Tag: group task

Review: Successful Group Work – 13 Activities to Teach Teamwork Skills

Review: Successful Group Work – 13 Activities to Teach Teamwork Skills


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.

You can find out more about the book, including other reviews, here. And here is some more information about the author, Patrice Palmer:

Patrice-Palmr-Portrait-150x150Patrice 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!


Discussion & Negotiation: Lost in the Desert

Notes for Teachers

This task is a small-group discussion task which will enable your learners to practise their discussion and negotiation skills in an informal context. The task is adapted from similar activities which are often used in assessment centres when companies are recruiting new employees. Depending on the situation and what language and/or skills you want to focus on, you can either use the task to evaluate their negotiation skills (as is done in the assessment centres), or their use of suitable language for discussions. You may wish to first teach them a few polite discussion / negotiation phrases, both formal and informal, so that they can practice them in this task.

The follow-up discussion questions can be omitted, depending on your focus, but function well as a plenary to the task. Again, the obvious langauge focus would be polite discussion phrases, but you can pre-teach and/or practise other language points as relevant to your course.

Set up the situation for your students: It is lunchtime and you are driving across the desert with friends. You are lost. Suddenly, your truck breaks down and you are stranded. In your group, you must discuss and agree on which items you are going to take from the truck – but you can only take five, because it is too hot to carry any more. Which five things from the list below would you take with you from the truck, and why? How can you use them?

NOTE: each item in the list counts as one item, i.e. “2 bottles of water” = one item to carry.

Remind the students: Although they are worried about being lost, and are very hot because of the desert climate, they are still friends and need to discuss and negotiate politely!

Wilderness - Gwadar
Wilderness – Gwadar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Information for Students

Items in the truck:

25 Euros

2 bottles of water

2 bars of chocolate

a loaded gun

an iPod

2 blankets

3 cans of cola

a hand-held mirror

a kitchen knife

a picnic basket containing bread, cheese & apples

a battery-powered torch & batteries

a map

a box of matches

a can of petrol

a pack of cigarettes

a small first aid kit

… and any parts of the truck you think are useful.

Follow-Up Discussion Questions

What’s the worse environment to be lost in? Why?

 What physiological or psychological problems might you encounter when lost in an extreme environment? How would you handle them?

English: Snow blanketing Snake Valley and Whee...
English: Snow blanketing Snake Valley and Wheeler Peak. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)