There are many ways of grouping learners for pair work or small group work activities. Here are some of my favorites.
- Counting off (group work). How many groups do you need, 3? 4? 5? Decide that number first then have the learners count off. Learner 1: “One”, learner 2 “two”, learner 3 “three”, learner 4 “one” (if you need three groups, for example). Then tell everyone who counted “one” to come together. Everyone who counted “two” forms a group and so on.
- Strings (pair work). Everyone loves this. Cut long strings (at least a meter). You should have half as many strings as learners. i.e. if you have 10 learners, you will need 5 strings (for uneven number of learners, you should count yourself). Lay the strings flat on the table, then grab the center of the strings. Hold your hand up so the ends of the strings dangle. Then tell the learners to all grab one end. Then you let go and they should find their partner at the end of their string.
- Sentence halves/thirds (pair work or group work). Create some sentences using recently learned vocabulary (collocations are great) or grammar. Write/print them on strips and cut them in half (or thirds if you need groups of three). Example: Have you ever / ridden a camel? Did you / ride a camel on your last vacation? etc. Distribute the pieces and then tell the learners to find their partner(s).
- Ability (pair work or group work). Ask the stronger learners to work with the stronger learners and the weaker learners with the weaker learners. Separating by ability is effective especially when you are doing a differentiation exercise in which the level is actually different though the task may be similar. Or you can pair stronger learners with weaker learners and ask the stronger learners to CHECK the work of the weaker learners.
- Balloons (pair work or group work). I use this for review games. Create team names that are relevant to the topic you most recently studied. For example, Thanksgiving or Advertising. Then create team names (such as: The Animals, The Dishes, The People or The Brands, The Companies, The Slogans). Then write/type examples of the categories on strips of paper (such as: duck, seal, turkey, deer, pig. and yams, stuffing… or Fanta, MacBook Pro and Coca-Cola Company, Macintosh etc.). Then put one slip of paper into a balloon and inflate the balloon and tie it. The balloons can be scattered in the room, hanging on the walls or the chairs. When you are ready, tell the learners that they will be in teams. The Animals are in this corner, The Dishes in this corner etc. Tell them to find a balloon and pop it! They should then read their slip and try to figure out what team they belong to an collect in that corner of the room. Loud but fun!
- Names in a hat (pair work or group work). Half the class writes their name on a slip of paper and throws it in a hat/bag/bowl/on the table. Then one by one a person who didn’t write their name on a slip, takes a slip, and opens it. That person is their new partner/team member.
This is good for B1-C2 levels especially when discussing intercultural communication, but also when discussing modal verbs for advice and obligation.
- Print out (or better, have the learners research) a few culture tips from a website. These could be tips on body language, how to address someone, punctuality etc.
- For large classes, have the learners work in pairs or small groups. For small classes, have them work individually.
- Ask them to read the information you give them (or that they find) and write 4 sentences about the culture they are assigned. For example, if a learner is assigned Japan, they might write: 1. You should always take off your shoes when entering a Japanese home. 2. Japanese people bow when they meet each other. How long and how low they bow depends on the amount of respect they want to show. 3… etc. However, tell them that of the 4 culture tips they write, ONE MUST BE A LIE.
- Now, have the pairs work with another pair (or individuals with other individuals, or if it is a very small group, do it as a whole-class exercise) and read their culture tips to each other. The other pair (or individual) should guess which one is a lie and why.
Alternative: Ask the learners to write the sentences on cards (tip per card). Then they stand up and find a partner and tell their four tips. If the person does not guess the LIE, they have to take a card from their partner (so now one person will have 5 cards and one will have 3). This means that there may be multiple LIES or NO LIES in each telling. The object is to get rid of all your cards, if possible. Make sure the learners write T or F in the corner of the card so if they are swapped the new owner of that tip knows the correct answer.
1-1 This can also work for 1-1 situations, but then the learner must research a culture and the trainer must research a culture (in the lesson or at home).
This exercise will open discussions on similarities and differences among cultures and raise awareness of different cultures. Of course you can then discuss how the learners would react in each situation as well.
This can be used at most levels, but is best from B2-C2. I usually do it as a review/practice of conjunctions, but it could be used anytime. I originally heard a version of this on the radio when I was visiting the UK once.
