Topic 22B – Variables to consider in organizing class English: Grouping students, distribution of time and space, selection of methodologies, teacher’s role, etc.

Topic 22B – Variables to consider in organizing class English: Grouping students, distribution of time and space, selection of methodologies, teacher’s role, etc.



a. Lockstep.

b. Pair work.

c. Group work.

d. Individual work.


a. Space management.

b. Time management.


a. The teacher’s role.

b. The learner’s role.


a. Selection of activities.

b. Planning principles in methodology selection.





In this topic we will analyse various aspects of class management which we must take into account for achievement of effective teaching. These aspects include the student groupings, the space and time management, the methodology selection and the role of the teacher.

This topic is of prime relevance since class management involves the efficiency of the teacher and the learning activities.


We will first discuss the pros and cons of various interaction patterns: lockstep, pair work, group work and individual study.

It is advisable to use the different groupings.

2.1 – Lockstep.

Lockstep is the traditional teaching situation. All the students work as a group with the teacher ( they are ‘locked’ into some activity ) and the teacher acts as controller and assessor.

This type of grouping is used when the teacher provides feedback or gives instructions.

a) Advantages.

Lockstep has certain advantages:

ü The whole class are concentrating and the learner’s attention span is then improved.

ü Everyone can hear what is being said.

ü The students get a good language model from the teacher.

ü Many students find lockstep very comforting.

b) Disadvantages.

There are also reasons why the use of lockstep alone is less than satisfactory:

ü Students working in lockstep get little chance to practise. Besides, they do not use language in real-life situations.

ü Lockstep usually goes at the wrong pace: either the teacher is too slow for the good students or he/she is too fast for the weak students.

2.2 Pair work.

a) Procedures for pairwork.

It pairwork is to be successful, certain procedures need to be followed.

I. Make sure the students know exactly what the have to do. Explain the activity and practise as necessary.

II. Divide the students into pairs ( taking advantage of the way the are seated ). Depending on the type of activity, make sure that students take it in turns to initiate and respond ( e. g. ask and answer questions ).

III. Carry out selective checking, walking round the class and listening in Join in with a pair from time to time, especially with those students who are likely to need your help. If you feel that an activity is going badly, stop it, re-present it to the class and let the students start again.

IV. Control noise level by stopping an activity and asking the students to start again more quietly.

V. Gauge the amount of tune an activity should go on for. Stop the activity when most students have had a reasonable amount of practice.

VI. Provide any necessary feedback. Tell the students how well they have done.

b) Advantages.

Pair work has the following advantages:

ü It increases the amount of students’ talking time as they are presented with opportunities for productive practice.

ü It develops socialization skills and attitudinal contents (cooperation, participation, autonomy and responsibility), which contribute to create a good atmosphere in the classroom.

c) Disadvantages

However, pair work has several disadvantages:

ü The students will sometimes use their mother tongue. Apart from selecting activities which we can be reasonably sure are not beyond the level of the students and in preparing them if necessary with some essential language (especially in the early stages), there are a number of things we can do to help overcome this problem:

· Explain to the students why they are doing activities of this kind: i.e. that this is an opportunity to use English.

· Demonstrate whenever possible how they can ‘get round’ difficulties , i.e. through alternative expressions.

· Encourage the students to consultus if they have real difficulties.

· Ask them at least from time to time to impose self-discipline, e.g. through a penalty system which requires them to pay a small fine if they use the mother tongue. This can be done in a fun-like way so that the students actually enjoy catching one another out.

ü Incorrectness is another problem as many students think that if they are not corrected, they do not learn.

ü Teachers sometimes worry about noise when pair work is used.

2.3. Group work

a) Organising group work.

a) Forming groups. The size of the groups should be worked out in relation to the total number of students in the class. As a general rule, we could say that there should be 5-8 students in each group and not more than 5-6 groups in the class. The teacher should normally form the groups, usually on the basis of mixed ability ( i.e. good and weak students together) since as a rule learners do help one another.

b) Group leader. Each group should have its own ‘leader’. The function of the group leader is not to dominate the group but to coordinate their activities and to serve as a link between the group and the teacher.

c) The role of the teacher. These are some of the things the teacher must do:

ü Select activities carefully. The teacher should ensure that the activities can be done reasonably well with the language the students have at their disposal.

ü Work out the instructions for an activity carefully. Keep instructions simple, and if necessary use the mother tongue.

ü Present the activity to the class. Give plenty of examples and give the students a ‘trial run’.

