(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
I once had a colleague who was feeling distraught because her students didn’t seem to take group work seriously. Her students tended to chat instead of doing the task and often finished early without completing it. She asked me to observer her class to see if I could come up with any suggestions.
Within a few minutes of observing her class, I was reminded of a social psychology study that seemed related to her situation. As you read the summary of the study below, you may wonder how this could be connected to ESL students working in groups. Bear with me.
The Psychology Department at Newcastle University conducted this interesting study using their coffee station. There was a sign above the coffee station:
As you can see, it operates on an honor system. For the 10-week study, researchers taped a picture of flowers for a week over the coffee station and then switched to a picture of a pair of staring eyes for a week. They continued to alternate these pictures each week.
This is where it gets interesting
During the weeks that the poster of the eyes was staring, coffee and tea drinkers contributed almost three times as much money as in the weeks that the flower picture was on the wall. What’s so amazing is that it was just a PICTURE of eyes, not an actual person, which seemed to make people more honest.
The researchers conducted a similar study to see if the flowers or eyes pictures could motivate people to clean up after their meals. In that study, the number of people who cleaned up doubled when the eye picture was present compared to when the flower picture was.