The Value of Groups
Using groups and group activities rather than traditional row seating can provide considerable educational benefits to ELL students. In a group setting, students usually hear more spoken language as they negotiate the meaning of an activity or texts. They interact with other class members and learn cultural and social meanings associated with group activities. Most importantly, what they learn from these situations are contextual uses of language.
With group activities, students need to interact with a wide range of different individuals with their own ideas, values and forms of speech. To work effectively in groups, they need to negotiate the meaning of words, phrases, and sentence structures that go beyond the text or contents of the activity. To do this, students rephrase their language modeling different ways of speaking; seek clarification from students exercising questioning skills and learning more than they would from a student-teacher interaction. It can also provide a safe space for students to try out different uses of language with immediate feedback from other students.
Group work also provides students the context in which certain forms of language ought to be used. Knowing how to phrase a question or make a statement to convey a meaning better models the usage of English speakers outside of the classroom. It moves beyond language exercises which construct artificial uses to a more realistic and purposeful use. As such, students can learn the common uses of language, as well as, have a sense of purpose in what they learn.
Moreover, any gaps in a student's background can be filled in by group work. They can ask their peers questions about social or cultural artifacts that the student doesn't know. Moreover, they can share their own knowledge to bring a new perspective about a subject and feel rewarded by their peers.
Tips for group activities
Give clear and simple instructions. Give them in sequences (1,2,3). Moreover, it is strongly suggested that teachers write down the steps of the activity, so that students can refer back to the instructions. (Have students rephrase the instructions to ensure they understand.)
Highlight new vocal and synonyms in texts or activities. Make sure to explain each new word either verbally or through prior activity.
Information gap actives like carousels can enhance the level of discussion and make students use the vocabulary required for the topic.
Remember that with older ELL students you need to give cognitively demanding material with easier language. This may require scaffolding the group lesson to ensure students are intellectually engaged.