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Group Work and Language Learning

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5452 words Published: 11th Jul 2017

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Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1. Introduction

This chapter consists of the rationale behind my decision of having the thesis subject, and the way I found out the problem that my first year students have in speaking activities. Finally, they are the scope; the objectives, research questions, methods and design of this study are also begun.

1.2. Rationale

In recent years, English has been considered one of some important subjects and a compulsory one for Vietnamese students. “Better English, better careers” was the answer given by many of them when they told about their purpose of learning this language. In their daily life, it can’t be denied that this international language may help them prepare better for their career in the future because it does not only equip learners with a necessary source of information of social and culture knowledge but also gives them up-to-date information concerning a different issues in our society nowadays. Especially, our country’s recent regional and global participation has been increasing the demand for English speaking people, who are wanted to communicate with the outside world and access up- to- date technology.

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Vietnamese students are creative however there are many problems facing them when they speak this language, especially the first year students at HUBT. Among them, the problem of oral communication seems to be the most serious one. Teaching this language has been had necessary help from educators but having the best appropriate teaching method which may meet the need of the education and the society is still considered a big question for teachers of English in Vietnam.

There have been some important changes in the teaching and learning this language in recent years because of big efforts from many international organizations and educational projects. Different modern approaches, techniques and methods on the teaching of this language have been applied in many universities, colleges and high schools. Generations of teachers of English are trying their best to have the best result in their career and in the classroom’s contexts.

1.3. Finding out the problem.

During learning English, speaking skill is one of the most necessary ones that can help students have a better job. For many years in teaching, teachers may know that learners would like to speak but they feel they have not enough confidence. As a fact they can think that, this language is not easy so they are not interested in learning, especially in speaking. This action research study of how to promote learners speaking through group work activities is very good because that may also give students more opportunities to improve other skill better. According to Richards (2000, p3): “Employers too insist their employees have good English language skills and fluency in English is a prerequisite for success and advancement in many fields of employment in today’s world.”

Focusing on English learners’ communication skills is an important idea to help them make progress in speaking. Wongsuwana (2006, p 44) shows that speech could be trained and it does not depend on talent anymore or talent is not the most important thing. In addition, Edge (1993, p17) points out the importance of communication that communication is at the heart of modern English Language Teaching, the part of the learning process and the goal of language teaching.

However, most students do not have enough opportunities to speak English in an English environment that is why speaking this language has not had the best result. The first year students are from different areas in Vietnam. Maybe they were good at grammar but they have a lot of difficulties in speaking. They feel shy when they speak because they did not have a lot of chances to practice English in communication or for interaction in their daily life. Students from rural areas, sometimes had worse speaking skills than those from big cities. During speaking lessons, the strong students are very confident and the weak ones are afraid of speaking. Therefore, it is necessary to find out some solutions to this problem that the first year students have more chances to communicate with each other as well as to speak to each other in a so-called close-to-real English speaking condition. One of the strategies that reflects the principle of learner – centeredness is group work. According to Nunan and Lamb (1996, p, 142) group work is designed as any classroom activity in which learners perform collaborative tasks with one or more speakers. It has been considered one of the main changes to the dynamics of classroom interaction wrought by students-centered teaching. Moreover this speaking activity is able to increase the amount of active speaking and listening undertaken by all the learners in the language class.

Conclusively, group work is the best way to have success in learner – centered approach. This kind of speaking activities has had more and more emphasis in language classroom and it is used in encouraging learners’ oral practice. Participating in group, learners can join actively in the learning process. They do not have to sit passively and listen to their teacher.

For all the above good points, it is willing for me to propose “Group work as an approach to improving speaking skills for the first year non- major students of English at HUBT” as the subject of this study.

1.4. Scope of the study.

This study was taken place with the first year students who were learning English as a normal subject. Maybe, the study could not cover all the problems 1st students dealt with in using group work because it was limited to the investigation of learners’ attitudes towards group work, the level of learners’ participation in group activities

1.5 Objective of the study.

There have been many studies on the spoken English teaching group work so far. Therefore, this study does not claim to introduce a new way of English teaching method. The main objective of the study is for the benefits of the learners, and the study will be a source of materials for teachers of English on the teaching of speaking skill, who consider group work as one of some important educational ways to help students speak better.

