2 Examples of lessons with pair work

In this first case study you will read about a teacher who employed pair work in a poetry writing activity.

Case Study 1: Using pair work in a poetry class

Mr Acharya works in a small school outside Gorakhpur. His Class VIII students’ writing abilities span very differing levels. Here he describes how he used pair work to support their poetry writing.

My students had been reading aloud some contemporary poems by Arun Kolatkar and Amit Chaudhuri. They had already written some poems on their own. This time I decided to get them to do so in pairs.

I chose a topic that I thought they could identify with: arguments with friends. I introduced the topic by asking the whole class some questions. These included:

  • ‘When was your last disagreement with a friend?’
  • ‘Was it a minor argument or a big one?’
  • ‘How did you feel about it?’
  • ‘Was the disagreement resolved?’
  • ‘If so, how did that happen? How long did it take?’
  • ‘If not, do you still expect it to be resolved?’
  • ‘Is your friendship the same now as before?’

The topic generated a lot of discussion, with many students contributing to it. I wrote some of the words and phrases they used on the board, so they could draw on these in their writing.

Next, I told them that they were going to work in pairs and write a poem called ‘The Argument’. I organised the pairs by asking my students to work with the person next to them. I explained that they should take turns to make up a line of the poem at a time, noting it down as they went. After 30 minutes, I asked a volunteer from each pair to read out their completed – or partially completed – poem.

Here is a poem that one of the pairs wrote:

‘The Argument’

I had an argument with my friend Amvi

We were near a temple when she said something to an old man

He was poor and dirty

But my friend was unkind to him

I said she was wrong to say what she did

She said she didn’t care

I felt sorry for the man

I walked away alone

The poems that my students produced were about situations and feelings that they had experience and an understanding of. The pair talk helped them to share their ideas and consider how to capture them in writing.

When I use pair work, I keep the activities quite short, so that my students are less concerned with whom they have been placed with and more focused on completing the task within the allocated time. I notice, however, that they have quickly become used to working in this way.

Pause for thought

  • Do you think ‘The Argument’ is a good choice of topic for students to work on in pairs? Are there any drawbacks to this topic?
  • Thinking back to your reading of Resource 1, do you think Mr Acharya’s lesson was inclusive? How would he know if all his students felt part of the class discussion and the pair-writing activity?
  • If you were teaching this lesson, how would you organise pairs for the writing activity: by combining students according to whether they have similar or different levels of attainment, whether they share the same home language, whether they are friends, or randomly? Justify your choice.
  • How would you encourage students who lack confidence or interest in writing poetry to participate in this activity?

In the next case study, a teacher organises paired dialogues to support a writing task.

Case Study 2: The mongoose and the cobra

Ms Anju teaches in a school in Bihar Sharif. Here she describes a pair activity that she undertook with her Class VI students.

My students had been learning about native animals. They knew that mongooses eat insects, birds, earthworms, snakes, lizards and crabs. They are very quick. Their thick coats give them resistance to snake venom. They knew that cobras can spread their necks to produce a wide, flat hood. This, with a hissing sound, is their warning system when they are threatened. They mainly eat other snakes, small animals and birds.

I planned a language lesson linked to this topic. I started by asking my students what they recalled about the appearance and lives of mongooses and cobras. My questions included:

  • ‘What do they look like?’
  • ‘What do they eat?’
  • ‘How might they react when they meet?’

I wrote key words on the board, such as ‘quick’, ‘hiss’, ‘coat’, ‘warning’ and ‘venom’. This first part of the lesson took 15 minutes.

Next I told my students to work with the person next to them. I asked them to decide which one was a cobra and which one was a mongoose, and think about what they might say to each other if they met in the forest. I gave them 15 minutes to improvise a dialogue between the two creatures, using different voices together with gestures and actions, if they wished. Some students preferred to use their home language or a mix of their home language and the school language for the dialogue. As they worked, I monitored them and continued to write key words on the board at their request. Many students were talking very animatedly.

Figure 1 Participating in the ‘mongoose and cobra’ activity.

Then I asked pairs of students to volunteer to come to the front of the class to perform their role plays. I tried to encourage some of the shyer ones too. The other students listened attentively and clapped after each performance. When the dialogue was in one of their home languages, I invited the rest of the class to help translate it into the school language afterwards. I allowed 30 minutes for the presentations.

To finish, I asked the pairs of students to write down their dialogue in their exercise books, illustrating it if they wished. I gave them 15 minutes for this final task.

Pause for thought

  • Would Ms Anju’s timing of the different parts of the lesson work in your school context? How could you adapt the timing to distribute the activity over two lessons on successive days?
  • In what other ways could Ms Anju have supported those students who used their home language in this activity?
  • Note how each part of the lesson offered Ms Anju the opportunity to monitor, assess and support her students. What do you think she looked out for when observing them?
  • How might Ms Anju have incorporated a reading stage into this talk and writing activity?

Pair work offers many opportunities for monitoring and assessing one’s students. Monitoring might involve:

  • moving around class, observing and listening
  • checking that everyone understands the instructions and is working as intended
  • taking note of those students who are collaborating well or not so well
  • giving praise, support and encouragement
  • identifying common errors.
Figure 2 Monitoring pair work.

Assessment in turn could relate to the students’ language development, such as:

  • their use of an appropriate range of vocabulary and expressions when speaking in their home or the school language
  • their ability to translate this into writing
  • the nature of their contribution to the pair collaboration
  • their imagination
  • their ability to perform to their classmates.

The key resource ‘Assessing progress and performance’ suggests additional ways of assessing your students in class.

Video: Assessing progress and performance

1 Why should you use pair work?

3 Planning a pair work lesson