In many parts of the world, we
have large classes of 60 students or more. This is usually the excuse that teachers give
for their reluctance to experiment with new approaches or innovative teaching techniques.
In this article I shall describe three different teaching models in which I have used CBI
and group work with success. In each of the situations, CBI is the most appropriate model
of instruction because it is based on the assumption that for successful language learning
to occur, the course content must take into account the eventual use the learners will
make of the target language.
Moreover, group work in CBI is ideal for cooperative
learning and peer tutoring. The management problems of group work are greatly reduced when
dealing with adult learners. In each of the situations below, the learners had no previous
experience in group work.
First teaching model
These English language teachers are university graduates who, although having majored
in other areas, were appointed as English teachers in schools to fill an urgent need.
Today they are given the option of studying for degrees in English language teaching. They
joined this four-year programme after having struggled through language teaching for a
number of years with little knowledge of the basics and numerous misconceptions. They are
highly motivated and need this degree to further their careers. They must follow the same
programme as the undergraduates in the school of education because they will be awarded
the same degree.
The curriculum includes studies in civilization, English literature, and language
study. The number of students in the average class is around 70.
As they have not been students for a number of years, they basically lack study skills.
Their standard of English is lower than that of the average undergraduate because of
fossilization and lack of guidance, and they are generally older than the average adult
The following task is from the courseIntroduction to the Study of Poetry. The general
objective is to develop an under- standing and appreciation of poetry while helping
learners develop language skills.
For the first-year students, I usually choose a simple piece like the following
anonymous Chinese poem:
Blue Smoke War
White Bones Man
The questions vary and can become more sophisticated and demanding as the students
progress. The following are some examples:
1. Discuss and explain the relationship among the words in the first line.
2. Discuss and explain the relationship among the words in the second line.
3. Discuss and explain vertical relationships blue and white."
4. Why are there no function words in this poem?
5. Why do you think that the words war and man are used in the
6. Rewrite the poem in a complete sentence.
7. Write down and explain your personal opinion about this poem (idea, message, writing
By the time the students are exposed to longer, more complex poems, they are familiar
with brainstorming in groups and are more comfortable answering questions .
As each poem has seven or more questions, the class is divided into seven groups, with
each group answering one question.
Types of group work
Version 1: Each group is assigned a question to discuss among the members and then must
report to the rest of the class. During the report, the group may be questioned or the
class may offer alternative answers.
Version 2: Each group is assigned a question and required to provide a written answer.
The group divides the written task among the members. Each individual is given a
responsibility such as to check spelling, grammar, capitalization, or punctuation. The
teacher tells them that they may share the task and the grade.
Version 3: Alternatively, each group can divide the written tasks among the group
members and, by specifying the division on their papers, each member receives a separate
Version 4: Each group is given an identical set of questions (around four) that they
can prepare and present orally to the class. This activity stimulates brainstorming and
discussion, which could conclude with a writing activity.
In all cases when a written task is given, I usually comment on the written drafts to
the individual groups. If this is not possible in class, I ask that their first and second
drafts be handed in with the written assignments.
Using group work as one of the teaching techniques has helped the students gain
confidence in their abilities and encouraged the weaker students to participate in class.
The students respond positively to group work and to these classes. Perhaps one of the
most positive outcomes of their experiences in these classes is that they witness the
success of group work when classroom management is conducted properly. This is especially
important because they are all practising teachers who, until now, were reluctant to use
such techniques in their own classrooms.
Second teaching model
This model consists of a group of postgraduate students who are studying for the
Special Diploma in Education, and they are all practising teachers of different subjects.
This is a two-year course that is very popular in the Egyptian teaching context. The class
has about 90 students, with roughly nine students per group.
The first year includes such courses as comparative education, educational psy-
chology, statistics, curricula, and English. In most of these courses the students are
required to do some reading in English. They may be required to read a study, article, or
a chapter (or more) from a book. Additionally, in order to write their assignments, they
read references in English texts. Usually the students translate the whole text, even if
they need only small extracts of information. This is done professionally and is
expensive. During the first few classes of the academic year, I tell students that I will
help them deal with English assigned reading materials. The objective of this exercise is
to enable students to develop and improve their strategies for abstracting important
information from academic textbooks.
Reading activity steps
This exercise has seven steps:
1. I emphasize that they (the students) are not to read a chapter page by page.
2. They need to read the introduction to understand the purpose/goal of the chapter. 3.
They should read the summary section at the end of the chapter and decide how the summary
relates to the introduction.
4. They must identify the different sections or headings of the chapter and read the
subheadings to determine how they relate to the headings.
5. Then they start reading and focus on the first and last sentence of each paragraph.
If the main idea is not clearly stated, they are encouraged to "make it up."
Attention is paid to words in bold face or italics.
6. They reread the summary section at the end of the chapter and decide if any concepts
or important ideas were missed.
7. Then they write notes or points about the information and a simple summary of the
Usually steps 1 and 2 are done with the whole class, but steps 3 through 7 are
conducted in groups in which students are performing identical activities simultan-eously.
After each activity, the groups report on their findings and are given a little time for
discussions. For certain texts, it is possible for groups to work on different paragraphs
when dealing with steps 4, 5, and 6. As for step 7, the summary could be written in
English or the native language, depending on the assignment given by the content teacher.
A slightly different approach is adopted when the students assignments include two
chapters from the same book.