ü Monitor the students’ performance. While the activities are in progress, the teacher’s main task is to move around the class and to ‘listen in’ discreetly in order to find out how the students are getting on. The teacher should not, as a rule, correct mistakes of language during a group activity but make a note of them and use them as the basis of feedback.

d) Provide feedback.

b) Advantages

Group work offers the following advantages:

ü It increases the amount of student’s talking time.

ü It gives the students the opportunity of using language to communicate with each other.

ü Itdevelops socialization skills and attitudinal contents.

c) Disadvantages

Group work has the same disadvantages as pair work: use of the first language, incorrectness and noise.

The size of the groups depends on the activity type, whether it is a dialogue, a debate, a game, etc. When the class is divided into two groups, we speak of team work. Team work is not often used because it involves less pupil participation.

2.4. Individual Study

We must try and let students work on their own and at their own pace at some stage during the class.

This type of grouping can be used for reading and writing work.


3.1. Space management.

Space bears a direct relationship to the activities to be done, and an indirect relationship to the methodology.

There are different ways of organising the classroom:

a) Traditional seating arrangement. The students sit in rows facing the teaching. It is up-front teaching: the teacher is at the front of the class as the focus.

There is not a close relationship between the teacher and the students. Therefore this seating arrangement does not foster communication.

This type of class arrangement is suitable for the beginning and the end of the lesson, the representation stage, and individual work: exams, written exercises, compositions, silent reading. This distribution does not favour communication, and the position of the teacher is of distance and difference with respect to the pupils.

b) Circle, teacher out. This kind of arrangement favours communication, since the pupils can see each other. As the teacher is out, the pupils feel more comfortable.

This type of arrangement is suitable for debates, discussions, games. It is typical of the methods Community Language Learning, Total Physical Response and The Silent Way.

c) Circle, teacher inside. The role of the teacher is to provide help when necessary. It is suitable for every kind of communication activity.

d) Horse shoe. The students are seated in a semicircle and the teacher is in the middle. It is suitable for every kind of activity: drills, games, debates, etc. This grouping favours communication.

e) Boarding meetings. It is used for activities involving a lot of material (reports, project work ). The desks are placed together and the pupils sit around.

f) Streams. The pupils are seated in two parallel rows facing the blackboard or facing each other. The most suitable activity to use this type of arrangement is the debate.

g) Mix and mingle. Every student is in a different position, all looking at the teacher. This type of arrangement is suitable for many oral games.

h) Learning stations. The class is divided into groups of 4, 6 or eight students, each group like a station in which different activities are done and where the pupils can change positions.

3.2. Time management

Time plays a decisive role in the learning process, since we can plan objectives, contents and activities according to the length of lessons.

We must take into account the psychological characteristics of our pupils and design varied and short activities as their concentration span is short.

On the other hand, w should plan realistic timings for the completion of certain activities (games, discussions) and design activities for the end of the lesson, in case we run out of material.

We will now present the different types of timetable:

a) Open timetable. It allows the students to plan the activities of the day, and so requires careful activity: planning and material organization.

b) Flexible timetable. Lessons can be shorter or longer. The advantage of this type of timetable is that it is adapted to the needs of the syllabus.

c) Traditional timetable. There is a fixed number of fifty-minute lesson given by the same teacher in the same classroom.

d) Modular timetable. The school day is divided into modules of 20 minutes. The English lesson may cover two successive modules one day, three the next day, two the next day. There are certain activities that can be done in one module, like conversation in small groups.


4.1. The teacher’s role.

The role of the teacher, then, will depend to a large extent on the activity type. We will examine the roles of controller, assessor, prompter, participant and resource.

4.1.1. Controller/ Conductor

The teacher acts as a controller at the presentation stage, at the practice stage and in lockstep activities.

At the presentation stage, the teacher checks that all the students have understood the form and meaning of the new language item.

At the practice stage, the teacher elicits responses, provides cues in drills, works out the instructions for the activities and check that the pupils are doing the activity in the proper way.

4.1.2. Assessor

The teacher will correct the students’ mistakes at the practice stage. He /She should also assess how well they are performing.

On the other hand, the teacher will encourage self-assessment. In this way the pupils will become more responsible, autonomous and independent, and they will get more involved in the learning process, which is very important, as it is the centre of learning and a point of reference.

The teacher must also assess his/her own work as teacher.


The success of many activities depends on good organization and on the students knowing exactly what they have to do.

The main aim of the teacher when organising an activity is to give clear instructions and get the activity going.