  • To be more specific, the main objective is:

To investigate the effects of group work on students’ speaking skill and its results.

  • With this objective, the research questions are:

1. What are the learners’ attitudes towards group work?

2. What are the effects of group work on learners’ speaking skills?

1.6. Organization of the study

The study consists of 5 main chapters: Introduction, Literature review, Methodology, Finding and discussion, and the last one is Conclusion.

Chapter 2: Literature review

This chapter presents major issues that relate to the theory of communicative learning in general and in language teaching in particular. The main features are taken into consideration, the concepts related to the study including the communication language teaching and the teaching of speaking skill, the definition of group work. Finally, they are benefits of group work.

2.1. Definition of Communicate language teaching and the teaching of speaking skill

CLT is the latest influence on language teaching in Vietnamese education. CLT is considered as a broad approach to teach and results from a focus on communication as the organizing principle for the teaching rather than a focus on mastering of grammatical system of the language. Many different of CLT have been provided so far so it is not easy to show which a standard one is.

Byrne (1981, p71) shows that the communicative approach allows many interactive oral activities in the classroom. Learners learn to use the English language, not English usages, to speak better in communication. They participate in group work (including of more than 2 students), play their own roles to speak to others, who have the same role, so each of them make intentional utterances that can help them have the best result and reach their goal in the shortest time. Learners are introduced to clear targets by their teacher and teachers may create communicative conditions, go round, and participate in the activities to help their students.

Nunan (1989, p94) points out the approach which consists of aspects common to some definitions of CLT: CTL review language as a system for the expression of meaning. Activities involve oral communication, carrying out meaning tasks and using language, which is meaningful to the learners. Objectives reflect the needs of the learners. They consist of functional skills as well as linguistic objectives. The learners’ role is as a negotiator and integrator. The teacher’ role is as a facilitator of the communication process. Materials promote communicative language use; they are task – based authentic.

This definition shows a clear view of understanding and explaining language acquisition. It is socially constructed and may be effect when exploiting to teach language speaking.

In communication, speaking plays an important role. The nature of speaking, both the element of pronunciation and connected speech, and the pragmatic aspects, has been discussed to examine by some well- known scholars and linguists. Brown (1994, p256 ) shows many of the characteristics such as the reduced forms, the stress, rhythm and intonation, the clustering, the colloquialism, the affective factors and the interaction, that could make oral performance not easy.

From these writers’ support, it is easy to realize that the good results of communication consist of many features. They are the ability to articulate phonological ones of the language, the suitable degree of fluency, the mastery of stress intonation patterns, rhythm and etc 1. The development of CLT has had implications, which are necessary for students to develop their speaking ability through cooperative learning. Moreover, it gives students many chances to speak the language with appropriate learning conditions.

2.2. Group work

2.2.1. Definitions of group work.

Group work is considered one of the important factors to improve learners’ communication. Different individuals have developed many approaches to group work over the last time. Group work is defined by Johnson, Johnson and Smith (1991, p15) as “group work, in language class, is a co- operative activity, during which students share aims and responsibilities to complete a task assigned by the teacher in groups or in pair”.

It is said that, in group work, students learn to listen to different ideas, learn to discuss and to negotiate. They take part in equally and sometimes they feel comfortable to experiment and speak the language. Every member has more opportunities for independence and they can have some learning decisions.

David (1993) shows that group work activity consists of three general types. The first one is informal learning group. The second one is formal learning group. The last one is the study teams. From these definitions of group type, the first one is more suitable for the term “group work activities” described in this study. This means that learners are required to have small groups from 3 or more members to work on a speaking task.

2.2.2. Benefits of using group work activities in language teaching.

There are many sorts of activities in speaking lesson. They are discussions, dialogues, etc. These activities are often used in group work and have a lot of advantages.

Firstly, students’ responsibility and autonomy are promoted through group work activities.

