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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Classroom Management

‘Plain PGT’: a teaching method for awareness

A method for communication

Within a simple format, the Plain PGT method can bring a communicative element to traditional lectures, second language teaching in universities or schools, teacher development or discussion groups. Each class consists of teacher presentation of material, discussion of one section with a member of a neighbouring ‘pair group’, and presentation to one’s own group.

A rationale for groups

Each teacher needs to become conscious of the principles underlying their choice of method. The capacity of the Japanese student to function efficiently within a group can be a useful basis for improving communication in the classroom.

Group dynamics

An even number of mixed groups are formed which remain the same during the course. A clear, repetitive lesson plan allows the students to establish their own rhythm and take control of their own learning. The group is the centre of interaction and is an important factor in classroom management to facilitate co-operative learning and dynamic interaction.

Focus on materials

A wide range of materials can be taught through this method, as well as teaching though lecture format or training and development seminars. The material is divided up among the members of each group, possibly in the previous class, allowing for preparation at home.

Introduction and presentation of material

An introductory activity can be used to create a second language environment or orient students towards the topic for the class. The teacher then presents the text or ideas to the class, in a manner chosen according to what is being studied and the aim of the teacher
. 教材を紹介する際の方法は、授業における第二言語環境またはトピックに対する学生の姿勢を構築することに使用することができます。紹介が終わると、教員は内容やアイデアをクラスへ発表します。このとき、クラスでは何を学んでいるのか、または教員の狙いに基づいてトピックを選択する形で行ってください。

Cross-group pairs

After teacher presentation of the material, each student sits with a member of the nearby Pair Group and discusses one section of the material. This cross-group contact creates a more dynamic classroom and enhances communication and understanding.

Small cross-groups

Alternatively, in content classes or teacher development seminars, all those doing the same section can move to sit together in small groups. This system provides a dynamic interaction where each person hears the views of all participants present.

Student presentation

After a defined time students return to their groups and in turn each presents their section of the material. This will often become a period of animated discussion.

Group or individual report

Students are then asked to produce a written task that demonstrates their understanding of the material. Finally, the following week’s material is divided into sections for homework.


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. 筑波大学での実験

2. In Chapter 1 a suggestion was made for reading this book using the method being described. 一章では、そこで説明される方法を用いてリーディングを行うようアドバイスをしています。

A rationale for groups

In choice of method and materials as well as approach to teaching, the teacher carries a hidden background of beliefs and assumptions that leads him to choose, or accept, certain modes of teaching. It is important therefore that each teacher attempts to become conscious of some of the basic principles behind an ongoing choice of methods and materials.

In my opinion, it is important that the learning experiences available to the student not be limited to learning only about a certain subject or developing a specific skill, in this case language use. It is also important that the student develops his learning skills as such, and in particular that he develops a capacity for independent learning and for deciding to make use of learning opportunities. He has to become conscious of the fact that he is an active participant in the learning process and that learning, especially at university level, cannot be equated simply with being fed information by the teacher.

The needs of the student are much longer term than the simple duration of the class that the teacher is preparing. The student needs to acquire a consciousness of the learning process which will help him to continue learning, by himself, far into the future. He will be helped towards this goal if he is able to discover the use of the target language for himself, and often by himself. It will also be helpful for him to discover something about his own inner processes while he is discovering aspects of his learning. Finally, teaching English to students with a long and largely passive background in English study means that most classes can profitably be oriented towards the activation of knowledge already acquired, rather than towards the acquiring of new knowledge.

In language teaching, the choice of methodology is also influenced by the student’s school background. It would appear from an examination of the Japanese school system that the Japanese student has had a long training in the development of a ‘group spirit’, of belonging to and working in a peer group. This may sometimes limit his capacity for individual learning, but it has also given him the capacity to learn efficiently in a group, and to make use of the group to test out his knowledge. As a result, he will tend to exercise a sense of responsibility to the group by helping other members of the group to perform better. He will also do as well as he can himself out of a sense of duty to his colleagues within the group.

Belonging to a group then that is a permanent group, not the ephemeral one-activity-only type of group often used in EFL, can provide a supportive framework which allows for enhanced learning and peer teaching. I therefore believe that this constant in Japanese society and schooling represents a strength that can be capitalised on, and that it can provide the basis for developing a capacity for active communication in English classes with large numbers of students — in other words, the typical undergraduate English language classroom.

