• Conversation class: Necessary ingredients for successful pair work (from research)

Cover Conversation ingredient


(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)*

An important ingredient for making pair work activities successful learning experiences would seem to be active involvement on the part of both members; and it seems obvious that certain tasks would produce more involvement than others.  In fact, research has been conducted on the type of communication present when pairs are involved in one-way and two-way tasks.

One-way and Two-way Tasks

A one-way task is one in which only one of the members has information which the other member needs.  An example of this would be a task in which one member describes a picture which the other member then draws.  In a two-way task, both members have information which the other needs.  An example of a two-way task would be one in which both member have similar pictures but with some differences and, through discussions find the differences while not looking at each other’s picture.

Active Listening in Two-way Tasks

Researchers found that in two-way tasks, the members used a significantly greater amount of conversational modifications as compared to those used in one-way tasks.  The reason for this is that in to make a conversation meaningful, the members need to be active listeners.  This means that a listener gives some kind of feedback to indicate comprehension or lack thereof in the speakers’ input.  As a result, the speaker would know whether it is necessary to modify the input, for example, by repeating it, simplify the vocabulary, or speaker slower.

Types of Active Listening Responses

Some of the types of feedback that listeners can give to the speaker are comprehension signals (“I see”), confirmation by repetition (“You said that it was open, right?”), eliciting information (“Could you tell me why you did that?”), and request for repetition (“Sorry.  What did  you say?”)  In order to make pair-work activities successful, it would seem important that students be given the opportunity to utilize these varied kinds of feedback as responsible listeners.  And, according to research, two-way, rather than one-way, tasks would be more effective.

For sample two-way task activities that you can download and use in your class, see:

• Another Conversation Activity: Listen to Partner and Ask Questions to Complete Information-Gap Chart

• Conversation Activity: Stimulating Students to Listen and Respond to Each Other

These types of active listening techniques (along with conversation techniques) can be found in:

Basic Conversation Strategies (for high-beginners) Pro Lingua Learning–Basic Conversation Strategies

Conversation Strategies (for intermediates)  Pro Lingua Learning–Conversation Strategies  which is now available in digital and print version for students to rent or buy.

Discussion Strategies (for advanced students) Pro Lingua Learning–Discussion Strategies

David Kehe

*About the free-download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.

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