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Shell out for speakers

Sue Cowley looks at the do's and don'ts of group work in class.I love group work: that moment when you finish talking to the class, let go of the reins and say, "Get on with it." Sometimes the pupils seize the opportunity. They offer opinions, share ideas, fully engage with the task. Other times ... not so great.

Group work can be risky. If one pupil takes over, pass a conch around so everyone gets a chance to speak. Ask pupils to take on counter-intuitive roles - the pushy lion playing a sensitive mouse, the stomping elephant becoming a wise owl.

Sometimes pupils go almost instantly off task, preferring social chat to focused learning. Before you pass the buck, consider the work you've set. Is the activity engaging, purposeful and clearly explained? Have you kept the time short and set clear targets?

Once work is under way, it's tempting to pounce on a group to see what they're doing, but this can make pupils freeze.

Better to take an overview of the class and focus on those who need it. Alternatively, you could try something radical - like sitting down and having a rest. It's not illegal, you know

Sue Cowley is an educational author, trainer and presenter. Her books include Guerilla Guide to Teaching (Continuum). Visit

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