4.1.4. Prompter

The teacher will encourage the students to participate or make suggestions about how to carry out an activity when there is a silence or when do not know what to do next.

4.1.5. Participant

The teacher will sometimes act as a participant. This will contribute to create a pleasant atmosphere in the class, and will also give the students the opportunity of practising English with someone who speaks it better than they do.

4.1.6. Resource

The teacher should always be willing to offer help if necessary.

4.2. The learner’s role

One of the major changes in foreign language teaching refers to the learner’s role.

Whereas in the traditional foreign language methods the learner assumed a passive role, the teacher being the focus, in the communicative approach the learner plays an active role and is responsible for their own learning.

On the other methods, such as The Silent Way and Suggestopedia, the students are encouraged to become independent.


5.1. Selection of activities

The learning and assessment activities will aim to develop the students’ communicative competence and to practise the four language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) taking into account that following the Foreign Language Area Curriculum in Primary Education, aural/oral skills will be stressed over written skills.

The activities will be selected according to the stage of the lesson:

*At the practice stage, we will design pre-communicative activities, which will prepare the students for using the new language in real communication. The activities will be oral guided: drills, short dialogues, exercises…

*At the production stage, the pupils will do free speaking and written activities which engage them in real communication: simulations, role-plays, discussions, information gap activities, problem solving activities, compositions, games, etc.

With regard to assessment, there are many ways of assessing the students’ progress from class observation to objective test. Evaluation should be continuous and global.

5.2. Planning Principles in Methodology selection.

On the other hand, we must take into consideration two planning principles in methodology selection:

a) Variety

Variety mainly means using a wide range of materials and activities in the classroom.

There are many ways of introducing variety within a lesson:

– We can use a wide range of activities and materials.

– We can change the seating arrangements for different activities.

– We can use the coursebook in different ways.

We should introduce variety for three reasons:

– The students’ motivation will be better.

– Our pupils’ attention span is short and they thus need to do different things.

– Lessons will be more enjoyable.

b) Flexibility

Flexibility means the ability to use different techniques, activities and materials depending on the students’ level.


§ In this topic we have analysed various aspects of class management including student groupings, the distribution of space and time, the role of the teacher and the learner, and the selection of methodology.

§ We also have described briefly the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of interaction: lockstep, pair work, group work and individual study.

§ Space bears a direct relationship to the activities to be done, and an indirect relationship to the methodology.

Time is also a relevant element in the teaching process, since we plan objectives, contents and activities according to the length of lessons.

§ The role of the teacher depends to a large extent on the activity type. We have examined the roles of controller, assessor, prompter, participant and resource.

§ In the learning process, pupils are responsible for their own learning and should develop autonomy.

§ In the last part of the topic we have focused on methodology selection. We have centred on different types of learning activities according to the stage of the lesson.

§ Finally we have enumerated two essential learning principles: Variety and flexibility.

Variety means mainly using a wide range of materials and activities in the classroom.

Flexibility means the ability to use different techniques, activities and materials depending on the students’ level.



* Lockstep – Advantages


*Pair work – Procedures of pair work

– Advantages

– Disadvantages

* Group work – Organising group work

– Advantages

– Disadvantages

* Individual work


* Space management – Traditional seating arrangement

– Circle, teacher out

– Circle, teacher inside

– Horse shoe

– Boarding meeting

– Streams

– Mix and mingle

– Learning stations

* Time management – Types of timetable


*Teacher’s roles – Controller

– Assessor

– Organiser

– Prompter

– Participant

– Resource

* Learner’s roles


*Selection of activities – Learning activities- Pre-communicative activities

– Communicative activities

*Planning principles – Variety

– Flexibility


§ BURT, K.M. & DUKAY, H.C., New Directions in Second Language Learning: A Guidebook for ESL/EFL Teachers. MacGraw Hill International Book Company.

§ CRYSTAL, D. Lenguaje infantil. Aprendizaje y Lingüística. Medico-técnica. Barcelona, 1981.

§ DIXON, R.J. Practical Guide to the Teaching of English. Regent Publishing Co., New York, 1975.

§ HARMER, JEREMY., The Practice of English Language Teaching. Longman Handbooks for Language Teachers. Longman 1983.

This book is a complete guide and reference work for all teachers of English as a foreign or second language.

§ HONEY & MUNFORD, Manual of Learning Styles. Cambridge, 1992.

§ NUNAD, DAVID., Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge, 1989.

§ VANK, E. K., The Threshold Level. Council of Europe, 1975.

§ WIDOSH, H. J., Teaching English as Communication. Oxford U. P., 1978.