Creative Discussion using Plain Pair Groups

Creative Discussion – a key to insight and change


William Plain
Emeritus Professor, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies

Plain Pair Group Teaching (Plain PGT)
- for universities and schools
Plain Pair Group Discussion (Plain PGD)
- for decision making and staff development
- for informal or community creative discussion

A flash of insight is the spark of cosmic intelligence.
Small group sharing of insight can change the pattern of human intelligence.

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An ABC of PGT

 

You have read enough about Plain Pair Group Teaching (www.creativediscussion.org) to decide you want to experiment with this method in your classroom. You are now wondering just how to start.

In a nutshell – “Silence in the classroom”

Plain Pair Group Teaching (Plain PGT) is an alternation between teacher centred and student centred classroom management.

The students are allocated to small permanent groups, facing each other in the group if possible.

Each class will generally be comprised of three parts: teacher presentation, discussion in the “home group”, here called the "Insight Group", and a period of interaction in a “pair group” which is either ‘the group next door’ or a group formed by one member of each Insight Group.

The principal goal is to increase effective learning and promote a capacity for independence and creativity. To achieve this the teacher needs to allow students to “occupy the learning space” of the classroom for a part of the class, while the teacher’s role becomes one of attentive silence.

For the student, the alternation between active presentation of one’s own knowledge or ideas, and attentive listening to colleagues promotes a state of heightened awareness.

“Silence in the classroom” is the alternation of both teacher and student silence, and the inner silence which generates insight.

Go slowly

Don’t force yourself to follow the Plain PGT method “to the letter”. Adapt parts of it to your own teaching. Or make an occasional class into a “creative discussion” class following the Plain PGT suggestions. Experiment. Let your students know you are experimenting – along with them.

Relax

Let things happen. If the class doesn’t function exactly as you want, don’t worry. Watch. The students may have invented a better idea.

Don’t expect perfection

Certain students (or groups) may not seem to be ‘studying’. Remember, in most teaching methods, students may daydream through an entire class and yet be seen as a perfect student. Calculate how much “active learning” takes place. In student centred learning, even partial compliance often results in greater learning time.

Observe

The purpose of this method is to give students more time for their own learning. It is also to give the teacher more time! Remain as ‘awake’ as possible, observe, be constantly aware of all that is happening. 

Don’t interfere with good learning

During the teacher presentation, you are the centre of the classroom. Fill the room with your presence – with your enthusiasm, knowledge, curiosity, exploration, etc.

During the group discussion period, become invisible, be the silent observer. Do not correct, comment, suggest. Leave space for the students, not only to learn the subject matter, but to learn how to learn, to decide to learn, and to experiment with their own knowledge.

Directing group activity

If you still need to remind someone to stay on target, don’t correct an individual, make a comment to the class. If possible, present it in such a way that they will laugh, e.g. reminder to speak in English – find novel ways to write the word “English” on the board.

 

“Insight Groups”

Permanent groups

Group membership will remain constant over a period of time, e.g. one semester

Organisation of groups

4-5-6 students per group

Groups of 3 would require virtually no absenteeism

An even number of groups: 2-4-6-8 etc

In some small classes, 3 groups can also be used

Class size

“8-80”: Plain PGT can be used with virtually any size class.

Composition of groups

Maximise heterogeneity

Divide male and female students evenly

If mixed levels (language proficiency, prior knowledge, etc) divide evenly

Share any other known resources among the groups (mature-age students, foreign students, special knowledge, etc)

Allocation to groups

Use some method for choosing other than student choice

Avoid groups of friends (pre-established forms of interaction)

Allocate beforehand – especially where mixed levels

Create appropriate groups and announce

Based on known ability; quick proficiency test, etc

Allocate in class – for homogeneous class

Choose some form of “random” selection

Stand in a row (separate rows for male and female students) according to: (birthday; sum of telephone number; etc)
Number off so many to each group

Introductory activity

Allow a short period to facilitate group formation

“Getting to know you”; “getting to know what you know”

“Pair Groups”

A “Pair Group” is ‘another’ group that the student joins during each class

Dynamic interaction

Part of each class will generally be spent in some form of pair group activity

Establishing a predictable rhythm based on teacher presentation, home group discussion and pair group interaction produces variety and at the same time a sense of control by students over the classroom management process.

Pair group patterns

Several patterns are possible depending on type of material and learning process. Pattern used can vary as desired.

