Having students work in groups offers many advantages. Group work can increase the amount of practice available to each student and help to individualize instruction. Furthermore, group work can create a more relaxed learning environment and motivate learners by involving them personally. Perhaps most importantly in terms of SLA, group work can facilitate learner interaction, providing learners with access to the linguistic input they need in order to advance their language skills.
Arranging Group Work
When arranging for group work, there are some important factors to keep in mind. First, what is your purpose for using group work? Just having students work in groups does not automatically mean they are learning the language skills you want them to. Consider your objectives carefully and how the characteristics of group work might help students to achieve those objectives. For example, group work can be very effective for stimulating thinking and generating ideas in pre-reading or pre-listening activities, or in preparation for speaking activities.
Second, how many students should work together in each group? Smaller groups offer more opportunity to participate for each student, but larger groups allow for a greater range of ideas and input. Third, how should the groups be arranged? For example, depending on the language objectives of the activity, you might want students of similar proficiencies grouped together, or students of mixed L1 grouped together to encourage use of English.
Finally, consider the different roles that students might take on, especially in larger groups. If you plan to have groups report on their discussions to the class, consider having groups decide on roles – reporter, note taker, leader, moderator etc. When students have clearly assigned roles which they understand, group work will be much more productive and organized.
When used thoughtfully and with purpose, group work can be a very enjoyable and effective tool to help your learners develop their language skills.