Group dynamics

At the beginning of the academic year, all students are allocated to groups, with an attempt made to create as heterogeneous a group as possible. There will be the same ratio of male to female students as there is in the class as a whole; the groups will be of mixed abilities; if possible, they will also represent a mixture of general interests and stated liking for English. An ideal number would be 5 to 6 students in each group (3 or 4 would suffice if absences are minimal), but there must be an even number of groups in the class. Each group will be assigned to a fixed position in the classroom. Although students are left free to choose their seating position within the group, they must sit with and carry out class activities within that group unless otherwise instructed. Where the university itself organises a placement test to create classes with a limited range of abilities, it would be possible to use a system of random placement, based on birth dates, height, summed telephone number or whatever other method is preferred, assuming that groups will thus tend to be reasonably heterogeneous. Male?]female mix however should be the same for each group.

Once the groups are established — in the first class if random allocation is used, or from the second class if based on an in-class placement test — an initial period of time is dedicated to traditional EFL activities designed to help the students in each group get to know each other, and to establishing group cohesion and identification within the group. To this end, a variety of competitive inter?]group activities have proved to be useful. Activities of this kind can be gleaned according to individual preference from any number of EFL teachers’ resource books. I have found however that for the teacher unfamiliar with such activities, the students’ innate sense of classroom savoir-faire allows the permanent group system to be adopted without any special preparation. グループ分けが終わったら、――ランダムにクラス分けを行った場合は初回授業で、クラス内プレイスメント・テストを行った場合はその次の二回目の授業で――はじめに少し時間を取り、伝統的なEFLのアクティビティを行います。これはグループ内でお互いのことを知り、グループのまとまりを目的とするものです。この目的を達成するためには、グループ間で競い合うアクティビティが効果的であるということが実証されています。このアクティビティはEFL教育の教材から各自の好みで選択してよいものとします。私の研究によると、このようなアクティビティに慣れていない教員にとっても、クラス内に「機転の良さ」を備え持つ学生がいれば、「不変のグループ」というシステムは、特別な準備抜きでも受け入れられていくものなのです。 This system is very simple. There are only 3 or 4 segments to the lesson plan, and there is considerable repetition over the year in that the basic structure of every lesson is the same. This means that students establish a rhythm which allows them both to develop a certain responsibility in organising their own activity and to concentrate on slowly building confidence in their ability to function actively. This is an important element for the students to feel that they are actually achieving something in English.

Activity-type teaching in conventional EFL often counts on rapid change during the class and variety over a period of time to develop and sustain interest and participation. Such methods tend however to be teacher-centred or at least teacher-orchestrated. Lecture-based teaching itself is of course also highly teacher-centred. In contrast, the system of teaching/learning I am proposing allows the students to take a greater control over their own learning, and to feel that they themselves are responsible for what they have achieved.

The group then is the basis of this approach to classroom management and teaching. A group must be permanent in order for it to take on the characteristics of the traditional social, school or work group to which the student is accustomed. Considerable attention needs to be given at the beginning of the year to ensuring that the groups actually form in this way, and ‘reinforcement’ activities may need to be used during the year in order to maintain the group as a dynamic centre for co-operative learning.

It takes a while for a group to form, but often the process is actually visible. When first put in groups, students may sit a little apart. After a very short while though, those sitting a bit apart will pick up their bags and form a more closely knit group. As for the composition of the group, I find that the greater the variety of people in the group the more the group will develop a sense of cohesion, given the greater possibility of stimulating interaction. Mixed abilities within each group are an important element for dynamic interaction. The stronger students can lead and the weaker students learn at the same time. Considerable peer teaching can take place within the group where there is a ‘resident expert’ to refer to whenever in need.

The male/female mix, ideally a 50/50 mix if the pattern of class enrolment allows, will provide a stimulus to group interaction which can be channelled into productive language learning. The juxtaposition of male and female students also seems to allow an exchange of mockery which stimulates the group as a whole. Sometimes one will judge or make comments on the English production of another in a way that will be helpful. A girl will often speak in English while chiding a boy, and he will accept it because it is a girl who is saying it. Often such mixing leads to a lot of good fun — and lots of English, perhaps also because all of this happens in another language, where there is considerably less inhibition in experimenting with novel forms of communication.

Focus on materials

While the Plain PGT method started in the EFL classroom, it can be used in a much wider range of classes. It has been used in classes which cover most of the faculties represented in major universities, either in content or subject classes whose principle aim is to develop second language competence or faculty specific classes given in the foreign language. It can also be used in first language content classes, e.g. classes in Japanese to Japanese students, or in English to English speaking students. I have also found that this method provides a successful means of promoting creative discussion in a university teacher development setting, where the participants are department teaching colleagues, and could be used across a range of professional development activities or peer discussion processes.

