The Beauty Of Pairwork
Students don’t always love it, but I do. Why? They get a chance to speak, speak, speak; especially when the class is large, pairwork means each person has a chance to speak for much longer than in whole class activities. Imagine sixty minutes, with each of 15 students speaking equally – that’s four minutes each. Now imagine a twenty minute activity in pairs: each person speaks for ten minutes, and only one third of the class is used up.
For teachers, pair work is not a chance to doze off or mark exams, it’s a chance to listen to students speaking without (yourself) being under immediate pressure to respond, correct, nominate the next speaker or decide how to follow-up or check for understanding. Furthermore, students are in a more relaxed setting in pairs– a situation that I suspect is much more common in the real world where they will need to use English – than when speaking in front of the whole group.
Students may feel disappointed that they are not interacting with you, the native speaker, or that they are not getting your constant feedback (as they presume they are getting otherwise). I don’t think the whole class needs to go on in pairs, but if everything is done as a whole class discussion, much time is wasted with people speaking one by one. Also, the fact that you are not jumping in to correct students while they speak with a partner does not mean they are not getting feedback; you can do a correction session at the end focusing on common errors (which is probably more useful and efficient than focusing on random errors of each individual) and you can also use what information you gain from observation to shape how time is spent in future lessons (more time clarifying present perfect, etc.)
Sometimes I tell students this, so they are reassured that the time they spend in pairs is not “wasted”. Sometimes we do an activity that they prepare or practice in pairs (say, re-telling a funny story) and then present to the class – we discuss which was easier (answer: the second time, why: because we had already practiced) and which was better (answer: the second time, because we we were relaxed and had time to reflect on our grammar and vocabulary).
I also switch pairs often so students don’t end up working with the same people all the time. Let me know here if you have any interesting ways of pairing off students and stay tuned for a post on some of mine