Interaction Patterns and Seating Arrangements
How should you sit and pair or group learners for the best learning results? How can you change up the classroom to keep the learners engaged and on task? How does the classroom management change with different activity types? These questions are essential for creating a student-centered learning environment.
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It is important for a teacher to think about classroom management (seating arrangements) when planning their lesson. The arrangement of the room has a profound effect on learning and engagement.
1. Individual / Student Working Alone
Used with activities in which learners work on their own. In this pattern there is no student-student interaction and should be use minimally in the ESL classroom. Completely controlled.
2. Open Pair
Great for activities in which learners practice a dialog, impromptu conversation, or communicative gap-fill activity where student A and student B have different gaps to fill. Use this when you want to monitor, and have learners all producing – lowering that TTT (teacher talk time). Low control for the teacher on the content of the interaction.
3. Closed Pair
When you want everyone in the group to hear a dialog, or see the interaction between two learners. Almost always used when demonstrating an activity to the group. Low student production, but very controlled.
The go-to for group work. Fantastic for collaborative activities. Extremely low control over interaction. Make sure roles are assigned by the group leader before the activity begins (even before you hand out any materials to the learners). Examples of roles: writer/recorder, on-topic, English police, artistic coordinator, runner, timer, speaker/presenter.
The most productive interaction pattern. Just like a party, everyone talks to anyone. This increases STT to the max. Great for surveys, or practicing a free dialog. More natural than other interactions, however lower levels might lack confidence or language to engage others. Low control over interaction.
6. Teacher Fronted Plenary
Your school probably has the classrooms set up like this already. The default for most language training centers. The teacher has great control over the interaction, but the learners have little freedom for production. Use this only when introducing, setting context or the aims of the lesson, and when you need control of input and attention. Get away from this as soon as your input is complete and the learners need to start producing. Total control over interaction.
7. The Onion Ring
Jimmy’s favorite. Great for time controlled activities in which pairs of learners need to interact or exchange information. First time you use this with your group the learners will take a little more time to get into position, but once they have done it once the next time they get into position quickly. Medium control over interaction.
Listen to our podcast on Interaction Patterns and Seating Arrangements