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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A method for communication

After my first year of teaching in a Japanese university (Niigata University), I felt that the published materials that I had used with satisfaction for many years in Europe were not producing the results I expected. This led me to search for a different approach to teaching, and the publication of the initial paper, which to a large extent is reproduced in this chapter. During my years at the University of Tsukuba, I refined the method though a three-year research grant, and finally at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies I have developed a theory of learning through the present four year grant whose aim is to help the non-native-speaker teacher to understand why such a method can be useful.

The Plain Pair Group Teaching (Plain PGT) method which I have developed over a number of years does, I have found, meet many of the requirements for encouraging effective communicative learning in the classroom, while at the same time it provides a form of student-centred teaching which may not be felt as threatening to the more traditional teacher. What is more, experimentation with this method by teachers (1) who are specialists in areas other than English as a Foreign Language has shown that this method can readily be adopted by ‘discipline specialist teachers’ as well as by those using a traditional ‘grammar-translation’ method of teaching. A teaching ‘package’ is available which includes practical and theoretical material as well as ‘classroom management’ software to accompany the PGT system.

While this method was initially developed for use in the Japanese university classroom for teaching English as a foreign language, trials conducted in other areas have shown that it can be used across a wide range of teaching, training, learning and discussion activities.

The theory of learning and the teaching methodology developed here is based on ‘language’ learning, not just English, so it could easily be used for teaching any language.

It can be used with content classes in areas other than a foreign language, and would be a viable alternative to the traditional university lecture class, independently of language or country.

Although developed primarily within a university setting, use within a school environment would provide a demonstration of respect for the learner and increase in interest in the subject matter which would make it successful.

In academic development seminars this method provides a means of combining curriculum and teacher/lecturer development through intense and open interaction among colleagues working together as peers.

It can also be used in a reading/discussion group where the members are looking for a format to assist personal creativity and insight in the discussion group and during private reading (2).

This method is based on a very simple and repetitive structure which creates a ‘natural learning environment’ in which learning can take place with a naturalness and ease which we are familiar with in those situations where we know something simply because we live it.

How then does the Plain Pair Group Teaching method function? A typical class could be comprised of the following elements. This method can be used in a second language class where the teacher is using a written text as the principle material, it could be a lecture using outline notes, or any of a wide range of learning situations, many of which may require appropriate modifications. Some of these will be discussed in Chapter 5.

Following an introductory activity, the teacher turns to the materials being used in the particular class. The teacher may choose to pass the material over entirely to the students, allowing them to both prepare and then present and discuss the material in their groups, or he may choose to present the material in some way to the whole class. If it is a written text, a simple reading of the text may sometimes be a sufficient introduction, at other times I will comment, explain, or analyse the text and even provide a certain quantity of background information to assist appropriate understanding and appreciation by the students. The approach chosen will depend largely on the type of material and the complexity for a given class, and the desire of the teacher to add his own knowledge to what has been presented.

Before beginning, the material for a particular class has been divided into sections and the group members have shared out the sections among themselves. The groups in the room will have been paired off, so that each group has a neighbouring group with which it shares certain activities. Each student will first look for the student in his ‘pair group’ who is doing the same section as he is. After presentation by the teacher, they will sit together and will read and discuss their section, and in general prepare to ‘present’ their part of the material to the others in their original groups.

When this phase is finished, everyone returns to his own group, and each student in turn presents his section, using a variety of techniques such as reading the text aloud and commenting on vocabulary, meaning and background ideas, explaining the main ideas, reporting the discussion with the colleague, or whatever is appropriate. Either simultaneously, or at the end of this phase, it can be very useful to ask each group to prepare a written report or summary or in some way to demonstrate their understanding and appreciation. Finally the material for the following class will be divided into sections and each student will be able to prepare his section at home.

At the beginning of the following class, students will read each other’s reports, or better, present the main ideas from a prepared outline, followed by discussion to deepen their understanding of the subject.

The precise method then involves the creation of groups which remain unchanged throughout the academic year. The main work of the class, which can be text analysis, discussion or presentation of one’s own ideas, takes place within the group. There is also a range of activities which lead the student to communicate freely with the other members of his group and to develop a sense of belonging within his own group. This intra-group activity is combined with pair work which is normally the preparation of a section of the material with a (variable) partner from a neighbouring group. This ‘next door’ group becomes the ‘pair group’, again for the duration of the course. This combination of work on the material within one’s group and regular contact with an outside member of a specific group leads to more dynamic relations in the class and gives the student a sense of greater variety. At the same time it establishes a regular rhythm of activities which allows the student to exercise a certain control over his own learning process.

____________

1. At the University of Tsukuba.

2. In Chapter 1 a suggestion was made for reading this book using the method being described.

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