All students work together, share their ideas, and always want to reach the goal in group activities. In addition, one of their main tasks is being in charge of their group activities. Every learner is in charge of his own and each others’ speaking, so there is a friendly help and high personal interdependence between them. Doff states: Group work and pair wok encourage students to share ideas knowledge. In a reading activity, students can help each other to explore the meaning of a text, in a discussion activity; students can give each other new ideas”. (Doff, 1988).

Secondly, learners’ participation, talking time and oral fluency are improved through group.

As for Ur (1996, p 232), students can have a learning task during small interaction in group work and it is considered as a kind of their activation and is very valuable for practicing of fluency in speaking. There are 5 groups in a class; students can get 5 times as some chance to speak as in a big class.

Finally, the students’ motivation is improved through group work activities. . Group-work activity can allow participants to use the language. Moreover, it is one of the most effective ways to motivate participants to become more involved. Richards and Loc Khart (1994) point out that, students not only play more active roles in the learning process but also get the benefits of sharing ideas with their team member through taking part in groups. Doff (1988, p141) states ” students fell less anxiety when they are privately than when they are on shown in front of the whole class. Pair work and group-work can help shy students, who would never say anything in a whole class activity”

The source of benefits of group-work can be seen in many different fields, consists of improving students speaking skill. In the best group-work activity in a language classroom, the participants of a learning group can benefit in several ways. By dividing the class into group, a new social context in created whereby learners get the opportunity to share individual cognitions with their group mates and decide on a conclusion based on the sum of these cognitions.

In general, group work has had a lot of emphasis in language classroom and its activities are taken place in some ways of the second language instructions, especially in encouraging learners’ face to face practice. However, group activities still have got many problems when some students control the group a lot and make others uncomfortable, so how to organize group work effectively is the big question for educators and language teachers, who consider group wok as one of the best ways to improve students’ speaking skill.

Chapter 3: Methodology.

Chapter 3 presents the methodology of the study. The methods used in this study includes both quantitative and qualitative.

3.1. Research design.

There have been many methods provided to be used in the way of applied linguistics. They are experimental method, case study but Action Research was chosen in this study because it includes many advantages and it is one of the most effective ways to obtain more objective and reliable information, including observation and interview.

3.2 Participants.

The students were in the last term (or second term) of the first year at the University. They are in class KT 1421, Account Department, and learned in a small – sized class of 25 ones, including 15 girls and 10 boys. Each class has one private room to study and they attend 10 class hours of English in a week. They are from 18 to 19 years old. Some of them, especially students from big cities, studied English at high school for 7 years, and others, who come from different provinces, finished this language for only 3 years. Although their English knowledge was not the same, they have to study the same level – Elementary at University.

3.2 The procedures of the study.

3.2.1 Problem identification

During organizing group work activities, due to my experience in teaching and a lot of discussions between me and my first year students, I found out a problem: students’ lack of interest in participating in group work activities so this speaking activity has not had the best result.

3.2.2 Collecting data

To clarify the problem, a student interview was chosen because it has many advantages. Nunan (1987, p150) states “it gives the interviewee a degree of power and control over the course of interviewer a great deal of flexibility”. The purpose of the interview was to get students’ opinions about group work activities and the causes of this problem. The interviewer is a teacher of English- a researcher of this study. The interviewees are 6 students from 3 groups which were divided by the researcher.

The first group is a weak one, consisting of unconfident students. They are very shy and sometimes lazy with speaking activities. The students in this group were quite and passive, they seemed to keep silent and listen to other team members most of the time. They are 8 students, and often got bad mark (mark 5 or 4) in a pre- test speaking.

The second one is a strong group, including dynamic, enthusiastic and hard working students in the study (9 out of 25 students). Most of them were really active and “talkative and dominant” in group activities. In last test speaking, they got good mark (mark 7.5, 8 and 9).They are always successful in every speaking activity

The last group consists of students, whose performance at speaking lesson, especially group work activities is indifferent. Maybe they are not lazy but they are lack of English speaking skill. They shared 33 % (8 students in the class). Mark 6 or 6.5. They do not make noise in the class but their result in studying is not always excellent.

