Exploring pair work as a creative activity for English Language learners in terms of engagement and enjoyment

Several authors have noted that findings from the discipline of neuroscience may inform educators about the process of learning. In particular, they point to the benefit of creative stimulation such as the personalisation of materials and the utilisation of games in pedagogic practice. This paper describes a project focusing specifically on the use of pair work – an activity that can incorporate elements of both of these benefits. Forty-three students studying English as a Foreign Language (intermediate level) were given three pair-work activities. These involved: exchanging factual information, a role-playing scenario and discussing an issue. Unlike much published literature on the subject, the study concentrated on their engagement and enjoyment, and their evaluations of the different elements involved. A questionnaire and in-depth interviews were used to gather data. To keep the former brief, the focus was kept to the specific activities outlined above. The interviews were more wide-ranging, exploring general views and experiences of pair-work. Results overall suggested that role-play was the most popular, being ‘easy’ and did not involve knowing ‘facts’. The ‘Factual exchange’ activity was the least popular, as it required the burden of memory, and was also considered the least interesting. ‘Working with a partner’ and ‘listening to my partner’ scored highly for each task. Thus, the interactive nature of the activity appeared to count for more than the pedagogical content. Interviews revealed that although pair work was generally well-regarded, negative aspects were expressed. These included asymmetric input in terms of linguistic ability mis-match, level of interest, time and differing modus operandi. Overall, the evidence suggests that teaching pair work, one of several methods supported by neuroscientific research, can be very appealing for students – particularly when allowing them to role-play or give opinions rather than exchanging facts, and when careful consideration is given to matching people.

Key words: Neuroscience, pair-work, attitudes, interactivity, role-play,