We all include group work in class, but what about study groups after class? I was first introduced to the idea of study groups when I taught a presessional English for academic purposes course a few years ago. I now consider them a prerequisite for my students’ progress, especially in EAP courses, but before I move on let’s take a step back.
What is a study group?
Well, as you know or can probably guess, it is a group (of students) that studies/does tasks together usually as part of their homework. Although my experience of study groups is in an EAP context, I have used them with my other learners as well, so I firmly believe that they can be introduced to ANY group of learners, no matter why they are learning English.
How do I set up the groups?
Well, in my EAP classes, each group was formed based on where they lived (I wanted students staying at the same hall of residence to be able to work together) and their English level (I try to form mixed ability groups). I also put students of different nationalities in each group so as to deter the use of the same L1 In any other context you can group your learners based on their fluency and level. Also, make sure you designate roles. Someone will be head of the group, someone will report on the progress of their work etc. Make sure everyone is going to be doing something. Also, from time to time switch roles. You could also introduce the paper clip contribution procedure to ensure everyone has done something as part of their study group task. So, if each student has 5 paper clips, then that is how many contributions they must at least make to the group.
A twist: I tell my students to record themselves when they are in their study groups. But…..Why?
Well, back in the days when I first got my students into study groups, I asked them about it The discussion went like this:
Joanna: “So, how was it? Did you enjoy studying together?”
Students: ” Yes, It was great. We really enjoyed it!”
Joanna: ” Did it help you learn? Was it easier to do things with the help of your classmates?”
Students: ” Of course, Joanna!!”
Joanna: “……Were you talking in English?”
and then came the…”OK, so now I want you to record yourselves while doing your group homework, and……. you need to use English when in your study groups!”
The next day they all came in with big smiles on their faces and all volunteered to share their recordings. “Here, Joanna!! Listen to us, we are talking in English!!” After that, I did not have to ask for recordings, they just brought them to me and when I forgot to ask for the PROOF they reminded me : )
So, recordings ensure that EVERYONE is using English and give my students the opportunity to listen to themselves and how they did as a group and as individuals in this group.
When do I use them?
Ideas for study group tasks
Well, the sky is your limit of course. Here are some suggestions for tasks:
- Any kind of project or infographic
- A research project
- A poster presentation
- A peer feedback activity where one student looks at the other’s writing/research paper and offers advice
- A group play, poem song
- Reading a text and doing the exercises together
- many more…..
- Students work together and learn from each other. Such groups help team building and promote cooperation.
- Everybody has to contribute which gives a sense of achievement to all learners.
- They have more opportunities to use English outside the classroom.