3.2.3. Analyzing data.

The information collected from the interview will be discussed in detailed in section 4.1- the initial

3.2.4. Planning action

Basing on the findings from the initial data, the solution chosen is to rearrange students’ seats in group work activities and reconsider the way of teaching. More details will showed in 4.2.2

3.2.5. Implementing the action plan

The action plan implementation lasted during 3 weeks, with the participations of the teacher and 25 students in class Kt 1421.

3.2.6 Collecting post- data.

Attitude interview was used to collect data in order to find out where group work activities improve their speaking skill. Moreover, I would like to discover the students’ attitudes towards this speaking activity.

3.2.7 Analyzingpost – data

This action was evaluated on the results collected from the post data. Some recommendations for other research were presented from the results of the action research.

An interview was chosen as a data collection instrument for this study.. The interview was designed by the teacher, based on information I would like to find. The students’ interview consisted of 5 questions. (See appendix 1).

In order to help interviewees understand all the questions clearly, 5 questions were translated into Vietnamese.

Chapter 4: Result and discussions

This chapter provides the results of the action research. The presentation consists of the description of the initial result from the interview, the information on the findings from this result.

4.1. Initial data.

4.1.1 Results from pre-students’ interview.

  • Question 1: The students’ self – assessment of their English speaking skill in group work activities.

Most of the students (4 out of 6) admitted that their speaking skill in group work’s discussions was bad, even very bad. They found it very complicated .Only one third (2 out of 6 students) started that the speaking skill was not a big problem in their English learning.

  • Question 2: Students’ interest in taking part in group work activities.

Question 2 asked students if they liked to participate in group work activities. Students’ answers showed that a majority (4 out of 6) said no to the question. They are from the first and the last group. In their opinions, they would like to have more help from their classmates, whose English is better than their because they are lack of speaking skill and afraid of asking their teacher a lot.

Only one third of students (2 out of 6) expressed that they are interested in this speaking activity because it allows them have more opportunities to practice in English.

  • Question 3: Difficulties of learners’ while participating.

Question 3 aimed to collect difficulties the students had to deal with while taking part in group work activities. Two students from the weak group complained that they had a lot of difficulties and the most difficult one is without a leader team. They did not know what to say, how to start and express their ideas, their opinions in English with a topic in discussions. Two other students from the last group mentioned that they had too much difficulty. They often could not understand clearly all the noun phrases and expressions when their teacher taught and explained in English. That was the main reason that they often spent time chatting or reading funny stories and made noise in the class. Other members’ English level is the same so they would like to have a chance in their sitting in group work activities. Only one third (2 out of 6),who are very confident and independent in studying, started that they did not have any difficulties in every group work speaking activity but sometime they were not satisfied when there was too much noise from the weak group..

  • Question 4: Learners’ attitude towards teacher’s monitoring their seats in group work activities.

As can been seen in question’s result, a majority students were looking forward to it (4 out of 6). They are from group one and three. One student from the strong one was not ready to accept that. She was afraid that, she is willing to help team mates but she would spend too much time explaining lessons for the weak ones in the team. The last student from the strong group had positive attitude towards changing their seats.

  • Question 5: Learners’ opinion kids of team member they like to work with.

Six interviewees had the same opinion that they do not care of this.

4.1.2. Finding from the initial data

As can be seen from the data analysis from students interview, the first year students would like to take part in group work activities until there will be some chances in organizing, especially their seats, and team members. Most of them, especially from the first and the last group are looking forward to this. In addition to this, I try to explain lessons more clearly to help students understand better.

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In order to overcome these problems, I should think about how to arrange group work activities that they can work effectively and better and what to do to make the activities been done properly. When organizing group work, the first point should be taken into consideration is the selection of group work member. The students always sit in the same place since it means that they will always be in the same group, which can give rise to boredom over a prolonged period.

From the identification of this problem mentioned above, the following hypothesis was chosen: If the teacher rearranges students’ seats in group work activities and changes something in the way of teaching, students will be full of interest in participating in group work activities, and their speaking skill will be better.

4.2. Action Plan

The action plan was conducted to check the chosen hypothesis and more importantly to give the answer to the 2 Research Questions.