An English teacher is often required to teach content material which is outside his area of primary competence. In trying to use faculty?]specific material therefore, I often find myself confronted with material that is appropriate for the students, but quite frankly outside my area of competence in terms of subject matter. I may be dealing with a text on the dynamics of ecological systems, the laws of stress related to bridge building, or approaches to medical practice (1). I may be asked to give classes on International Studies or multi-disciplinary studies (2). I may be able to say quite a lot, but often the students are able to say even more than I can and I may wish to hand over a large part of the class to them. And where the teacher decides to venture out into the realm of ESP (English for Specific Purposes), using this method may be one means by which such specialist texts become accessible (3). It is not so important that the teacher be a specialist in all the areas he is teaching, but rather that he have at his disposition a range of teaching techniques that allow him to offer a class where his students can be helped to transfer their existing knowledge into English.
英語教員は、しばしば本来の能力とは範囲の異なるものであっても、充実した教材を用いて授業を行わなければならない場合もあります。自分なりの教材を使用した授業をしようとする結果、学生に合う教材がテーマという観点からみると実際には自分の専門範囲外であるという経験が私にもよくあります。教材が、生態系やストレスと関係する架橋工事の法則であったり、医療業務へのアプローチの仕方であったりするかもしれないということです。国際関係学や学際的研究に関する授業を行わなければならないかもしれません。私を含めて教員それぞれが教えられることは非常に多いかもしれませんが、それ以上に学生たちから発せられるものの方がはるかに多いでしょう。ですから私は授業の大部分を学生に預けたいと願っています。そうすることで各教員がESP (特定の目的のための英語)の分野へ進出していく際に、この方法が前述のような専門家によって綴られた難解なテキストを利用しやすいものへと変えてくれる一つの手段となり得るのです。これは教員が彼らの専門分野の内容すべてのスペシャリストになることが重要ということではなく、むしろ教員が自由に使える教育スキルの範囲を持つことが大事であり、それによってクラス内で学生たちの有する知識を英語へ変換する作業の手助けをしてあげられる環境を提供できることが大切なのです。

Many teachers may also use this method for teaching areas which are precisely within their area of specialisation, e.g. literary or culture-based texts. A text in itself is in no way necessary, the teacher may prefer to lecture and give his students outline notes or a copy of the PowerPoint cards he uses in his presentation. While I have not as yet experimented in this direction, I believe that some EFL course books or language learning material could also be adapted for use with this method.

If a teacher using this method chooses to read, explain or comment on a particular text he has chosen for a class, he will in any case have his own preferred methods of presentation, and these can easily be adapted. Such a text may be within the reach of the students, relatively unaided by the teacher. Many simplified ‘original’ texts by Japanese publishers will be appropriate. Texts for pre-adult native speakers, especially suitably illustrated books, may also stimulate the students to self-directed reading and discussion. Depending on the preferences of the lecturer, there are many faculty-specific texts, e.g. with one section per class and graphics as an aid to conversation, which can make an adaptable set text. I have experimented with a range of such text (4), generally based on a content approach to teaching, and often aimed at developing an awareness of global issues affecting our common future. It is up to each teacher though to provide what he considers to be the most useful for the development of his students. 教員がこの方法を用いる際、クラスのために準備してきた教材を読み上げ、説明しコメントするという手段をとった場合、いかなる状況でも自身の気に入ったプレゼンの仕方があるでしょうが、これらは容易に適応できるものと思われます。このようなテキストというのは比較的、教員の手を借りなくとも学生の手の届く範囲内にあると言えます。また、成人前のネイティブ・スピーカー向けのテキスト、中でも特に適度に挿絵の入ったものなどは学生にとって自主的なリーディングやディスカッションを行う刺激となるでしょうし、これらが適応可能な指定教材になるかもしれません。私は教育法への充実したアプローチに基づき、多岐にわたる前述のようなテキストを実践に活用してきました。その目的は主に我々の共通の未来に影響を与える国際問題に対する学生たちの関心を高めるというものでした。ただ、自分の学生が成長していくために何がベストかを考え、そして提供するのはすべて各教員次第ということです。

The material to be covered during a particular class is first divided up among the members of each group. To do this, I indicate line numbers or draw an outline of the page(s) on the board, numbering the sections 5 or 6 depending on the maximum number in the groups. (If there are less than the regular number of students present in a group on that day, I may also have to combine certain sections). Such division of material for a particular class should normally be done at the end of the previous class to allow for preparation at home. I generally indicate the division of sections again at the beginning of the following class and give the groups where someone is absent a moment to reallocate sections. However, if the traditional cries of “jang-ken-pon”, which normally accompany the process of choosing one’s section are heard from most groups, it is a sign that not many have done their preparation at home.

