Group Work in College ESL Classrooms
College ESL Classrooms
For about three decades, the nature of learning has shifted from traditional
teacher-led discussions to being constructivist with the increasing use of group
work in second language classes. Though there are differing views on the
efficacy of letting students take control of their learning, the use of group
work was proved to be effective in establishing communicative excellence among
class members. In most ESL classrooms, attainment of goals for effective group
work participation can be influenced by factors such as willingness to
cooperate, language proficiency, and social backgrounds. Additionally, there is
a great demand on ensuring that the roles and relationships of teachers and
students are properly disseminated, understood and maintained for the strategies
to work. Perhaps, one of the biggest challenges group work may face is students’
perception on its reliability to influence learning. This is because many of the
ESL students at the university level have a different cultural orientation with
differing beliefs on who should take charge for learning to happen.
Just like every effective lecture held, group work should be designed
thoroughly so all students are engaged in activities. This can be done by making
students work together on a concept rather than doing the traditional class
work. When grouped, students are not only forced to work with each other but are
also given the chance to improve communication and people skills.
What is Group Work?
Group work is defined as a pedagogical strategy that promotes working together
in a team, composed of members having different abilities and using these
abilities to accomplish a desired outcome. All members must play their roles to
benefit one another and maximize learning by working together on a topic. A
technique that helps develop interpersonal skills, it enhances members’ ability
to crack down difficult concepts and develops critical thinking. Additionally,
it provides the chance for students to teach and learn from each other. Since
the success of the group relies on the over-all outcome, each member is expected
to contribute knowledge on an assigned sub-part.
Three Main Types of Group Work
Group work has many offshoots, but generally, it is classified into three types.
These are collaboration, interaction and cooperation. The following are the
distinguishing features of each type:
Collaboration – involves two or more people learning or
attempting to learn something together. Members benefit from each students'
skills, knowledge and support on information sharing, evaluation of work,
and monitoring of progress or understanding. A product of social
constructivism, this is designed to provide learners with an environment
where members are actively sharing experiences and taking charge of each
other's learning. It entails shared responsibility to ensure group members
of varying abilities have the grasp of the concepts the teacher gave out for
discussion or exploration.
Interaction – starts with the teacher creating engaging topics
that trigger different opinions based on the students’ schema. As the
students start to utter responses, the teacher will group class members to
work on a related material on their own. Often times, these materials are
the categories that made up the topic of the lecture as a whole. As the
activity progresses, students are given the opportunity to interact directly
with their teacher and group members. It gives students the chance to apply
what was learned by expressing their opinions and findings from group
discussions, confirming their relevance or acceptability.
Cooperation – is making use of groups as an instructional circle
where members work together to achieve a common goal. With the instruction
from the teacher, students help each other understand and accomplish work
together. Since students are working to mutually benefit the entire group,
they value the each member's share of the work. This is commonly done when a
teacher assigns a topic for discussion by the group. Given a topic to
tackle, for example, each member must contribute ideas on making it
understandable and to the standard. Based on the idea of “we all swim or
sink together”, students are expected to make a group of brains crack a
Reasons to Use Group Work in College ESL Classrooms
The use of group work does not only lessen the work of the teacher, but shifts
focus from the teacher to the student taking control or contributing to their
own learning. Here are the top ten benefits of group work in language classes:
- Helps develop independent learning. Because students are given
the chance to work on their own, they take charge of their own learning.
They will be forced to read further to understand a difficult concept and
contribute to group work. With their roles in accomplishing goals, they are
likely to develop a sense of responsibility to supply other group members
with ideas on a topic assigned.
- Fosters positive relationships among class members. With
competition ever present in any type of classroom, group work makes members
work together toward a common goal, and thus, lessens competition between
members. When there is peer support, concepts assigned to a group member
will be explained in a level understandable to the group. With this, they
are able to develop trust and confidence on each other’s contribution,
making them able to work with each other smoothly.
