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Intensive Pair Work Exercises

An article published in “Teaching Times”, the TESOL France magazine

When preparing a lesson I believe it is vital to include at least one intensive pair work exercise—an activity where everyone in the class will be participating and speaking at the same time. This immediately fosters a convivial atmosphere.

Spelling exercise to start off

I have always started a new course with a spelling exercise. The students all get a paper with the same instructions but the second half of the page is different for half of the class. Pages are marked “A” or “B” to differentiate them. The students will spell to their partners the words, Web sites, e-mail addresses etc. they find on their page, and they will write down what is spelt to them. No one may look at his partner’s page.

Obviously, if the letters, signs or marks are not pronounced correctly, the partner taking down the dictation will be confused. The student dictating will then have to rectify his pronunciation by referring to the top of the page. Students alternate roles and dictate only one line at a time. Those who finish early are encouraged to make up their own lists and continue spelling to their partners.

To prepare this activity just make up twenty words, Web sites or e-mail addresses—ten on each page. Mark one page “A” and the other “B”. Before the students start spelling, go over the alphabet (especially I, E, G, H, J, R, W, Y) and write useful punctuation marks (: // @ .com, underscore, hyphen etc.) on the board. This exercise and is part of Back to the Basics: Volume 1 Pair work, a 25-page booklet with exercises and the accompanying keys, sold for €4.99 at the store .

Number dictation


Another activity that easily lends itself to pair work is reading numbers aloud. The trick is to let the student who is playing the role of “teacher” have a key where all the numbers are written out in letters as they are said. In that case the student can first dictate the numbers to his or her partner and then have the latter read off the numbers. Another way of doing this is to have all the students suggest numbers, figures, dates, speeds, etc. They write them on the board both as numbers and in words. The class takes down what is on the board. Then in pairs they dictate to each other and read aloud. Since one student in each pair can consult the key, that person can easily guide and correct a partner.

Pair work translations


To finish let me mention another exercise my students enjoy. I hand out a paper with two columns. To the left we have simple sentences in French and to the right their translations into English. The students fold this paper vertically and hold it between them. One sees only the French and starts translating. The other has the key and says, “That’s right, try again or you are close.” Students have to concentrate seriously. They will be laughing a lot at their mistakes, but they will also be learning a great deal!


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