TTT Teaching Tips:
Interaction Patterns for Large Classes
June 23, 2015
Recently published in English Learner Lighthouse Teachers' Paper
As teachers we have some challenges helping our students become more accurate and more fluent in their use of English. While there are good techniques for developing accuracy (more about these in a later article), we often experience that, despite our best efforts, the gains in fluency seem to be quite modest.
We have to ask why, when we have a subject (language) which originated in a human need to communicate, and we have a large class of students who can communicate well in their mother tongue, we have so few opportunities for our students to develop fluency through communication in our classrooms. The authors of this article have observed many lessons and found it not unusual in an entire lesson that students may not communicate at all, or communicate for as little as 1 minute of lesson time.
The problem is often attributed to the pressures of getting through the text book; the need to prepare for exams; large numbers of students in the classroom; student expectations that teachers should be doing the teaching in the classroom; a fear that if we allow students to do too much talking, they will be distracted and very little will be learned; an underlying issue which is that we don’t know how to do it; and of course if we did, what they would be communicating about if we asked them to do it.
There are two key issues we can address to solve our problem. The first one is the kinds of partnering we set up for the students when they are doing tasks, and the second the kinds of tasks we ask students to do to improve communication and fluency.
In this article we offer a series of interaction patterns for students which have proved to be very successful in large classrooms. We do not have space in this article to address kinds of tasks, but it is good to remember that tasks for students should be appropriate to their age, and be meaningful, interesting and challenging.
The patterns we refer to here are Partner 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6, and are designed for classrooms where large numbers of students sit in rows. The teacher takes a little time at the beginning of the first lesson to explain whose partner is whose. The easiest way is to show a display on a projector, or draw on the board. This should also be the time when students have their first experience of the effect. The teacher may say, ‘Turn to your number 1 partner, say Hi and then talk about what you did before class today’. Later in the lesson you may say, for example, ‘Turn to your number 1/2/3/4/6 partner(s) and discuss your answer for question 2’; or ‘Turn to your number 1/2/3/4/6 partners(s) and explain why you chose your answers to the reading questions.’
When we have explored setting tasks more in a coming issue, we will show how this partnering can be used to develop fluency and accuracy, while remaining focused on the lesson objectives.