This discussion is in reference to how we as ESL teachers handle partner and group work, also in response to reading assignment provided. (Source: Rance-Roney, Judith A., Reconceptualizing Interactional Groups: Grouping Schemes for Maximizing Language Learning, .pdf article from English Teaching Forum, 2010. Link: https://d396qusza40orc.cloudfront.net/shaping1landscape/week2/w2-rance-roney-pair-group_work.pdf
I work with a range of students, from Kinder to 5th grade (so about 5 years to 11 years old), rotating them in a “pull-out” model throughout the day, into my room during instructional time. Similarly, I must vary the strategies used for grouping, particularly because I function as English Language support staff at my school. My groupings are determined more by who showed up that day, first! Then I look at the proficiency levels, especially when deciding on scaffolding the engagement. My average group is about 3, with the largest being 4 in the Kinder and the 5th grade groups. I pull them for about an hour each day (Kindergarten 30 mins. average). Depending on the task, I usually open with about 15 minutes of whole-group instruction, checking for prior knowledge and building background. A lot of modeling goes on at this time, along with checking for understanding.
I ensure participation during this stage by use of “opportunity sticks”, “think, pair, share” (with 4 in the group), or random selection. No one is ever left out, but if a student is less vocal or is struggling because of proficiency, I have them “phone a friend”…that is, they turn to a trusted group member, and ask them what they think about a possible response. I allow for a certain amount of time (about 2 mins of private discussion, more if the question is complex), then the same student who asked for assistance from peers must attempt a response. If it is correct, I acknowledge the student, as well as the peer helping. If incorrect, I know to reteach immediately, providing feedback with no judgement.
For group/partner work stage, a technique I find that works well is role-playing: for example, my 5th grade group, whom are mostly nearing proficiency, partner up and ask questions/respond using prompts from a selection (example: George Washington biography-George responds to questions from American Soldiers, such as “Why are we crossing the Delaware River?” and then George must respond with a fact from the reading). Also effective: Partnering for games (mixed proficiency),such as Matching pictures to vocabulary, or puzzle piece sentence parts for grammar. If I am in a position to attempt group work with three (which is most often the case), I choose activities and response models that facilitate group responsibilities, like those outlined in the course reading, such as “jigsaw” reading, and assigning roles (writer, reader, speaker).
It really has to be pretty flexible, because when I plan, I never know who is going to be absent that day, and I cannot always cancel or move a lesson when this happens.We have a lot of trust within our groups at this stage…my biggest challenge has been to “let go”: increase student “talk time” while decreasing mine (ask more questions, like “Why did you draw that conclusion?” then turn over discussion to the peers); I have accepted that there will be “dead air” from time to time, so I also bring in other ways to respond: such as personal white boards, or thumbs up/down, etc. We keep improving on group work, everyday.
Addendum: On grouping strategies for diverse partnering: I have successfully used one called “Puzzle Partners” in my larger classrooms: I take colored index cards, cut them in half with a “puzzle edge”, so that only the other half can be matched to it. I then have the students get up, and seek out their puzzle partner. This can backfire a bit when students in a class are an uneven number, so I usually give the remaining student an option to join another puzzle partnership, and call it a “three-up”. Then, I will collect the cards, mix them up again, and redistribute for another discussion or activity.