Where I am lecturing to outline notes, the major points can be divided up, each student taking one section. In peer development seminars, each person can take one aspect of the area to be discussed.

Sometimes it is better, particularly in dealing with ideas, not to allocate separate segments to each person, but rather let each person cover the entire area. This generally presents no problem, as the creativity that this method generates will lead each person to deal with his area in a personal manner.

____________ 1. While at the Foreign Language Center at the University of Tsukuba, I found myself giving English language classes in a range of faculties across the university. 1.筑波大学外国語センターに在籍していた頃、私は言語としての英語クラスを持ち、学内の様々な教員に教えていました。

2. In a foreign language university (Nagoya University of Foreign Studies in this case), students receive not only language classes, but also a wide range of content classes in the foreign language. 2.外国語大学(ここでは名古屋外国語大学の意)では、学生は言語としての外国語クラスだけではなく、多言語で中身のある授業を受けることができます。

3. I have found myself teaching specialist courses to specialists in that field, in areas as diverse as international finance, banking, aircraft maintenance, and office management (in Geneva and Turin). While I did not then have this particular method at my disposition, the requirement to teach ‘students’ who know much more than the teacher was a valuable lesson in the need to fully respect the intellectual capacity of one’s ‘students’ — of any age. 3.私はかつて、国際金融や銀行取引(バンキング)、航空機整備、事務所管理など多岐にわたる分野におけるその道の専門家たちに、専門コースとして教えていたこともありました。当時はこの方法をまだ実用化できる段階ではなかったため、このような「生徒」を教えるのに必要だったのは、年齢に関わらず生徒の知的能力に対し十分に敬意を持ったうえで、価値のある授業を行うということでした。

4. Many of the books published by Usborne (UK) for young (native speaker) readers (up to mid-teens) and in a wide variety of interest areas can make for very stimulating contact with the language. A number of books also have Internet links. (See 4.Usborne(英国)が、様々な分野において(十代半ばまでの)若者向けに書いた著書の多くを読むと、言語へのコンタクトを非常に刺激させるものばかりです。その多くはこちらのリンクから見ることができます。(

Introduction and presentation of material

Instead of taking valuable class time for marking attendance, I have found that some form of introductory ‘warm-up activity’ can be very useful while I mark attendances. By placing students in fixed groups, it is very easy to check which group does not have all members attending, and check who is missing.

I use a range of activities as an introduction to the class. You may simply ask students to say hello in English and talk about what they have done since the last class. It is also possible to ask students to do a short ‘learning report’ between classes, asking them to reflect on learning difficulties or ideas which help them to learn better. Each student can read their report to others in the group, and then discuss their ideas.

Another activity is one I call the Paper Ball Game (1). A ball is provided by crumpling up a sheet of paper or bringing (light) juggler’s balls to class. The teacher asks everyone to stand in a circle in their groups, and he then throws a ball to someone in each group as a signal to begin the activity. At the beginning of the course, the teacher carefully and graphically explains that the ball has the magic quality which allows the person holding it to speak only in English, and that in order to free himself of it, he must say something in English. Only when he has done this is he free to throw the ball to anyone in the group he chooses.

Depending on the variations introduced each lesson, the utterance required may be a word or a sentence, a question/answer or the continuation of something said by previous students. The student may have as much time as he likes to make a response, or the game may be speeded up so that each student must say something in a very short period of time. There is almost infinite variety in the type of language that can be elicited through this activity.

In classes based more on discussion of ideas, where students further their research on a certain area between classes, each student in turn can present the results of their research or summarise the main ideas of a written report by talking to a prepared outline, followed by further discussion. With a little organisation, students can already be working by the time the teacher arrives in the classroom.

The teacher then turns to the material being used in the particular class. It depends on the teacher, and on the materials, as to what way he chooses to make a presentation to the whole class. If there is a written text, a simple reading of the text may be a sufficient introduction, or I may comment, explain, or analyse the text and even provide a certain quantity of background information to assist appropriate understanding and appreciation by the students. With certain materials, I will lecture for up to one third, sometimes even a half, of the class period. Where the purpose of the class is ‘reading/translation’, the teacher can similarly present the language and background material before asking the students to work on the text as described below.

The approach chosen will depend largely on the complexity of the materials for a given class, and the desire of the teacher to add his own knowledge. In peer development seminars, the subject for discussion may be known to all, or some presentation may have to be made at the beginning of the meeting.

____________ 1. The first time I saw a paper ball being thrown around a classroom was in a course for teacher trainers given by Pilgrims Teacher Training Courses at the University of Canterbury with John Morgan. 1.私が初めて教室内でボールが飛び交っているのを見たのは、John Morgan氏によるピルグリム教員トレーニングコースでのことでした。

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.