“Pair Group” as single ‘neighbouring’ group

Often used where each student in the group prepares one section of the material being discussed.

Each Insight Group is paired with another group for such activities

E.g. with 6 groups numbered 1-6, groups 1 & 4, 2 & 5, 3 & 6 form ‘pair groups’

Material is divided up and each student chooses one section

“Sit with person in pair group doing same section”

An alternative pattern is for half of each group to sit with half of the other group

E.g. to share an activity that has been developed by each group as a whole.

 “Pair Group” as group formed by one member of each Insight Group

Often used where students present their own ideas, allowing each person to hear a summary of views from all other class members.

Students in each group are numbered a/b/c etc

“All the a’s sit at table A, the b’s sit at table B, etc

If more than 4 groups, divide the class into 2 or more sections

If 6 groups, 3+3; if 8 groups, 4+4, etc

Managing odd numbers

Organising pair group activities will often call for a little mathematical ingenuity, especially where absences, unequal group numbers, etc, complicate matters. Always check numbers beforehand and plan variations, e.g. “sit with partner from pair group”, but extra student will make up a threesome; “all the a’s sit together, b’s etc”, but too many “a’s” are absent, so one “b” has to sit with the “a’s”.

Presentation of class material by the teacher

Generally limit the period of presentation to one third of the class time.

Remember that “teaching” and “learning” are not the same thing. No amount of good teaching can guarantee good learning. Learning requires student involvement, students need to be given time to grapple with their own learning.

Supplementary material may be made available for preparation between classes – as part of student report and preparation for “student presentation” in following class.

Presentation of material will depend on subject matter and teaching situation. Presentation can follow lecture format, presentation and explanation of text, explanation of language usage, grammar, etc, depending on teacher preference.

Material can often be at a more challenging level as the pair group process permits increased capacity for understanding and creative manipulation of ideas, language, etc.

Material can also be chosen by each individual, or by the group, with each member researching one section.

A wide variety of learning or development situations can use the Plain Pair Group process:

Content classes in the humanities have been experimented with extensively.

Fact-based classes – initial experimentation e.g. in science and medicine, but more work needs to be done.

Skills based classes – exploration of “skill-knowledge” with pair group system might need to be supplemented by practice (practicum, discovery learning, skill practice e.g. language activity). Considerable experience with extensive writing.

Development sessions – teacher, curriculum, staff etc – have been experimented with successfully.

Conference presentation, especially workshop format.

Lecture/tutorial system could be modified according to Plain PGT approach.

In addition, Plain Pair Group Discussion (Plain PGD) can be used in organisations or in informal creative discussion (see elsewhere).

Sequence

A number of variations are possible.

A. Limited material requiring language comprehension; probably also ‘fact-based classes’

B. More complex material with emphasis on student understanding of teacher presentation.

C. Complex material giving full scope to student creativity.

D. Students choosing their own material. Also for regular revision classes without new teacher input.

Variation A. (partner in neighbouring group – discussion based on teacher presentation – divide up material)

Presentation of reports based on previous class (if required)

Each student in turn reads their report, followed by comments, questions, discussion

First class would start with group formation

Teacher presentation

Text or outline notes may be divided into sections, each student chooses one section.

Each student may move to sit with partner in neighbouring pair group before presentation. Students may also be given time to look through their section before presentation.

Teacher presents material in format seen as most appropriate.

This period will rarely if ever see direct interaction between teacher and individual students.
Presentation is to class as a whole, do not question individual students.

Pair group preparation – with pair group partner

Each student sits with partner from neighbouring “pair group”.

Students work with partner to understand, translate, contextualise, relate to prior knowledge, etc.

Students individually may call teacher to request further explanation. Teacher may ‘offer’ help, but this should be seen as ‘assisting understanding’, not ‘testing understanding’.

In lower level EFL classes, use of L1 may be seen as appropriate/unavoidable during this preparation. Use of L2 will probably increase with time.

 Insight Group presentation

In turn each student presents their section to the group, explaining, commenting, ‘teaching’, adding own knowledge/ideas.

Each student should be given equal time for their presentation.

Further discussion may lead to a group ‘production’ relating to material, or towards a report for following class.

Variation B-1. (form pair group with one from each group – discussion based on teacher presentation – divide up material)

Presentation of reports based on previous class (if required)

Each student in turn presents their report, probably using outline notes, followed by comments, questions, discussion

Teacher presentation

Text or outline notes may be divided into sections, each student chooses one section.

