Groups or Pairs - small groups or pairs of students working together is a highly effective and essential strategy for teaching. The opportunity to use groups in your class should never be passed up and almost any activity can be adapted so that it can be carried out by small groups or pairs rather than the class as a whole.
Many papers have been written about the advantages of group work and we would encourage it strongly.
There are many advantages to using groups, not least being the fact that with groups you allow more students to speak and use their English. Imagine a 60 minute lesson with 15 students in the class. After registration and admin, explanations and so on perhaps there are 40 minutes where the students can speak English.
With 15 students in the class this mean each student - under perfect conditions - will spend perhaps just over 2 minutes speaking. If, however, you divide the class into 5 groups then this means each student - again under perfect conditions - can spend well over 10 minutes speaking. If you have the class in pairs then this goes up to 20 minutes.
The conclusion is obvious!
But there are other reasons as well amongst which are:
When dealing with a class as a whole, the teacher generally stands at the front and talks. With small groups your role changes, you have to move about the class and "listen in" on each group, offering help and praise where necessary.
And here's another advantage to using groups in the classroom. If a shy student doesn't understand something it may take them a lot of courage to put their hand up and ask for help; they might feel intimidated to do so in front of the whole class. However, in small groups it's easy for a shy student to ask about something since they're only with a couple of other students.
As a teacher if you ask your class to get into pairs or groups, almost inevitably the students will hook up with their friends or the person closest. However, it's good practice to vary this so students have variation in their practice and they don't get bored or complacent working with the same other students.
How big the groups are depends on the activity, however an useful size is probably about 3 students. This makes sure each student in the group gets plenty of practice to use their English within the group and there's less possibility of a student zoning out as they might do in larger groups.
Here are a few ideas to get different groups going:
See also Hidden Relations for an activity to get students into groups.
Of course sometimes there's an extra student after the groups have been divided up. Rather than pair them up with you as teacher, add them to another group for the activity.
There are sometimes a few problems with groups.