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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Small cross-groups

An alternative to cross-group pairs, especially useful when the class is based on discussion of ideas rather than working on a specific text (e.g. lecturing to outline notes in content classes or peer development seminars) is to have one member of each group join together to discuss their particular section of the notes. Instead of sitting with only one person from your own ‘pair group’, each person doing a particular section will sit together with all others doing the same section. If there are 4 groups, each ‘small cross-group’ will have 4 members.

If classes have more than 4 groups, then the class could be divided into ‘groups of groups’, e.g. 6 groups could give ‘small cross-groups’ of 3. I have taught classes of up to 70 students, divided into 12 groups. Here there could be 3 large groupings each of 4 groups. Even larger classes should be equally manageable from the point of view of teacher presentation while still providing intense student involvement in discussion — if the wall dividing the next-door classroom is soundproof. Of course ongoing evaluation and ‘getting to know the students’ is much more difficult. Overall class dynamics obviously are better where class numbers are limited.

For teacher development seminars, I have found ‘small cross-groups’ are more effective than ‘cross-group pairs’. For example with 16-24 colleagues (in 4 groups) there would be 4, 5 or 6 per group, and 4 in each of the 4-6 cross-groups. The fact that each ‘home’ group sends members to each of the cross-groups, who then report the views back to the main group, means that each group will receive an outline of discussions that involved all those participating. Through this very simple format, each person in a reasonably large group can hear the personal views of every other person in e.g. the department. In a ‘meeting’ format, everyone hears what speakers have to say, but only one person can speak at a time. As in the classroom, this is a very inefficient use of time. In the Plain Pair Group system, the amount of talk, and therefore of creative contribution, is increased enormously.

As each small cross-group can be covering a different segment of the agenda to be covered, yet each person hears the results of all discussions, a large amount of material can be covered in depth and in a time-efficient manner. The friendly, congenial atmosphere of such small group discussions makes it more acceptable to air one’s views even in the presence of senior colleagues, which makes for a very different dynamic to the decision-making of the department meeting.

If this process is repeated several times, with composition of small cross-groups changing each time (‘home’ groups of course remain constant), a dynamic of frank and open discussion can be introduced into a group of people working together which can allow for considerable exchange of ideas and creative interaction among all members. Remember that the role of the facilitator will be to assure that each main group should be formed in the first place to provide maximum variety according to all factors: age, rank, male/female, native-speaker/Japanese speaker, traditional teacher/‘experimental’ teacher etc.

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