3 Planning a pair work lesson

Now try Activity 2

Activity 2: Planning a pair work lesson

In this activity you will plan a lesson that incorporates no more than 20 minutes of pair work. Review the example task types in Resource 1:

  • think–pair–share
  • sharing information
  • practising skills such as listening
  • following instructions
  • storytelling or role play.

Using the ideas and guidance in Resource 1 and drawing on Case Studies 1 and 2, choose a topic that your students will be motivated to talk and write about. You could base it on a chapter in the class language and literacy textbook or that of another subject, a recent event in the community, or a local or national news item. Consider what your students could read for inspiration before the pair work, or what reading opportunities there might be after it.

Figure 3 Planning a pair work lesson.

It is important to prepare your class carefully at the start.

  1. Explain to the students what they will be doing before you organise them into pairs.
  2. Demonstrate with the help of a volunteer exactly what they are expected to do.
  3. Call on a few students to explain this back to you to check their understanding. They can provide this explanation in their home language if they prefer.
  4. Model a quiet voice for talking in pairs. You should nevertheless accept that a certain level of noise in the class is a sign of your students’ engagement in the task.
  5. Set a clear time limit for the activity. Agree a signal, using your hands or a bell, to indicate when your students should stop.
  6. Pair your students. Think about how to do this in advance, ensuring that no one dominates nor is dominated by their partner within a pairing.
  7. Direct the pairs into different parts of the room if possible, or move some of them outside.
  8. Plan one or two additional activities for those pairs who finish early.
  9. Monitor your students as they work, listening to and observing them in their pairs and helping them where required.
  10. Select a small number of students and assess their use of language during the activity, with the aim of assessing others in future lessons.
  11. Allow time to give your class feedback and, if appropriate, for a few students to share their work at the end of the lesson or the following day. The act of presenting their work and listening to what others have done provides students with valuable additional learning opportunities, as does reading one another’s written work.

Activity 3: The advantages and disadvantages of pair work

After you have tried out your pair work activity, review how it went. Talk to a colleague about your experience if you can. Tick any of the statements in Table 1 that applied and add any further statements of your own.

Table 1 The advantages and disadvantages of pair work.
Benefits of pair work Problems of pair work
Allows for much more student talking time in the classroom than in a ‘traditional’ lesson Students are not used to working in pairs and require a lot of support with this
Encourages sociable learning and cooperation – with the possibility of making positive connections between students who don’t know each other well Pairs may talk about other things instead of the task they’ve been assigned
Encourages a variety of imaginative outputs for the same task High noise levels
Allows me to monitor and support students as they work Partners don’t always get on with each other
Pairs have different finishing times
Requires a lot of teacher concentration and oversight



Some of the problems you may have experienced can be reduced by explaining the benefits of working in pairs to your students, perhaps in their home language, and by gradually familiarising them with this way of working. Plan the pairings that would be most supportive before each lesson, adapting them in accordance with your observations and to maintain a variety of working patterns. You may also invite your students’ views – positive and negative – about pair work, but it is important to handle such discussions sensitively.

2 Examples of lessons with pair work