. . .
Vol 32 No 3, July - September 1994 Page 47 PREVIOUS ... CONTENTS ... SEARCH ... NEXT

Forum2.jpg (7.95 Kb)


A Magic Tool in the Classroom: Pair Work
by Takahiro Fujita

I hear and I forget.
I listen and I remember.
I do and I understand.

(Chinese proverb)

I teach and I got it!

(Murphey 1992)

"Learning by doing" is a basic philosophy for many educators. But how do we get students to "do" English? I would like to invite you to experience the following activities now as if you were in the classroom. I hope to show you that pair work can be introduced into high-school classrooms without interfering with regular teaching procedures and study for entrance examinations.

Friendly shadowing

Now suppose that you are in an English classroom and you have just finished comprehension checks on one part of a lesson in a reading class. At this stage in a traditional classroom, you will have the students read the part in chorus following the teacher. Instead, however, imagine introducing "Friendly Shadowing."

In this activity, you ask one student in a pair to read the textbook concentrating on the sense groups of each sentence, and ask the other student to repeat what the first student is reading without looking at the textbook. / Sense groups / are clauses / or groups of words / in a series / that cohesively fit together./ If you want / you can divide the text / with slashes / as I have done / with these two sentences. /

When students actually do it, have them exchange roles half way through; or for short passages, have them exchange roles and repeat the same. The important thing is to make the readers aware of their partners speaking pace. You can use this activity as review work instead of chorus reading. You may see 45 students in one class talking at the same time. Noisy, yes. But involved! The first time you present this to them, you need to demonstrate to the students yourself. Read in sense groups and have them repeat. Then switch and have one student read while you repeat.

What is happening to students when shadowing in pairs? Repeating what one student is reading and speaking, as opposed to choral repetition, is easier, more efficient, and more comfortable for at least three reasons. First, working one to one makes us more involved in the task. It is hard to be uninvolved when dealing directly with one person. Second, it's easier to adjust to each other, to speak louder or more slowly. Both weak students and strong students can get the chance to help each other cooperatively. The key words here are involvement, adjustment, and cooperation .

And thirdly, students can learn with less stress. No one wants to make a mistake in reading and speaking in front of the whole class. In this activity, that fear becomes less because students are talking with one other person instead of many others.

Grammar reformulation

Let's look at another activity. Now you are teaching grammar, a subject that usually dominates the high-school English curriculum. Particularly at exam-oriented high schools, grammar teaching through drill type exercises is popular at least among teachers if not students. Instead of explaining and drilling, you ask one student from each pair to put his/ her head on the desk and take a nap or otherwise not listen to the teacher. You explain a grammar point to the "awake" students and ask them to take notes, so they can explain it to the "napping" students. Then you ask awake students to teach the grammar point to their partners. Although you may fear that some students really fall asleep, you will see that students, who at other times may sleep, become very excited.

Although this activity takes a little longer than simply being told by teachers, the students are actively involved in learning and teaching grammar. One of the reasons is that it is hard for students to be uninvolved when they are conveying their knowledge, teaching their classmates, and sharing their information and ideas.

What is happening in their minds when reformulating? You can see the students paying more attention to specific grammar points, getting the gist attentively. That is because they are required to teach their partners later. They have a specific and clear task. Reformulation helps to promote one's attention. They become clear about what they understand and what they do not. As a result, it seems to me that reformulation helps facilitate understanding and increase retention. Teaching is learning more deeply, as most teachers realize.

Some teachers feel that with pair work there will be more mistakes than in a traditional classroom. Research shows that there aren t. Long and Porter (1985) report that students perform at the same level of grammatical accuracy in student-centered group work as in traditional teacher-fronted work. Of course you can reduce students mistakes even more if you do a demonstration reading first, for "Friendly Shadowing," and put clear notes on the blackboard for "Grammar Reformulation."

Friendly dictation

Another variation of pair work that has worked well for my students is called "Friendly Dictation." Suppose you have finished teaching a lesson in a reading class. You have the students listen to a brief summary of the story and then give them a dictation on that summary. In doing so, encourage them to work in pairs and to look at each other's dictation. The key to success in this activity is for the teacher to deliberately dictate the summary too fast for the students to write down exactly; however, they can see each other's work and use the key words to complete the summary. This activity can be used as a review task.

Messenger dictation

Another variation is named "Messenger Dictation." After the students have learned a particular grammar point, you can have them make their own sentences using the specific structure. One of the pair works as a messenger, the other as a writer. After completing his/her own sentences, the messenger stands up, walks around the classroom, and goes to other pairs in order to see and memorize the sentences they have written. The messenger goes back to the writer and dictates the sentence. This cycle is repeated several times within a certain time period. In this activity, teachers can have the students recycle information, as well as language, experientially.

Do you think your classroom will become too chaotic for you to stay in control? You may find the class a little bit chaotic but the students are actively involved! Using handouts and specific tasks through demonstration will help make these pair-work activities a smooth and effective way to learn. For my students they turned many boring texts into interesting material. It's magic. Have fun!


  • Long, M. and P. Porter. 1985. Group work, interlanguage talk, and second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly, 19, 2, pp. 207 28.
  • Murphey, Tim. 1992. ShadEchoooow ShadEchoooow. . . . Nagoya Avenues, 44, July-August, pp. 8 9.
  • . 1993. Remember your memory. . . It's what you make it! Nagoya Avenues, 47, January, pp. 12 13. }


Takahiro Fujita teaches English at Kariya kita Senior High School in Aichi-ken, Japan. He is interested in second-language acquisition, and is working on a Master's thesis on that subject.


Back to Top


Vol 32 No 3, July - September 1994 Page 47 PREVIOUS ... CONTENTS ... SEARCH ... NEXT
. .

On October 1, 1999, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will become part of the
U.S. Department of State. Bureau webpages are being updated accordingly. Thank you for your patience.