To Pair or Not to Pair: Part Two: Setting Up

autumn-treeSecond part of that long blog post on working in pairs. It begins with the physical setup of your classroom, then continues with the first of several materials you’ll want to have on hand.

Setting up a pair-work classroom

Arrange the semi-circle

Classrooms can seem pretty boring places. Desks lined up in rows, students looking at the teacher (or the back of the head of the student in front of them), almost no eye contact among them. Even when sitting around a table, the focus seems to be more upon the teacher and what’s on the table than actual face-to-face communication.

Surprise your students the first day of pair-work activity by having the classroom arranged in a different manner.

  • Push all the desks or tables to the outer walls of the room.
  • Place the chairs into a large semi-circle.
  • Leave a nice big space in the middle for people to stand or move about in.

This semi-circle will be facing the board, which you will definitely use for the activity. The form of the semi-circle is the same form used in early theatre design, a nice, rounded apron for the actors and the shape of the public almost hugging them on three sides.

Help students get settled in

When your students enter the class and show the natural confusion of “where’s my desk?”, simply instruct them to leave their things on the tables back there and have a seat.

Something will probably happen. Some students may try to make the semi-circle a straight line of chairs. Others may turn their chairs around to face the desk. This is natural, they are used to that structure in class.

Once they have all been seated, if they have changed your semi-circle into a straight line, you simply ask them all to stand in the center space and you put the chairs back how you had them arranged. Then you ask them to sit again, explaining that this is the way the chairs need to be for this activity.

It usually only takes a class or two for them to understand the physical structure you have proposed and they’ll stop lining it up.

Preparing the basic materials

The deck of cards

You’ll need a deck of regular playing cards. There’ll be four of each of the number and face cards. This deck of cards will become your “random selection tool” (RST), a tool that will relieve both you as a teacher, and them as students, from having to make basic decisions of who will be doing what, with whom.

Learn one or two simple card tricks. These tricks should be those that involve the traditional fanning out of cards with the “pick a card, any card” instruction. Practice the tricks until you can do them with your eyes closed. Make sure they work, that you can leave your students astounded with your dexterity.

Do a card trick for your students. Do it several times. Let the class enjoy the show. Let them know that the deck of cards will always be there and that it is fun. Every time you pull out the deck of cards for random selection, your students will remember that card trick and associate the “magic” with the activity to come.

Now, let’s say you’ve got ten students in class you want to pair up. You’ll separate from your deck ten pairs of cards: two aces, two twos, two threes and so on. Just enough for the number of pairs you need to make. If your class has eleven students, well, you’ll need to make one trio and the rest pairs.

Shuffle the cards you’ve separated and walk about the room, holding them fanned out to each student, giving each the “pick a card, any card” instruction. Instruct them, as in your card trick, that they should keep their card to themselves. Once everyone has got a card, you tell them to find their partner, everyone on their feet, walking about and calling out “Who’s got a three?”, “Who’s got a Queen?”. Once they’ve found their partner, they sit together. You’ll then collect one card from each pair and place it aside.

(continued in part three)


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