There are many benefits for students learning through class discussion and exploratory conversation.
As I’ve discussed before on the blog, the interaction that is fostered through cooperative learning and group tasks can have as potentially a great an impact on learning as the actual teaching of language through classroom materials like course books. The reason for this is that discussion allows learners to communicate successfully with both their peers and their teachers, while also enabling them to see themselves as contributing to their own learning.
Which ever way you look at it, involving your learners in discussion will enhance their learning and improve their social and communication skills in English. Making discussion an integral part of every class session means students will regularly benefit from an involved and interactive classroom. With this in mind, in this post I want to look at what I consider to be the four absolute keys to using group discussions in your classes.
1. Set the rules and ensure that everyone sticks to them
Your learners have to be in an environment where they feel comfortable and able to share their ideas without laughter, judgment or derision from others in the group discussion.
How to do it:
Include rules that make sure only one person speaks at a time, while everyone else listens without interrupting, thus guaranteeing everyone is treated with respect. One great way of doing this is to allow learners to share their own ideas for how it should be done; the fact is, it’s more likely that they will stick to rules they have chosen themselves.
2. Classroom Management: Think carefully about the seating arrangement
By purposefully arranging desks so that learners naturally sit in groups of four to six, we can facilitate discussion in a way that wouldn’t be possible were everyone sitting in rows facing the front of the class.
How to do it:
When setting up the chairs, make sure that everyone can see each other for easier communication. You should always consider carefully who sits where. For instance, make sure the quietest learner in the class isn’t sitting directly next to an overly confident learner who will constantly dominate the discussion. Furthermore, always rearrange the seating plan from time to time: this will:
- Allow different learners to work together
- Enable a variety of discussions to occur
- Provide more scope for collaborative learning
3. Don’t dive in: The Warm up is Important
Discussing and exchanging ideas in another language can be a new and somewhat intimidating experience for lots of students. It’s always good to start off with a few warm up activities to break the ice and raise confidence.
How to do it:
- Put a mystery object under each learner’s chair and get everyone to tell each other what the object made them think about.
- Play a distinctive or unusual piece of music and have students discuss their responses.
- Exchange compliments: each learner says one thing they like, enjoy or admire about the person sitting next to them.
4. Make Conversation the Norm: Include discussion in as many lessons as possible
The more you have your learners talking and listening to one another, the more natural it will become to discuss, debate, argue and converse. There are many ways that you can easily bring regular discussion into your lessons.
How to do it:
- Collaborate on setting class rules and setting individual and class goals for each semester
- Discuss responses to stories that learners have read brainstorm ideas for writing topics
- Express opinions about events and people in history
- Use ‘circle time’ (learners literally sit in a circle) to discuss moral and ethical ideas dilemmas
- Work together to solve any classroom and relationship issues
By incorporating group discussion across a variety of lessons and across your curriculum, you will be creating an environment that enables learners to learn from each other as well as from the teacher.
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