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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Cross-group pairs

In the first class using this system, fixed Pair Groups should be indicated. It is often easiest to organise the seating pattern in such a way that pairs of groups will be sitting close to each other in the classroom. One possibility is for Pair Groups to be situated on either side of the central aisle made by joining desks together in groups down each side of the classroom.

I then ask each student to find the partner in the pair group who is working on the same portion of the materials as he is. Each ‘cross?]group pair’ will move together easier if for the first few classes all students are asked to stand, and then to find their partner. Some reluctance to moving may be noted in initial classes unless the following stratagem is used. A set of instructions may be: Choose text number 1/2/3 (see earlier section on “Dividing up the text”) etc.; those doing number 1 raise your hand and see who your partner will be .. 2, 3 etc; all stand; join with your partner in the other group; change seats! This should be done very methodically for the first two or three times, because it is the basis for the smooth operation of the entire class for each lesson during the year.

Each student will sit with the student in his ‘pair group’ who is doing the same section of the material as he is. Detailed indications will need to be given as to what is to be done during this phase. Basically, they are to prepare to ‘present’ their section to the others in their permanent group. If the class is based on a written text, his preparation may include: reading the text aloud, helping each other with vocabulary, explaining, translating or adding the student’s own personal knowledge of the subject.

When dealing with ideas rather than text, the students will first help each other to understand the ideas presented by the lecturer, then relate this to what they already know, as well as determine where they stand in relation to these ideas – what they think. It will often be found that students invent more ways of dealing with this phase of preparation than methods suggested by the teacher.

A conclusion to this activity might be preparing a one-sentence summary, deciding on the main points, taking notes on the discussion, etc.

This regular contact with a member of a ‘paired group’ leads to more dynamic relations in the class and gives the student a greater sense of variety. At the same time, it establishes a regular rhythm of activities, with actual physical movement during the class. This breaks up the class session and gives a certain variety which is experienced by the student as stimulating. Regularly pairing off with a member of the Pair Group enhances communication and adds a dynamic interplay of personalities which is not possible only with fixed or ad hoc grouping. Some students find the fixed group a little limiting, and the random selection of cross-group partners (by means of the choice of section of material made in one's own group) extends the ‘family’ to relations with different people in the neighbouring ‘family’.

This interaction is all co-operative, not competitive, because while competition can be used to quickly create some form of group adhesion, it is not a good way of maintaining the group. Competition creates the idea that knowledge is something to be obtained at the expense of someone else. By basing activities on co?]operation, students help each other to learn, and this important lesson will be of use to them in their professional relations in the future.

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