- Choose a topic such as “a complaint letter, a request for information, an accident report etc.”. Then explain that the whole group is going to “write” a letter with no paper. They are going to create the letter orally. Start the letter my saying “Dear”
- The next person in the circle must add exactly ONE word to the letter. For example “Mr.” then “Brown” and so on. The object is to NOT come to a full stop/end the letter! This is where conjunctions come in handy (and I usually refer them to their handout/book or the board with many conjunctions).
- If a learner provides a word that does not fit grammatically, allow them the chance to correct themselves/add a word that does work.
- The game ends when a learner can not continue the sentence. In which case they respond “period/full stop”.
This is great fun as a review or practice of the conjunctions and there is not a lot of pressure on the learners since they only need to create one word. If they are shy you could put them in pairs, but I have never had to do this.
For 1-1: This activity works well for 1-1 as described above.
This is something I used to do with my friends back home. It is best for levels from A2-C2. As the teacher, you should also take part!
- Give each participant a page with one sentence at the top (a different sentence for each sheet), such as: Bob had a problem at work./An old woman named Martha needed help./Sarah received an email with the best news of her life.
- Allow the learners to read their sentence and explain that they will write the next sentence under the original sentence.
- Then, everyone should fold the paper in such a way that only their sentence is visible.
- They then pass their paper to their left. When they receive the new sheet, they read the visible sentence (again ONLY THE LAST SENTENCE), they continue the story for that sheet.
- The process repeats for a certain period of time or until the sheets are full.
- Finally, the learners open the sheets and read their stories out loud to the group. Some of the stories will be quite funny, others strange, but everyone enjoys hearing them!
1-1 Adaptation: this exercise does not work for 1-1 situations at all. There need to be a minimum of 3 people who write.
This is good for A1-B1 levels. I am attaching the two worksheets I used below, but you can also create your own phrases. I use this as controlled practice after having introduced the a) meaning of adverbials and b) the position of the different ones (quick rule: short adverb phrases before the verb, longer phrases at the end of the phrase).
- print the worksheet, cut the phrases and put them into a container (bag, box etc.). Print the wheel worksheet, and fix the arrow using an envelope clasp.
- Explain that when the music starts (I use my phone), the bag/box of questions should be passed in one direction and the wheel in the other. (like in the other post I described called “Ball and Bag”).
- The person with the bag/box takes a strip, for example “buy flowers for your mother” and asks “How often do you buy flowers for your mother?”. Then the person spins the wheel and must answer with the adverb phrase the arrow stops on. Sometimes this creates funny examples. As a follow-up, you can allow stronger classes to answer with their real answer.
- come to work on time
This is a good review of questions and can be used form A1-B1 levels for best results.
- Explain that one learner will leave the room and the teacher’s phone will be given to another learner. The learner will then reenter the room and ask questions to find out who has the phone.
- You may need to board some question forms to remind them at this point.
- A1 level: Does a man/woman/person with brown hair/green shoes/etc. have the phone?
- A2 level: Is the person wearing…/Does the person …/Has the person got…
- B1 level: Did this person arrive late today?/ Is the person wearing…/Does the person …/Has the person got…
- Send one learner out and give a learner the phone.
- When the learner from outside returns, allow them to ask as many questions as possible until they can find out who has the phone (I encourage them NOT to ask “Does Maria have the phone/Do you have the phone, Maria” unless it is their very last question.).
- Repeat with a new learner leaving.
1-1: This could work with 1-1 if you print out a dozen pictures of different people and then place a card UNDER one of the pictures that says “phone” and have the learner play as above. You can start the game to show the learner how it’s done and to build confidence the first round (so the L “hides” the phone under a picture and you ask).
This is good for A1-B1 levels and can be used for general English or business English.
- Brainstorm jobs in English and write about 12-15 on the board.
- Elicit some yes/no questions about jobs with the learners, for example:
- Do you wear a uniform?
- Do you work inside?
- Do you work alone?
- Do you study at university for your job?
- Do you work in a team?
- Do you earn a lot of money?
- Do you use a computer in your job?
- Do you drive as part of your job?
- Put the learners in pairs or small groups. Explain that one person will choose a job from the board, but will not tell their partner/group.
- The partner/group may ask 4 questions from the brainstormed questions (or others) before they can guess the job.
1-1 The activity works well for 1-1 as described.