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Why Understanding the Group Dynamics of an ESL Classroom is Important

Why Understanding the Group Dynamics of an ESL Classroom is Important | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Humans are social animals. Throughout history, we’ve always evolved in communities and societies, where individuals relate with others by affiliating themselves to different groups. They are then integrated into a complex social network, whose members often have a strong impact on each other. Group dynamics represent this impact: they designate the functioning of a group and the relationships between its members. These dynamics also play an important role in the classroom, thus it is essential that the teacher understands them in order to create a productive synergy between themselves and their students.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Eva M.

Tailoring Lessons to Suit the Common Dynamic

One of the main components of group dynamics is the cohesion between its members which unites them towards a common goal and strongly determines how leadership and decision making processes happen, as well as their effectiveness. In the case of a classroom, cohesion can be found naturally if its members have similar backgrounds, either by their age, their location, or their culture, which often leads them to share similar goals, values, attitudes, and needs. If we take these affinities and/or these differences into account, we, as instructors, can adapt our teaching style to present our lessons in the best way possible for our students.

For example, if we were teaching to a group singularly composed of adults, different activities would be used than with a younger age group, whose attention span differs. Therefore, when teaching English to 7-year-olds, songs and games might be the best option, but an older crowd might rapidly get bored and feel like they need some written structure to really grasp the concepts we are teaching them. Another example would be the difference between students from different countries, whose rapport to school and to their teachers might vary tremendously. For example, fun activities in Japan, where school is seen as a very serious and honorable institution, might be considered out of place, whereas they would probably be well received in South American classrooms. As an English teacher, it is, therefore, crucial to understand our student’s background so we can tailor our lessons to answer their needs in the best way possible.

Also read: The 5 Best TEFL Games for Adult Students

Understanding the Classroom Dynamic Can Help With Participation and Discipline

Besides tailoring our lessons for specific students, the study of group dynamics also offers us techniques to increase participation and discipline amongst our class. Indeed, by making sure we are taking into account the different social conventions that come with every age group, we can easily make sure that the students follow the rules. For example, if we are teaching English to a group of five-years-olds and one of them is constantly misbehaving, we can assume that the child is feeling neglected and is screaming for attention. Therefore, instead of yelling at him, which would not resolve the root issue in a positive way, we can make him our “little assistant”. He can then distribute papers, or make sure that the other students are respecting the rules. By giving him responsibilities, we are making sure he feels heard and has different activities to channel his energy. In conclusion, by adapting our teaching style to the difficult student, we will have resolved the issue in a positive way, helping the student reach his potential instead of repressing him.

In another situation, if we were to teach a class of young teenagers, who often feel self-conscious and refuse to participate in class, we could organize activities in teams of two or three in order to encourage them to speak in the language, without the pressure of ridicule. It is therefore crucial as a teacher to understand and use group dynamics so that our lessons can be specifically tailored and thus be as efficient as possible.

Also read: How to Motivate High School Students in the ESL Classroom

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