ELT Experiences

Experiences of an English Language Teacher

5 Fantastic Ways to Pair Students

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You know what it’s like, the students are sitting down in their predictable places and you say “Right! We are going to move you around. Listen to your number!”. You give a number to each student and you pair them up with their corresponding number. In essence, you just move the students – which is meant to be their new – partner but the same person that they are with for the remainder of their course. Why not pair up students or groups of learners in a different way? Mix it up a bit and add some variety to the class layout where students are expected to sit! In this post, we look at five exciting and innovative ways to pair up students together.

1. Reaching New Heights

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A simple and useful way to match learners together in pairs or small groups is to get them lined up and then ask them to go in order of height (from smallest to tallest – a good way to review superlatives). You can then put them together with the student next to them or reorganise them into small groups. It is quick, simple and affective. In fact, this was something which I was introduced to when I first enlisted in the Royal Air Force and they had all new recruits standing in a line from shortest to tallest. We were then divided into three with our flight being placed either at the front (shortest), middle (mid-height) or  the rear (the tallest). It is nothing new when you do this in your classroom and want to make the pairing up of students unpredictable and spontaneous.

2. Binomial Pairs

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This is possibly my favourite activity for pairing up learners together. I am unsure where I learnt this from but I think it may be from the wonderful time when I worked with Peter Clements (ELT Planning). He has some great ideas and highly recommend his blog. It is quite an easy activity to prepare. All you do is write down one half of binomials on a slip of paper and the corresponding half of the other binomial on another slip of paper. If you have ten students, you will be using five binomials split in half, such as:

  • Safe and Sound
  • Sausage and Mash
  • Sick and Tired
  • Give and Take
  • Peace and Quiet

You could demonstrate the activity first by writing up examples of binomials with half of them at random on one side of the board and their corresponding halves randomly on the other side of the board. Ask students to match each halves before handing out the binomial slips of paper. You will then hand out ten words and ask students to find their partner with the corresponding word. For example, if a student has the words “Safe and” then they must find their partner “Sound“. It is a great activity to pair up students and you could change it slightly if you want to use collocations or other related words.

3. Vocabulary Pairing

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This is another take from the activity above. Instead of using binomial pairs to match students up with another student, you could change it slightly by preparing vocabulary written on one slip of paper and their definitions written on another piece of paper. Essentially, students holding key vocabulary in their hand have to find a partner who is holding a corresponding definition. To make it slightly more complicated, you could get students to keep their vocabulary or definitions secret and those with the key vocabulary must describe it in their own words or the person with the definition must guess the vocabulary and say it. Once students find their partner, then they can sit with them and continue with the lesson. It is a great matching exercise for learners and a wonderful way to review language which had emerged from previous lessons.

4. Sentence Halves

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As with the previous activity, what better way to review grammar structures than using this as a way to pair up students together. For example, if your previous lesson focused on conditionals, you could prepare a number of sentences split in half (i.e. on the second clause) and get students to guess what would start or finish the sentence that they are holding in their hand. Get students to move around and find their partner. You could use some of the conditionals below to help you get started:

  • I will take an umbrella if it rains later today.
  • I am not going to work tomorrow if I don’t feel well.
  • I’ll arrive on Sunday if I can get a flight.
  • You’ll be cold if you don’t wear a coat.
  • He’ll be hungry later if he doesn’t eat now.

If a student is holding a piece of paper with “I will take an umbrella …” then that person must find a student who has a corresponding sentence to match with it such as “… if it rains later today.“.

5. Random Names

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For the last experimental way to make random pairs or small groups of learners, you could use a very simple way which requires a lighter approach to preparation is by getting students to write their names on a piece of paper which you give them. You place all the names in a bag or box and mix them all up. Make sure you don’t look at the pieces of paper and you pull out each slip of paper with a name and then tell students to be matched with another name. It is a simple and quick activity to pair learners up together but it ensures that you have no way to engineer the pairing up of students. This will leave learners with the reassurance that whoever they are placed with, they will not blame the teacher as it is much to do with luck than anything.

If you have the name of the learners to hand on a register, you could type the names out and laminate them for future use as well. You could also use the laminated names placed at particular desks so students have to sit at this location.


These are five ideas that I have used from time-to-time to pair up learners together but have you got any favourite activities for pairing learners up together? Do you simply count across the classroom and then get corresponding numbers matched together? I hope you try out some of these ideas and experiment in the classroom a bit more – your students will love it!


Further reading:

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Author: Martin Sketchley

I have been an English language teacher for over 10 years both abroad and now currently in the UK. I am highly interested in teaching to young learners, professional development and curriculum development.

6 thoughts on “5 Fantastic Ways to Pair Students

  1. Very useful tips, I’ll definately use them with my students 🙂

  2. Very useful things. Thank you!

  3. Pingback: 5 Fantastic Ways to Pair Students - Powerhouse Education Blog

  4. Thanks for this, adding to the “steal ideas” pile!

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