I have tried to get my students to work in pairs or small groups on exercises I’ve set them but it’s not working. One of them just doesn’t want to participate and another tends to take over and doesn’t listen properly. Help!

Our Agony Aunt replied…

Getting students to work in pairs or small groups is a good idea as it varies the teaching and learning and gives students the opportunity to learn from each other. However, it does need to be carefully thought through.

Consider the pairings or groupings in advance and factor in personalities as well as levels of subject knowledge. You can put more able students with less able, quiet students in a group together, or get your extroverts to challenge each other for the opportunity to speak.

For your reluctant or overbearing students, have you thought about giving them a specific role such as chairing the group, feeding back the findings to the class or taking specific responsibility for inclusivity and allowing everyone equal opportunity to participate? You can always chat to the group as a whole about how small group interactions should work, or refer back to your group agreement.

If you’ve tried other, more subtle techniques, you could take individual students to one side and discuss your concerns privately. They are probably unaware of how their behaviour is impacting on others or there may be some underlying issues that you’re not aware of. Don’t give up and good luck!