(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)*
This posting is an updated version of a post from Feb. 2, 2017: Conversation class: Necessary ingredients for successful pair work (from research)
Early in my career, I became a big fan of two-way tasks in my lower- and intermediate-level Conversation classes.
After several terms of teaching those levels, I was assigned to teach an Advanced Discussion class for the first time. In keeping with the spirit of student-centered teaching, I (as the teacher) wanted to avoid being the one to lead the discussions, so I put students in groups with a list of questions to discuss. However, I soon realized that some students were sitting passively and others tended to monolog.
Then I had an epiphany. By applying the two-way task principle to discussions, I could assure that every student would be equally active.
Basically, each student in a group is given different information. For discussions, every group has a Student A, B and C (and sometimes D and E) and the discussion questions are divided among them. Just as in a two-way task activity, this requires every group member to be involved in asking the questions, in active listening and responding.
For sample activities of how a variation of the two-way-task format can be applied to discussion, see *ESL Discussions: Free Small-Group Discussion Units
We can also use this format to help Advanced-level student develop discussion skills such as:
- Volunteering to answer (See • Helping Students Overcome Hesitancy to Volunteer an Answer in Group Discussions )
- Asking for clarifications. (See • Discussion Technique to Get Quiet Students Involved (Part 1)
- Summarizing what was said (See • Discussion Technique to Get Quiet Students Involved (Part 2)
Here is more about two-way tasks and their many benefits.
Conversation class: Necessary ingredients for successful pair work (from research)
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
• Conversation Activity: Getting Students to Say More Than the Minimum
• ESL Students Won’t Progress In Conversation Skills Without This Technique.
• A More Sophisticated Technique Than Just Saying, “What did you say?” and “I don’t understand.”
• Conversation Technique: Don’t Kill the Conversation. What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say.
• Getting The Most Out of Information-Gap Chart Activities PART 1
• Getting The Most Out of Information-Gap Chart Activities PART 2 (Vocabulary Reinforcement)
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
Discussion Strategies (for advanced students) Pro Lingua Learning–Discussion Strategies
*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.