Many teacher manuals encourage the inclusion of group work in class activities, naming benefits including increased productivity, creativity and motivation. Still, to make the most of group work tasks and these advantages, teachers and learners must be aware that working in a team involves navigating certain challenges, which some basic training can help with. In her new book, Successful Group Work, Patrice Palmer therefore presents a selection of activities which aim to foster the development of the relevant skills and maximise students’ learning in group tasks.
Patrice Palmer taught English for speakers of other languages for twenty years before parlaying her experience into a business. She now teaches online courses, writes English-language-teaching materials and blogs, and designs courses. Palmer received her bachelor of arts degree from York University, Canada. She holds a master of education degree in teaching, learning, and development from Brock University; a second master of arts degree from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto; and an OCELT certification. In addition to teaching college-level communication courses, Palmer has developed English-language curricula for Hong Kong secondary schools and vocational programs. She also wrote An A–Z Guide: How to Survive and Thrive as a New ESL Teacher and Dream Beyond the Classroom: The Essential Teacher to Teacherpreneur Toolkit.
The activities Patrice presents aim at building a foundation for good teamwork, and can help students to develop skills that will therefore be useful even beyond the classroom setting. They are not aimed specifically at language learners, but can be used in any subject classroom – though the target group of language learners is quite obvious in some activities.
Thirteen activities are presented, which each train a particular skill relevant for successful group work. They seem to roughly follow the ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing’ stages of successful team formation: Some are most relevant at the initial stages (e.g. team building), and some towards the end of a group project (e.g. reflection and evaluation). Patrice’s suggestion is the activities should function as a complete course, training students to work in teams, and should all be worked through before they embark on a group task. Still, the activities can also be used individually, for example to focus on a specific teamwork skill that students need to improve, as they are relevant to different stages of a team task.
Many of the activities require very little preparation, and the instructions include realistic timing suggestions (there are shorter and longer activities) that can help teachers with quick planning. Patrice has provided examples of words, questions, checklists etc. that can be used for the activities, and these could also help teachers to develop their own more targeted version of the activities presented here. The instructions also include ‘debriefing’ questions which can promote fruitful discussions and help students reflect on their learning, which I find a particularly good idea – especially if some students are not keen on group work, this kind of discussion may increase their receptivity to such tasks.
In the appendix, Patrice has also provided some ideas on how to group students (e.g. alphabteically, according to study programme, counting off), which will be an excellent resource for novice teachers and those wishing to ‘spice up’ their classroom groupings.
In general, I was aware of most of the activities presented here, often from business settings, but having concrete ideas for how they can be used in a classroom is very helpful. The book is targeted at secondary / post-secondary learners, but I feel some adult education class groups may dislike the nature of some tasks – I can imagine some of my adult learners (German businessmen!) feeling they’re a bit ‘childish’. Still, explaining the goals of the activity might help here, and especially the activities involving moving around or physically demonstrating group-work outcomes might also loosen up any tense or tired groups of adult learners, too.
In a nutshell: for novice teachers this collection of activities might provide new ideas, and, for any teacher, having them all collected in one place is very handy. The structure of the book is clear, the instructions are easy to follow, and overall this seems to be a convenient resource for teachers wanting to promote the development of useful skills for group work and for life!