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.

Student presentation

The cross-group pairs may take 15 to 30 minutes in a 75 or 90-minute class. When it is deemed appropriate to terminate this phase, the students are told to return to their groups and to present their section of the material. Again, indications as to what can be done during this phase should be given on the board. Some possibilities would include (ranging from minimal fluency to reasonable fluency or native speaker classes): reading the text aloud, helping the other group members towards an understanding of the text, presenting a summary of the main ideas, presenting one's own ideas about the text, and adding general information concerning the subject matter being covered.

Some students use translation as one means of presentation, though this technique tends to limit useful exchange of information and practice of the target language. Translation could perhaps be more useful in the period of preparation in pairs, especially if limited to those parts of the text which are more difficult to understand. If the class is actually a translation class, then obviously this approach to understanding is highly appropriate. In general, however, this is the one part of the class where students can easily be led to make their entire presentation in English only. The teacher will often be pleasantly surprised that this is possible, and actually happens! If the cross?]group preparation is set up as ‘preparing to present your text in English’, most students accept the challenge.

If the material is at an appropriate level for the class, or has been adequately presented by the teacher beforehand, the presentation of one’s section will normally be a period of quiet and concentrated interaction within the group and will often need a good 30 minutes to complete adequately. This presentation of material to the other group members leads each student to communicate freely and develop a sense of belonging with other members of his group.

Where a fairly free exchange of ideas is possible (and students are often far more capable than teachers give them credit for) the teacher will frequently find an animated discussion taking place which is difficult to stop. Even (language department) teaching colleagues, who may feel uncomfortable about using English in a ‘public’ meeting, will not hesitate to present ideas in English in the ‘privacy’ of a small group discussion. Again the same dynamic applies to the classroom. The student who will be loath to engage in a public interaction with the teacher will only too willingly launch into a complex discussion in the privacy of a group of fellow students he has come to know well.

Group or individual report

As presentations start waning, the students can be asked to produce some form of written synthesis of their activity in order to demonstrate their understanding and appreciation of the class material. This can include joining the one-sentence summaries produced by each member during the preparation phase and then adding a final one-sentence summary of the whole text; or it may lead to making a poster, preparing a written summary, or noting questions to ask the teacher.

If the work being done is more project-based, or implies doing something other than simply working on a text, a ‘secretary’ may write an outline of what is being discussed by others in the group. Many variations are possible, and they will depend on the material, the teacher, and the reaction of the class at the time. 作業が計画に基づくものであったり、単にテキスト使用にとどまらないものである場合は、「書記」を作り、グループ内ディスカッションの概要を書き留めてもらうと効率的でしょう。その時の教材や教員、クラスの反応によって様々なアプローチの仕方が考えられます。

Especially with classes dealing with ideas, where there is some scope for personalising one’s understanding of the content matter, it can be useful to extend the effective learning period of the class through the preparation of a class report. This enables the student to do further research on the area in the library or through the Internet, thus organising his ideas and establishing a personal position in relation to the issues being discussed. He can study the subject in more depth and develop a real sense of individual contribution, rather than simply absorbing what the teacher has said.

Techniques used by the students in preparing the presentation in pairs or small groups and presenting the text in their groups, as well as studying at home, can be suggested by the students themselves. The class can be asked to note over several classes all the methods they use. Each group then puts together the ideas from each member of the group and then a group report can be given to the teacher who collates this information and hands it back to the class as a guide for future use.

As a final step in each lesson, the text or lecture notes for the following class will be handed out and divided into sections enabling each student to prepare the material at home.

At the following lesson, after the introductory activity, students can pass their reports around the group, read, perhaps write a comment on each report, and then discuss the topic in more depth. Another very successful idea is to ask that reports be written from initial outline notes, and then, instead of reading each other’s reports, each person presents an oral summary of their report based on their outline notes. Ideally, reports could be posted to an intranet bulletin board and read before the class. 次回の授業では、最初のアクティビティが終わったら学生は各自のレポートをグループ内で回し、コメントをそれぞれ書くなどしてからディスカッションへと移行していくという形になります。ほかにも非常に効率のいい方法として、学生それぞれに最初のアウトラインノートからレポートを作成させ、回し読みする代わりにレポートの要点を口答で発表させる方法もあります。理想的な形としては、事前にレポートをネット掲示板に載せ、あらかじめ全員が自由に目を通しておけるようになると良いでしょう。

Recognition and remuneration


© William Plain  1990-2016 (print) 2005 - 2016 (website)