Cover Image
close this bookTeaching English as a Foreign Language - to Large, Multilevel Classes (Peace Corps, 1992, 243 p.)
close this folderGetting to know your students
View the document(introduction...)
View the document''Recognizing opportunities
View the documentConcerns outside the classroom
View the documentCultural values and expectations
View the documentEnglish language skills
View the documentRecommended class activities
View the documentA student questionnaire
View the documentPair interviews
View the documentSmall group discussions
View the documentWhole class activities
View the documentA writing sample
View the documentPersonal interview
View the documentRecord keeping
View the documentFinal notes
View the documentQuestions to ask yourself

Small group discussions

Small group discussions provide your students with opportunities for self-discovery and understanding of differences. By chinking about how to present a well-organized, coherent point of view, students improve their language skills as they analyze and discuss problems. When using group discussions as part of the assessment process, try to focus on values, attitudes, or behavior. Topics can include cultural values, learning objectives, or environmental issues. Such topics will motivate students and stimulate conversational responses which grammar lessons seldom generate.

Before asking your students to form discussion groups, be sure chat they understand how to behave in small groups. You might want to ask four to eight students co come to the center of the class to provide a model of a small group discussion. More detailed suggestions about giving students in pairs or small groups specific tasks and roles are described in Chapters Eight and Nine.


Cultural values can be a thought-provoking, highly revealing topic for small group discussions. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, you need co understand how your students feel about traditions, superstitions, use of time, competition, individuality, and equality of the sexes. One example of a cultural survey places values on opposite sides of a continuum:

Cultural survey

Ask the students to circle the number closest to their own position. As the students analyze the options, tell them to think about their individual preferences first. Then have them compare their answers with those of someone sitting nearby, and finally, put the students into small groups and request a small group consensus This sequence is called THIK-PAIR-SHARE. .Students might complete three sentences to reinforce the process:

My reaction -----------------------------
My partner's reaction -----------------------------
Our group's reaction -----------------------------

Have one of the students record some examples to support the group consensus. Because the members of the group must come to an agreement, this activity also gives you an opportunity to introduce social skills, including appropriate terms for suggesting, agreeing, and disagreeing.

An analysis of cultural values will give you and your students an opportunity to demonstrate respect for and acceptance of differences, including the differences that may surface between your American values and those values generally accepted by the class.


Small group discussions can also be used to highlight the reasons students are learning English. To find out more about the expectations chat your students bring to their English class, use a ranking system and ask groups co prioritize their reasons for studying English. Statements co rank might include these:

Ranking from "1" = most important to "5" = least important

- To pass the National Exam
- To read magazines and books
- To listen to the radio and watch TV
- To talk to people in English
- To get a job that requires English skills
- To move to an English speaking country
- To understand other cultures (Other)

This discussion topic will require students to chink about the possible benefits of your class. It will also give you a point of reference as you plan activities to motivate your students.

Prioritizing is an activity that can be used to encourage critical thinking and discussion about what and how and why students are learning. A similar group activity is to ask students to analyze eight sentences and come to a consensus about the four chat they believe are the most important:

1. A good teacher helps students to become independent learners.
2. Students can help each other to learn English.
3. Teachers are the only source of knowledge in the classroom.
4. The best way to learn English is to study grammar.
5. The best way to learn English is to read and talk about interesting topics.
6. Teachers must correct all grammar mistakes.
7. Everyone learns a language the same way.
8. Social skills are an important part of language learning.

As the students discuss these sentences, they will begin to analyze the alternatives to traditional teacher-centered lectures. When the whole class comes together co discuss and summarize the small group decisions, you will have an opportunity to challenge the students to think about their roles and responsibilities.

If you plan co include environmental themes in your lessons, you might ask students to respond to statements chat require them to reflect on their attitudes toward environmental threats. The Peace Corps ICE Manual Environmental Education in the Schools: Creating a Program That Works! (forthcoming) includes a variety of environmental topics that would be appropriate for small group surveys and discussions in your English class. Students can discuss these issues and try to come to a consensus which is shared with the entire class.

Small group activities improve social skills, critical thinking skills, confidence, and achievement. They should be introduced carefully to establish successful patterns of behavior. Be sure to read Chapters Eight and Nine for detailed guidelines that will help you to organize and facilitate participatory work effectively.