When you decide to run an activity in your class, there are a few things you should consider, before actually starting the activity. Aside from some of the more obvious things like if the activity is appropriate for the students age and level, in my experience you also need to consider if the activity is to be done individually, in pairs or groups and with that comes the consideration of the level of each individual student and how they interact with other students in the classroom.
Word of Advice!
For activities that can be done individually, you naturally do not have to worry too much about how students interact with other students in the class. In groups. it is quite easy to make sure that everyone gets included in one way or another, but when you match students up in pairs, you really do have to consider their individual level and their relationship to the other students in the class. You may very well think that two students are the two smartest and that they could work together, but if they are constantly fighting not only will they never finish the activity, they will also disturb everyone else in the classroom.
Depending on the size of your class, groups should take different sizes and try your best to mix students who interact well as well as students who are at different levels. If you put all strong students in one group and all the weaker students in another group, chances are the strong students will finish and be sitting and waiting for the weaker ones. I try and divide my students into two halves. The strongest and the weakest. Let’s call the strong students Group A and the weaker students Group B. Now, in both those groups, you will have stronger and weaker students. What i try and do, is to group the strongest A students together with the Strongest B students. That way, the strong students will not feel like they are being dragged down by the weaker students, and in turn, the weaker students won’t feel as useless. I then do the same with the next group, but they are the weaker of the strong students, and the weaker of the weak students. This ensures that maybe the overall ability of each team is not matched up, but the students in their teams are closer to each other in level and I feel that this is more conducive to them working together efficiently.
How to assign students into groups or pairs
When you start assigning the students into the groups and pairs, depending on the number of students you have, try and use hand gestures, easy team names and other helpful things like team names, a team logo or something so that the students know what team they are on. At my previous school in Luoyang, classrooms often had up to 18 students. They were always arranged in a horse-shoe with six students to the left, six students in the back and six students to the right. In this way, the students know their groups simply by how they were sitting. In a similar way you can move students around to form groups in the classroom. You can also number the students one by one, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 and then ask all the 1’s to get together, the 2’s to get together and, of course, the 3’s to get together. Use your hands and your voice a lot to get their attention and make sure they follow you. In the same way, use your arm to “cut” the students into groups or especially pairs. Point with your hands at the two students who are forming a pair and show all the pairs clearly.
Once you have all your groups, try to nominate a team captain from each group, especially if you have a lot of groups. Use them to relay information to your groups, help you hand out papers and materials to avoid chaos and explain the activity in detail to them, so that they can help explain to their group.
If one or two groups finish long before the rest of the class, you can give them some kind of extension activity or, in some cases, you can ask those students to help other groups finish their tasks. Keep an eye on how many students are sitting and waiting for others. If 75% of your class has finished your task and you have run out of the assigned time for your activity, it is okay to stop here and go your your post-activity discussion.