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.
Collocations are something I focus on from A1-C2. This is good as a lead in to test what they know or as review to check phrases that have been introduced.
- Before the lesson, I select the collocations and type up a word document with a table. Break the phrases in two and type half the phrase in one box and half in the other, e.g. to take / a photo, to go / on vacation, peace / and quiet (usually focused on a theme, here vacations). Print and cut into cards, enough for one set per pair of learners. Tip: You can add a THIRD card with a definition (either in their L1 if monolingual or in easy English).
- Explain to the learners that in pairs they will match the cards to create the collocations. If you use the definition card, then that would need to be matched as well. Monitor as they do this. Check as a whole class.
- Then ask them to turn over the FIRST card in each pair and quiz each other. For example on the table they will now see the cards XXX a photo, XXX on vacation, XXX and quiet. Then have them turn over just the second card and quiz each other again. If you are using the definition cards, have them turn over both cards of the collocation and try to remember the collocation based on the definition.
- Now collect the cards. Redistribute one set of cards among all the learners. Every learner should have at least one card, up to about 5 or 6. Explain that you are going to say the first part of a collocation and the person who thinks they have the second part should shout it out. For example, I say : “peace” and all the learners look at their cards and one shouts “and quiet”. If the class agrees it is a correct match, continue to the next learner.
- Once this memorization is complete, you can use the phrases in free practice, such as an interview exercise with Q&A (Where did you go on vacation last year? Did you take a lot of pictures? etc.). Alternatively, use a conversation game like those outlined in other posts here (search VOCABULARY category).
This can be used for 1-1, but the learner must be active in matching and the trainer gives hints.
This is good for A1 or review at the A2 level.
- Choose a ball or stuffed animal or other easy-to-throw and not dangerous object.
- Learners should all stand (if possible in a circle).
- Explain you are going to count using the ball. Start by saying “one” and throwing the ball to a learner. That learner says “two” and throws the ball. Continue until someone makes a mistake or until you decide it’s enough practice.
- Vary the next round by counting in twos (2, 4, 6, 8…) or threes (3, 6, 9, 12…) or backward from 100. You can also do sequences like plus 1 (or 2,3,4). For example, 1 plus 5 (sequence 1, 6, 11, 16…). Another fun variation is that every other learner does NOT say a number but says BUZZ (or MOO or another funny word) so the sequence goes: 1, BUZZ, 3, BUZZ, 5, BUZZ… This variation is funny because of the funny word and it is easier to make mistakes (but in a fun way).
For 1-1 This is also possible to play as described above if the trainer is the active partner.
There are many versions of word snakes, often used at A1-B1 levels. You can create word snakes yourself. Can be adapted for higher levels and 1-1 (see below).
- Choose a list of words (either new or for revision) and connect them using the overlapping last letter of one word and first letter of the next.
2. Example for animals: dogooselephantigeratermitelk
3. The learners (alone or in pairs solve it by breaking the words apart. The solution should be: dog goose elephant tiger rat termite elk
Variation: Have the learners create their own word snakes in pairs. Collect them and check them (make sure their spelling is correct!). Then copy them and use them in the next lesson. Add a timed element (say 60 seconds per snake) to make it more competitive (learners can solve alone or in pairs).
Variation 2: For higher levels give a topic and do it orally in a circle. For example: Things in a house. The first person says: chair. The next person says a word that begins with R such as “rail” and the next for example “light switch” and so on. If someone can not think of a word in a certain time frame, say 10 seconds, or repeats a word, they are “out”. Continue playing until there is a winner.
For 1-1, use the exercise as described or even Variation 1. Use Variation 2 where the learner and the trainer play.
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 a great way to preface a text (especially a longer one), finds the main vocabulary needed to understand the text, and presents it in a cool way. Best for B1-C2 levels.
- Find the text in digital format, for example, an article or wikipedia entry. Copy the text into a word cloud generator (there are a ton, just check the ones that are compatible with your computer). Press enter and voila, you have a word cloud. (you can make adjustments to the settings).
- Show the word cloud to the learners. Explain these are the most frequent words from a text (the larger, the more frequent). Ask them if there are any unknown words, pre-teach them or ask the others to explain if they know.
- Then ask the Ls to predict what the text is about. I usually write a few of the guesses on the board.
- Then read the text (using whatever strategies you normally use for texts). Check if their predictions where correct.
- Then have them write or give an oral summary of the text using the words in the word cloud. This is where the unknown words will move from passive understanding to active use.
This is basically a great confidence booster. When the Ls get a long text with lots of new words, it can be demotivating. But when you explain that they just need the main words, that helps. Usually, however, they don’t KNOW what the “main” words are. A word cloud helps out in that area as it pulls the words with the highest frequency (usually omitting words like a, the, it etc which can be changed in the settings).
1-1: This works perfectly for 1-1 as described above.