Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Praise of silence... some musing on pair work.

An ex-colleague and I used to disagree over whether it was better to put students into pairs immediately, or let them look at something on their own first, and then pair them up. He used to ask students to work alone first but I was of the opinion that getting them into pairs asap was always good; they could check they’d understood the task, work collaboratively, help each other; it’s a learning process not a test I would say. But I’ve been thinking about this again. Maybe students think at different speeds. Maybe they need some time to work out what is going on, to gather their thoughts. Maybe the quiet ones have just not had enough time to think. Maybe STT should stand for student thinking time. Maybe I was scared of the silence that thinking time would bring. 


  1. I find this post thought-provoking. As a student I hated pair or group work of all kinds. I did not process things in the same order as the other students in my class. I eventually arrived at similar answers, but I took a lot longer. As a teacher, I'm a big fan of STT (great acronym!). I think students deserve time to think for themselves before they have to articulate it to a partner, group, or class. On the other hand, I can see where silence in a communicative classroom can be a little disturbing. I guess it depends on the results.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to the blog. I too have the experience of disliking pair work as a student but doing it as a teacher. Possibly building in some alone time is the answers. Thanks again for the comment.

  3. At our school we have a general principle of Think - Pair - Share. thinking time, group work time and then feedback to the rest of the group. It seams to work pretty well to give STT, everyone gets a chance to speak and they know that other people will get to hear their opinions or comments.
    I remember reading in Scott Thornbury's "How to teach speaking" advice on giving students time to think and how it leads to increased fluency and accuracy.
    Basically, I'm a big fan of the idea but go against it sometimes too and give students pair or group work straight away (to keep them on their toes!)

  4. Thanks for the reply Chris, I agree with what you say especially in your last line where you mix it up a bit; that's the fun part of teaching.
    When I wrote the original post I was also thinking about when I ask students to do a guided discovery activity or a vocabulary matching etc as well and not just speaking.
    Thanks again for taking the time to read and respond.

  5. Another thought provoking 140 words...
    I too always used to put students straight into pairs on the basis that they could support each other, but I now think there are good arguments for not always doing it the same way. Think mixing it up is good, as Chris says.
    Your post reminded me of multiple intelligences actually. I'm not even sure I believe in them as such- or at least not that they can be easily defined and assigned- but I do think that some people are naturally more interpersonally inclined, and others more intrapersonal, and that it's always good to provide some different ways of doing things to try and meet different needs.

  6. Rachael, thanks for the comment. I guess your last line is the tinkering I was talking about in my previous post. Finding out what suits our students respond to best and not doing things automatically.
    thanks again for reading and responding.