However, if the assignment is to read an academic study or paper, more emphasis is
given to reading the abstract and locating specific information in the article and the
conclusion. Also, activities related to writing sentences extracted from information found
in tables and figures are included and can sometimes be done without reading the text.
It should be noted that a study or article can be covered in one class meeting, but
chapters from books usually require two class meetings, depending on what is expected from
How the group work is conducted
To demonstrate this, I will give examples from one of the books we used this year,
Philip Robinsons Perspectives on the Sociology of Education: An Introduction (1981).
(In all classes students are not encouraged to use dictionaries, although I usually have
one that they can use if necessary.)
Version 1: We systematically go through the listed reading steps, and students are
given ample time to cover each step in their groups.
Version 2: The same procedure is followed but with appropriate time limits for each
Version 3: Speed exercises are given in which the groups may compete. The questions or
tasks are designed to train students to locate information from the table of contents or
the subject/name/word index. Some sample questions are as follows:
1. On which pages can you find information about interaction schedules/sociology of
2. Which chapter may include information about education in places like Egypt?
Version 4: Different page references for certain subjects or words are given to
students. For instance, since four different pages refer to "behavioural
objectives," my question may be: "On which of these pages does Robinson discuss
the function of behavioural objectives?"
Version 5: This concerns step 7 when the summary is written in English. It is not
unusual for this activity to take a whole class meeting. In this case, the groups write
their summaries in the form of process writing, with each member of the group being
assigned a specific responsibility.
The students leave these classes with a great sense of achievement because they
discover abilities that they did not know they had. The secret of their success probably
lies in the fact that they help each other in groups. They also cover much more material
in the limited teaching time, particularly when different groups are doing different
things. All these teachers have adopted new attitudes toward group work, and many of them
have told me how they use it in their classes.
A content-based course
This is a course rather than an activity model. I designed and wrote it for the
Technical Health Institute, Nursing Department. The objective of this project, sponsored
by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), is to
revise, write, and compile courses for the institute in which students will study at a
national level in Egypt. In the English language 40-hour course textbook, I adopted a
content-based approach. The average class is comprised of 60 or more students, who are
roughly 18 years old and have a standard of English slightly lower than students
participating in the previous situations.
The textbook consists of 16 three-part lessons: the first section of each lesson is a
reading comprehension text; the second section is a grammar study; and the third section
consists of language transfer exercises. It is from the latter section that I have drawn
examples of group work activities.
Students are usually required to work in groups when transferring information from flow
charts to a comprehensive written paragraph or to a dialogue. These charts are taken from
a content text by Alton Thygerson (1987), but in some cases, charts are summaries of the
reading texts. As students progress, they are provided with flow charts that contain new
information and are easy to understand. Students begin by filling in the blanks and
progress to writing paragraphs, applying the skills they have developed. Two examples of
these exercises follow (Touba 1997):
1. Examine and study the flow chart (Figure 1) entitled Head
Injury (Thygerson 1987) and discuss it with other members of your group. Next complete the
paragraph below using information from the chart.
In the case of a head injury, after you have completed the essential ABCs, you
will check for ___________. If there is bleeding in the head and you suspect a fracture,
you must __________ and not ___________. If the victim is conscious and no spinal injury
is suspected, then ___________. In case a spinal injury is suspected you ____________; but
if the victim is unconscious, then ___________, and if it lasts for more than 5 minutes,
2. In groups, study the flow chart entitled "Coughing" ( Figure
2) and then complete the dialogue below. You may be asked to perform in front of the
class, but there is no need for memorization because you are simply trying to convey the
Mona: Now, dealing with coughs is something people do every day!
Azza : Since it is so easy, tell me what to do if a cough is dry and produces no
Mona: Thats easy. You _________and _________.
Rana: But you have to _________, ________, and _________ if there is phlegm.
Mona: Thats right, but what if the cough lasts for more than 5 days or it
________, ________, or the mucus_________?
Azza: Then we must ________, right?
Rana: But what if none of these things happen?
Mona: Well, if mucus is_________, then the cough should not ________.
Teachers in the institute have reported that students respond and work well in groups.
The teachers have even worked out some variations related to the activities. For example,
during a dialogue activity, half of the groups may be preparing the dialogue while the
other groups, using the same flow chart, are writing a paragraph.
I have attempted to give a variety of examples of group work in large classes when the
language class is content-based. The teachers skill in classroom management is the
primary ingredient for success with group work in large classes. Students need to be fully
aware of what is expected of them and be ready to work to achieve the objectives set by
Finally, my personal enthusiasm for group work in large classes is based upon my
knowledge that the average teacher cannot hope to capture the attention of all of the
students 100% of the time. In a class where roughly 11 groups are assigned meaningful
tasks, the chances are that 80% of the students will be actively involved in the task. In
my experience this is success. Now my students ask for group work because they appreciate
its merits and look forward to the activities.
Robinson, P. 1981. Perspectives on the sociology of education: An introduction. London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Thygerson, A. 1987. First aid and emergency care workbook. Boston: Jones and Bartlett
Touba, N. 1994. Lets make it happen in language school. Pharos: An ESP
Newsletter, 6, 2. ESP Centre, Alexandria University.
Touba, N. 1997. English for nurses. Alexandria: Ministry of Health in collaboration
with the World Health Organization.