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Working in pairs and groups

On the learning paths, learners will work alone, then in pairs, and then in small groups, often using the Think-Pair-Share routine. First, they think about a question and formulate an individual answer; then, pairing offers the opportunity for each learner to have an exchange about the results. As a third step, it can be worthwhile to let two sets of pairs form a small group. By working in groups, learners get to know different perspectives and become more accepting of each other. They are usually also more actively engaged, as many people feel more comfortable talking in smaller groups and among peers than in front of the whole class.

There are many ways to form groups, depending on what kind of group the task requires. Should the learners be allowed to team up with those they want to work with, or will the groups be your selection? If so, should the groups be diverse in terms of abilities, personalities (introverts/extroverts) and backgrounds (ethnic, religious, national)? Or should they be as homogeneous as possible? One simple way to divide a class randomly is by headcount (1-2-3, 1-2-3; Apples-Pears-Bananas etc). But you may want to plan the division beforehand.

Be clear about the expected outcome of the group work and particularly how the group assignment is relevant to the learners and how they can benefit from working in groups. If one person ‘does it all’ while others in the group lean back, future group activities may not engage them. It may help to assign a role to each member; for example: note-taker, time-keeper, presenter, summariser, clarifier, questioner. If learners try out different roles, over time they acquire an impressive repertoire of skills.

When sharing the group work results with the whole class, set clear time limits for the presentations. Rather than each group just summarising their discussion, it can be useful to ask them to highlight one topic that lead to the most interesting discussion in that group.

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