partner or group, but he mixes students of different ability levels when plotting a seating chart to encourage mixing. He changes seating every quarter.

@placido likes to give students some choice in seating while still maintaining control on the group composition. She assigns students to tables but allows them to pick their seat at the table.

On the other end of the spectrum, @SECottrell switches student seats every day. She uses name tents and mixes them up before class. This is effective because if students don’t like their seating arrangement, they know that they will move the next day and so don’t fret about it too much.

When it comes to rows vs. tables or other grouped seating, many participants seem to prefer not using rows when possible. If using rows, several participants like to have students sit across from each other, not looking at the teacher. @dwphotoski likes a horseshoe shape to allow plenty of room for acting in the center.

Several participants praised Kagan’s 4-desk table groups as being a great group size and way of organizing the classroom.

Controlling Groups

Controlling students once they’re in groups can be a challenge, especially in large and communicative classes. Groups are by nature communicative, which is great, but teachers need to make sure that all communication is in the target language!

Many participants handle this by walking around and listening in on groups as often as possible. Some participants like to do activities with quickly shifting questions or topics and spend one question with each unit.

To keep kids accountable, @SECottrell gives students a deliverable that they must come up with at the conclusion.

Group Activities

What activities do you like to use in groups? As @placido mentioned, groups are better tailored to communicative, reading and output activities more than input activities. @SECottrell likes that groups are good practice with a small audience before trying something with the whole class.

Some great participant-suggested group activities:

  • @Sra_Hildinger’s students enjoy creating dialogues and presenting to the class.
  • Another favorite of @Sra_Hildinger’s students is Sentence Relay. In this game, there are 12 total sentences, and students get a new sentence by getting the previous one correct. The first team to finish all 12 sentences wins.
  • @placido enjoys using the Think-Pair-Share activity for pair discussion.
  • @Sra_Hildinger recently gave advanced students sentences from a story they are going to read and asked them to put them in correct order.
  • @dr_dmd likes to use cloze speeches with early students.
  • @RonieWebster presents vocabulary from an upcoming reading and asks groups to discuss and predict the topic or ideas.
  • @Sra_Hildinger also assigns a communicative drawing activity where students describe their houses, a monster, their families, etc. to the group or partner, and the other students must draw it.
  • For rapidly changing pair work, @dr_dmd likes Inside-Outside Circle. At the buzzer, each circle shifts in the opposite direction and the question changes.
  • @profesorM has success with a dice activity groups of six. Groups had to come up with 10 sentences for top marks.
  • @dr_dmd uses paired question-and-answer activities based off the story from a TPRS lesson. One student has odd questions, his or her partner has even answers.
  • @Sra_Hildinger recently saw a vocabulary activity where students are given three to four vocabulary cards and are asked to draw/write a story using them in groups. Then present to the class.
  • A fun group activity from @placido: cut up lines from a song, then kids put in order while listening to the song.
  • For an intra-group activity, @dr_dmd asks groups to create their own comics using pictures only, then they present to another group by telling the story.
  • @Sra_Hildinger’s students really enjoy flashcard races right after a vocabulary introduction. One student flashes to several others, and the fastest student to respond keeps the card.
  • @placido also enjoys showing students a scene from a movie in PowerPoint (while watching a movie on your computer, “Print Screen” and save the image). Students discuss the scene in groups or pairs.
  • @Sra_Hildinger is eager to try putting students in groups to dub a small portion of a movie using Voice Thread.
  • An easy Google Voice pair work activity from @placido: have two students call your Google Voice number and have a conversation using the cellphone as the mic. You can listen to the conversation later.
  • For a digital communicative activity, @dr_dmd likes to use TodaysMeet, a closed Twitter-like chatroom.
  • @dr_dmd recommends creating a Pinterest with pictures of many related things and embed the Pinterest on a wiki. Students then discuss the items in groups.
  • @PalmertonGerman uses the Random Reporter activity to keep kids on their toes and encourage team-building. In the activity, the teacher assigns a number to every member of a group, then asks a question of the group. Students discuss and prepare answers together, then the teacher selects a random number. That student must present the group’s answer.
  • @mmesidle used Twitter for group vocabulary exercises. One kid per team tweets responses to visual cues the teacher provides, and then the tweetroll is displayed to the class and discussed.
  • @dr_dmd suggests holding a digital group chat using Edmodo. Create a group discussion on Edmodo and students discuss at home or in class. You have a record of everything said and can give feedback through the group.

Further Reading

Check out this blog post from @SECottrell on her communicative seating arrangements.

Throughout our discussion Thursday, participants praised Kagan’s seating and group-structure ideas. For the monthly Kagan e-magazine as well as lots of other useful information, check out Kagan Online.

PBL in WL and #langchat News is out through @dr_dmd’s Paper.li. Check it out here.

Thank You!

Once more, thank you to all our participants this past Thursday. We had an amazing #langchat with many great resources shared, and your contributions are very much appreciated!

If you missed the chat and would like to read the full archive, please check out our Google Docs page. And be sure to join us next week as we continue to discuss pressing issues in world language education.

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

One comment

  • Raj

    I just loved the idea someone eontienmd about going to the office to sing a song! At my school, we are skyping our younger students and teaching them songs (we don’t start language until grade 7 so we have many younger grades to reach out to). The 7th graders love teaching the younger kids both via skype and also through classroom visits. They tell me it is really cool having the little ones look up to them and the teachers of the younger students have told me the lessons were greatly enjoyed!Now, we will definitely have to go serenade the office as well!!!!! )BTW: #langchat has been the best PD I’ve had in years thank you!!!

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