1 Planning to use pair work

It is easy to assume that students know how to talk to each other. That is not always true, however, and even older students will need guidance on how to work well together. They will need to be given a task to complete and guidance on what is expected.

Working with a partner can also be a useful technique for you when planning lessons on topics that you find difficult to teach. Everyone has areas they like to teach more than others. Sharing thoughts and ideas on how to teach any topic – particularly on your less favoured topics – will stimulate your thinking and help you clarify your understanding of the topic. You will also see a clear pathway to teach the topic.

Case Study 1: Pair work planning

Mrs Ritesh, an elementary science teacher in a large school near Bhopal, asked a colleague who teaches some of the same topics to other classes to plan with her. After attending a local DIET course that explored different teaching techniques on how to improve science teaching, Mrs Ritesh wanted to share some of the techniques and ideas she had learnt. One idea was to plan with colleagues, sharing ideas and solving problems together about approaches to take that would help students’ learning. She describes below how they planned sessions on life processes.

I asked Meena if she would like to plan the next three science sessions together and she agreed. She is fairly new to teaching and welcomed the support of working together. We were about to do some work on life processes, so we identified the key things that we wanted the students to learn. We wanted to make the student experience more interactive. Life processes include all the characteristics of living things and how different animals carry out these seven processes. The amount of practical work can be difficult to think about, so I hoped that planning together would help us to devise some useful and interesting activities that motivated our students. We agreed that, since we were enjoying working as a pair, it would be good for the students to work in pairs.

Because we both had such large classes, we decided to use some very simple activities such as bending their arm, standing and sitting down, or lying down. We agreed to write the simple actions as a list on the blackboard, and then the questions for each activity were:

  • What happens to your muscles and bones as you do these actions?
  • How do the actions happen?
  • How do your muscles work?

They were to try the actions and (if their partner was happy to do so) they could feel what happened as their partner bent their arm. They would then talk together about what was happening and record their ideas.

I asked the students to share their ideas with the rest of the class and listed the common ideas that they had. I noticed that some of the students did not understand about how muscles and bones work together, so I said we would explore ideas like this more next lesson.

I shared my experience with Meena and she had found similar confusions with her class. We decided to make some simple models of how a joint works [see Resource 1] for the next lesson to show muscles working in pairs. To see the students so interested and still talking about their bodies and how they moved as we left the classroom was very pleasing. We decided that we would continue to plan together, because it helped us to think more creatively about ways to interest and enthuse students by sharing ideas.

Pause for thought

  • Do you plan with a colleague? If so, why?
  • If not, do you think it would help you to share ideas?

Pair work is a very useful and supportive way to work when both partners share and respect each other’s ideas and agree to compromise on ways forward. Mrs Ritesh and Meena benefited from sharing ideas and supporting each other as they extended their strategies for teaching. This was especially important when things did not go as they planned, because they were able to explore what had happened without blaming each other. This trust took time to establish – but because they both liked to talk about their work, the trust grew.

Activity 1: Sharing planning

If you have a colleague who teaches the same topics as you, ask them if you can plan a lesson together where you use pair work with your class. Both of you should read Resource 2, ‘Planning lessons’, before you start, as it will help you in your task. If you do not have a colleague to do this, you may want to talk with another teacher in the school about your ideas, either before you do your planning or as you work through the plan and encounter any problems.

Talking with another person you will stimulate your own thinking about what to do and help you think more deeply about the lesson you are planning.

Pause for thought

After doing the planning, think about the impact this sharing has had on the depth and detail of your planning.

  • Are you pleased with what you have planned? Why?
  • What is it about the lesson that you think will engage your students in the lesson?

Building such trust and being able to explore wider possibilities will lead to you being a more interactive and exciting teacher for your students. Using this same approach in your classroom will help students achieve more.

Why this approach is important

2 Using pair work in the classroom