Put Students in Pairs: How to Get Students to Speak in the ESL Classroom

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Published: 06th April 2011
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The amount and quality of conversation increases when students work in pairs. For example, a ten-minute speaking activity with just two students would mean each person has roughly five minutes of talk time. Compare this with a group of five people who, in the same activity would only talk for about two minutes per person. Students get a lot of speaking practice with high talk time, which then results in more confidence with the language. In addition, the language becomes more automatic. Lastly, students feel a greater sense of accomplishment when they get to speak a lot.

But how does a teacher effectively arrange students into pairs?

You should try to place students who have roughly the same set of speaking skills (grammar, vocabulary, speaking speed, etc.) into pairs, if possible. A weaker student and a weaker student will limit their speaking to the target language. A stronger student and a strong student, on the other hand, will expand on the target language, making new connections with previously studied grammar and vocabulary. Both sets of students will work to their ability level, and so get appropriately challenged.

However, you may want to (or have to) pair up a weaker student with a stronger student from time to time. This can have its benefits too, namely because the stronger student can help his partner with the target language. As a result, the stronger student confirms his understanding of and ability with the language because he must teach, correct, and guide his weaker partner. In addition, the weaker student can see what may be achieved through study and practice, which acts as a motivational tool.

It's important to note that pairs of unequal levels should be used sparingly Should a stronger student pair up with a weaker student for a full sixty minutes or more, both will have poorer ability with the new language at the end of the lesson. In addition, both students may feel frustrated, the stronger student because he doesn't have the chance to work at his level of ability and the weaker student because he can't speak to the stronger person's level.

In addition to the above, you should also consider gender, age, background, and interests whenever pairing up students. The success of an activity can be harmed if students don't want to work with their partner. Younger people may not enjoy working with older people. People with vastly different backgrounds may have trouble easily talking about topics, or may even share very different views.

Pairs can and do improve the amount of talking in the ESL classroom. They should be used as much as possible, but also with careful consideration of the make up.

If you would like to learn more about how to teach ESL students , please visit www.betterlanguageteaching.com for ideas and activities.

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