Before presentation, each student may move to form pair group made up of one member of each other group, each pair group concentrating on one section of material. Students may also be given time to look through their section before presentation.

Teacher presents material in format seen as most appropriate.

This period will rarely if ever see direct interaction between teacher and individual students.
Presentation is to class as a whole.

Pair group preparation – form pair group

Students work together to understand, contextualise, relate to prior knowledge, etc.

Individual students or groups may call teacher to request further explanation. Teacher may ‘offer’ help, but this should be seen as ‘assisting understanding’, not ‘testing understanding’.

Insight Group presentation

In turn each student presents their section to the group, explaining, commenting, ‘teaching’, adding own knowledge/ideas.

Each student should be given equal time for their presentation.

Further discussion will probably explore individual stance, opinions, values, etc.

Students may also discuss their choice of report for following class.

Variation B-2.  (form pair group with one from each group – discussion based on teacher presentation – do not divide up material)

Presentation of reports based on previous class

Each student in turn presents their report, using outline notes, followed by comments, questions, discussion

Teacher presentation

Each student may cover the whole area of presentation.

Teacher presents material in format seen as most appropriate.

This period will rarely if ever see direct interaction between teacher and individual students.
Presentation is to class as a whole.

Initial discussion in Insight Group

Students work together on general understanding of material, relate to prior knowledge, start to explore individual position

Take notes of discussion to present to pair group

Pair group comparison – in pair group

Each student in turn presents ideas from Insight Group discussion. Continue on to deeper discussion.

Insight Group summary

Summarise and compare result of pair group discussion. Reach conclusions about individual stance.

Students may also discuss their choice of report for following class.

Variation C. (form pair group with one from each group – discussion based on student presentations – with final teacher presentation)

Presentation of research report to Insight Group

While all the above variations may or may not include report and initial presentation at beginning of class, Variation C is necessarily based on individual research and prepared report

In addition to presentation, comments, questions, discussion, students will most likely be presenting and defending an established position, at the same time searching for new ideas in the presentations of colleagues

Making presentation from an outline is necessary to facilitate oral presentation without recourse to reading a text which will probably be too long

Take notes of colleagues’ presentations

Pair Group presentation

In turn present summary of main ideas presented by each member of Insight Group (including self).

Compare and discuss ideas from each group

Look for ideas which represent deep understanding of area, or which explore new understandings – search for insight

Insight Group summary

Share most interesting ideas and insights

Teacher presentation

Will be developed through student report and presentation in following class

Teacher presents material in format seen as most appropriate.

This period will rarely if ever see direct interaction between teacher and individual students.
Presentation is to class as a whole.

There is probably no time for discussion concerning teacher presentation. Assistance can be provided for individual research – extra reading material, suggested Internet sites, etc.

Variation D-1. (without teacher presentation)

Presentation of research report to Insight Group

For each class, students may choose a group or individual topic; or else this will be a revision class where students will be combining the work of the last few weeks/classes.

Through presenting reports in turn around the group, students may be exploring an individually chosen area, each adding one segment to an area decided on by the group, looking at the most interesting/important ideas discussed over the last few classes, giving a detailed understanding of an area of knowledge, skill etc.

In addition to presentation, comments, questions, discussion, students will most likely be presenting and defending an established position, at the same time searching for new ideas in the presentations of colleagues – depending on type of class.

Making presentation from an outline is necessary to facilitate oral presentation without recourse to reading a text which will probably be too long.

Take notes of colleagues’ presentations

Pair Group presentation

In turn present summary of main ideas presented by each member of Insight Group (including self).

Compare and discuss ideas from each group

Look for ideas which represent deep understanding of area, or which explore new understandings – search for insight

Insight Group summary

Share most interesting ideas and insights

If revision class for Variation C, teacher presentation of new material may need to be made

If based on student presentations, students choose (generally individual) topic for following week

Variation D-2. – (with intense discussion)

As D-1 except all discussion in Insight Group only.

Especially as regular revision in Variation C,

Students can find that there is normally not enough time to develop a deep discussion in the Insight Group and welcome sessions where previous areas can be explored in more depth.

Without programming regular intense discussion classes, students can often insist on extending their discussion and the teacher can find there is insufficient time left for the teacher presentation.

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Recognition and remuneration

 

© William Plain  1990-2018 (print) 2005 - 2018 (website)