Connect, Grow, Thrive

Successful Group Work: 13 Activities to Teach Teamwork Skills

Book Review: ETAS Journal Spring 2018

Patrice Palmer

Alphabet Publishing (2017)

ISBN: 978-0-9977628-4-6 paperback

          978-0-9977628-5-3 (Kindle)

56 pages, paperback

Have you been looking for ways to get everyone in your class involved and motivated? Maybe you have a project planned and need to bring the students together as a team, or simply want each member of the class or group to contribute, communicate with each other, listen to, trust and respect one another. The author stresses the importance of team- building activities to improve students’ communicative skills and how having a class where the students work in functioning teams, makes life so much easier for the teacher, too.

Patrice Palmer has taught students of all ages for over 20 years and moved on from a variety of ESL environments such as teaching ESP, EAP, and Business English to delivering workshops for English teachers from the teaching and learning angle. Now she writes books, online courses, and regular blogs as a teacherpreneur. In this book she draws on her extensive experience presenting us with practical activities, each with clear instructions and theoretical backing. 

The very fact that Palmer presents us with 13 practical activities, not 10 or 20, but 13 indicates that there must be something special about this book. Her ideas are creative, challenging, and also fun. The 13 activities are divided into five sections: Getting to Know Each Other Activities (1 – 3), The Benefits of Teamwork (4), Team Building Activities (5 – 7), Teamwork Skills and Strategies (8 – 10), and Reflection and Evaluation (11 – 13). Ideally, they should be carried out in order as a course before introducing a project, but each activity can also be selected individually to practise a certain skill, or even parallel to group work. For each activity Palmer indicates the time, which varies from five to 30 minutes, the materials required, and the team-building skill targeted. She describes the procedure and finishes with debriefing questions to make students reflect on what they have done and how the activity helps or strengthens the team.

Activity 1:  Stand Up If...and then statements like “you are an only child/you have been to Japan/you like coffee…”. I would say this is not entirely original and may be familiar to other teachers. I sometimes use this type of exercise to introduce a new topic like a tense or likes and dislikes or times. There are numerous possibilities. The difference is that Palmer sees the team-building skill in each activity. Here it is "recognize and respect people's diversity, individual differences, and perspectives" (p. 10). 

Activity 2: Getting to Know Your Group Members is about two students interviewing each other and then reporting back. I have used this before, e.g. drawing a partner and then doing the interview and introducing the person to the group that way. The team-building skills Palmer indicates here are the same as for Activity 1.

Activity 4: Word Lists does not only involve planning and designing a task and carrying it out, but makes the students aware of how working together can be an advantage. I find there are always students in a class who think they can do everything alone. It’s also a great activity for introducing new or revising familiar vocabulary. The idea is that you show a list of about 15 words on a PowerPoint slide or flipchart paper. The students have one minute to memorise the words, after which they individually write down what they remember. This is followed by a feedback on the number of words remembered. Then the procedure is repeated but with different words or phrases and for 30 seconds. Prior to showing the vocabulary, the students are put into small groups to discuss a strategy on how to get the best results as a team.I found this a useful warmer and an effective means of introducing the vocabulary we were about to learn in a lesson. Added to which, my students were keen to discuss their strategies and how effective it was working as a team. 

Activity 7:Working in a Group, Strengths and Weaknesses is about students finishing sentences to say what they are good at or enjoy doing or what other people tell them they are good at. I have done that sort of thing too, to loosen up the reserved students. Similarly Jill Hadfield’s Classroom Dynamics (1992)includes an activity called Crazy Compliment, in which students pay each other compliments, support each other, and make everyone in the group feel good. Palmer’s activity helps students see what their strengths are and where they could make improvements, as well as assists them in allocating tasks to each group member.

Activity 8: Assigning Roles in a Group is also familiar.In this case it describes roles such as a Chairperson, Timekeeper, Manager, or Note-taker. The idea of roles is similar to the Oxford Reading Circle Roles as a different approach to a reader or text, but, of course the roles there are related to the story: Culture Collector, Connector, Passage Person, Word Master, Discussion Leader, and Summarizer. Palmer assigns her group roles for the length of a project or for a shorter period to enable her students to develop various specific management skills and to motivate them to perform well.

Activity 12:Self-Reflection Activity or Activity 13:Final Evaluation comprise the final sections of the book and round off the course. They also serve as feedback for the teacher and make the students aware of how their teamwork skills have improved.

Although some of the activities may not be original, they have been compiled in a usable format in the book and are seen from a different perspective defined by the team building skills. What I find good about the activities is that they are clearly laid out, do not require much preparation, and are stimulating and motivating for teachers and students. This really is a hands-on book with tasks that can be used as given or adapted to suit any level and subject. For those of you who try out these team-building activities, there is a Facebook group called Successful Group Work, where you can share photos and stories of your achievements. 

These teamwork skills are not only important for working on a project in a group or as a member of a class, but are qualities that are equally valuable for the students in the working world. Palmer says, “teamwork skills… are called Employability Skills by the US Department of Education” (p. 3). And beyond this, the skills learned here are for life.

Caroline Grünig

References

Hadfield, J. (1992). Classroom dynamics.InA. Maley (series Ed.). Oxford English resource books for teachers.Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Oxford University Press Reading Circle Role Sheets. Retrieved from:http://fdslive.oup.com/www.oup.com/elt/teachers/readers/obrc_photocopiab...