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Better way to teach English – conversations in small groups

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Posted April 29, 2015

The researchers at the University of Georgia conducted at study to find a better way to learn English language. They tested several methods, including conventional teaching in classes. The research showed that conversations are a critical part of learning process and, therefore, working in small groups is a better way to ability to increase vocabulary and reading comprehension.

New study finds that working in small groups and having more conversations improves English language as well as skills of listening, patience and respect. (Photo credit: Paula Mellom/UGA)

New study finds that working in small groups and having more conversations improves English language as well as skills of listening, patience and respect. (Photo credit: Paula Mellom/UGA)

It is called a “conversational instruction method”. There a teacher is working with significantly smaller groups that they are working usually. Teacher presents a group with a question, which students have to answer by working inside the group. It means they have to have conversation inside the group to work out the answer. This is how English-language learners increased language skills and reading comprehension better when compared with traditional classroom teaching.

The method works by breaking class into groups for a portion of the day. While other groups are busy with student-led activities, the teacher leads one group using the instructional conversation method of discussion. There are different types of activities and discussions that can be taught in such groups, including other disciplines. The researchers provide an example – six students sit in a circle on the floor discussing sentence fragments. Teacher has cut up a paper with a sentence on each and, one at a time, sets them down for the group to discuss, while students take turns explaining why they think it is or is not a fragment, and agree on a common answer. Interdisciplinary nature of the method allows to better other skills as well.

Study also showed that these students, who were learning English by conversational instruction method, made significant gains in subjects other than English/language arts. They learned such skills as listening, patience and respect. However, method could also be applied in other disciplines as well.

This study is already being called ‘pioneering’, because with the financial help from the Institute of Education Sciences, scientists managed to analyse data from more than 1,500 students in 14 school districts. And the research will be continued through the next school year.

The research examined students in third and fifth grade, including 732 English-language learners. Conversational instruction method was applied not only to English/language arts, but also in teaching science and mathematics. The students, who were learning by this method, on average, increased their comprehension in these subjects between 14 % and 25 % above the control group. In reading English-language learners still outperformed control group by 10 %.

The researchers also noticed that girls typically do better in learning English than boys, but conversational method helped all English-language learners make up for ground lost in earlier years.  It was particularly effective for fifth-grade boys, who out-scored the control group in reading and caught up with the girls taught with this method. Control group also was out-scored in science.

But why this new teaching method is such an improvement? Researcher Paula Mellom said that students might speak for no more than five minutes a day in a traditional classroom model, while conversations take bigger role in conversational instruction method. In other words, more speaking means better language skills and understanding as well as it helps keep students interested and involved in classroom activities. After such findings we will have to wait and see when and how this method will find ways into more schools.

Source: UGA

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