- Provides opportunities for language practice with peers. Because
many college ESL classrooms are diverse, students working in a group will be
forced to communicate with each other to perform tasks. As they communicate
with group members, they are not only sharing the ideas related to the topic
but are given exposure to vocabulary, accent and language use essential for
developing their communication skills.
- Creates an environment for speaking and listening practice. When
people in a group are sharing ideas or views, they take turns in being
speakers and listeners. This makes groups a rich source of language
practice. Students will get to listen to peers speaking English, most likely
in a way they use in their home countries. It means they will get to hear
English spoken by someone from Asia, South America, or Africa. Eventually,
the experience fosters understanding what was uttered when they meet other
people of the same background outside of the school.
- Develops self-esteem and promotes academic achievement. Without
the capacity to communicate fluently in the language, students are likely to
shy away from participating in discussions. With their limited chances for
language use, they might even fail to acquire English. Because groups can be
an avenue for language practice with lesser teacher intervention, students
are at ease to communicate with peers, and thus, unconsciously, develop
self-esteem. Consequently, when they are ready, the ability to talk in front
of many people may be achieved. This, then, will open doors for students to
reach the academic goals.
- Increases opportunities to negotiate meanings. Diverse classrooms
mean different interpretations, views and opinions. As ESL students get
involved in group work, they struggle to understand and get understood. This
is true as people from different countries assign a word in English for a
specific situation happening locally. As they are to meet in a group, they
will have to negotiate for meanings to get messages across. This challenged
both speakers and listeners to learn new vocabulary, idioms and expressions
previously foreign to them.
- Lessens individual workload. Having to do all the activities
alone is stressful. Most of the time, when students are unable to finish
assignments, they tend to copy from each other. This will lead to higher
scores but lower proficiency as they only get answers without understanding
concepts fully. When exposed to group work, students do not only have to
focus on one topic before sharing, but also given some relief as far as how
much work should be done at once. Since group members are tasked to make
everyone understand the assigned part of the topic, they still get to grasp
the concepts with much less stress.
Develops friendship with class members from other cultures. ESL
classrooms can bridge gaps between cultures where students came from.
Stereotypes about other countries and their people do not only foster
animosity but also unwillingness to communicate. When students are working
in a group of different cultural backgrounds, language is not the only thing
they learn. As they share experiences, they might as well know the beliefs
of a certain country leading them to understand why taboos might actually
not be general. As they develop friendship with classmates, communication in
English is likely to continue even after attending classes.
- Gives room for learning styles and preferences. Some learners are
visual, some are aural. Additionally, others may learn easier from books
while some from online resources. As members function independently to
understand assigned topics to discuss with the group, they deal with
research and a study style unique from all others. With the responsibility
to make peers understand, they make use of their preferred learning style to
deepen understanding. Quite different from traditional class instruction
where students have to read together or do course work, group work and its
assignments provide students with flexible ways to understand and explain
- Provides opportunities to share ideas and clarify concepts. Most
students will find it difficult to talk to a large audience or the teacher,
so many would hesitate to share ideas. When working in groups, anxiety
levels are much lower as members are aware they are sharing information with
people who have a similar degree of knowledge. Because they are not afraid
of being graded with wrong answers, they are likely to talk and clarify
knowledge with their peers. Corrections will also appear less fearful as
they are not directly heard or marked by teachers. Sharing a common goal,
members develop trust that each member will contribute ideas and correct
misunderstandings for the overall success of the group.
The continual rise in the number of international students in English-speaking
countries has accelerated the spread of the English language. With the
diversity, teachers are to design strategies and apply concepts that trigger
students to learn not only from the teacher but among themselves. The popularity
of group work has lessened structured class work and transformed classrooms into
interactive, collaborative and cooperative ones. Studies revealed that with
proper teacher intervention and monitoring, students involved in group work
consistently learn better than those in traditional classes.
group work triggers cooperation and peer support, students develop a more
positive outlook about going to school. Finally, with its less-threatening
environment, classrooms that make use of group work help develop students who
are confident to achieve their educational goals.
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