The action implementation was taken place for 3 weeks, during 6 class hours of English with these steps:

The first, students are not allowed to choose their partners or group mates because this happened in the first term and better students often sat together and so did the weak ones. Participants are in mixed ability group, consisting 4 members. A group should have a mixture of a weaker and a stronger student since the more able students can help their less fluent or knowledgeable friends, the process of helping will such strong students to understand more about the language themselves.

Secondly, I had better to take some important things into my consideration to overcome these problems mentioned above such as instructions, monitoring. Presenting the activity to the class will be a major in its success. Therefore, it is a good idea for me to keep instruction simply and if necessary can use the mother tongue, however I also should try to use English as much as possible because both explaining and evaluating activities is a very real use of language in a classroom situation. Providing many examples and giving the learners a “trial run” are usually good ideas. Moreover, when activities are in progress, my main task is to move around the class and to “listen in” directly in order to find out how the participants are getting on well. I think, I should not correct students’ mistakes of language during a group activity but I should make a note of them and use them as the basis of feedback. The participants should be told that the teacher is available for consultation if they need

During 6 class hours, students in 3 groups were divided in different groups with separated roles. The students from the weak one had help from new group members, seemed to take part in discussions actively and the strong ones had opportunities to help their friends. They discussed together positively with their opinions.

Post-interview was used to collect post- data after the action plan finished. The five pre-interview questions were used again.

Result from post-interview

Students’ problems



Noise from weak group



Fear of speaking



Low participation



Use of mother tongue



Difficulty in understanding lessons



Arrange their seats in group work activities




It is clear from the pre-interview’ results that most students’ problems have been reduced. There was not noise in group work activities. Only two students from the weak group were still shy when they spoke. They used to keep silent during group work activities, but now their participation is not low. They started to have ideas in group’s discussions. Four students from the first and the last group complained about their difficulties in participating. After 3 weeks, they had a little one because of rearranging their seats and having a leader team. It is very helpful for them to speak English better. Most of students are interested in their new seat

Chapter 5: Conclusion

5.1. Summary of the study

It is not a new idea to use group work activities in improving learners’ speaking ability. In many educators’ opinions, this speaking ability no doubt gives big and necessary benefits not only teachers but also learners. In this study, the effects of group work on the students’ participation and achievement have been shown and learners’ attitude towards this speaking activity bas been investigated. The study has presented many good results through regards to quantitative and qualitative analysis. The first, a lot of students as the participants in the research expressed their interest in taking part in group work activities. The second, through the implementation of this research, the stronger and friendlier relationship between team members has been proved. Most of the students showed that their speaking skills in English were developed and improved significantly. Therefore this research helped me and my colleagues have more chances to know students’ weaknesses and strengths during their participating as well as their desires, feelings, difficulties and expectations revealed through their roles. It is valuable source of personal information for teacher to know and helps the teacher adjust and strengthen her role as a facilitator, an educator and a teacher in classroom activities.

The increasing quantity of learners’ interaction in the post- group work activities support the opinion that a lot of students in a group worked more effectively with each other in order to reach the goal of the group by the way they asked question, responded others, clarified and explained opinions and ideas to team members. The weak students were more confident when they asked for help from better members in the group as the participants were willing and ready to help. Moreover they felt comfortable to encourage the weak ones to participate in practicing group work activities as the good students find out that through doing these things, their oral communication skills and many other academic skills, for example level thinking skill, critical thinking skill to explain evaluate , discuss, formulate idea…have been improved. Using group work effectively can help students become more independent, confident and responsible. This is very good because they can have and use many suitable learning strategies in their studying for a long time.

5.2. Limitations of the study and suggestions for further studies.

This action was made to improve teaching and learning in group work activities. Like many action research, obviously it has limitations.

Firstly, the finding could not be generalized and should be interpreted with caution by using to other contexts.

Secondly, the participants are only the first year students not the second or third ones, who have more experience in learning English and in taking part in a teamwork.

Moreover, only the way to develop speaking skill is showed while group work activities could be used to teaching other integrated skill for students such as listening, writing, reading and of course, speaking.

5.3. Pedagogical implications of the study

English lessons are considered good opportunities to practice this language. Students can have help from their teachers and their classmates. Moreover, to encourage students on the initial trying of studying and improving their practicing English, teachers of English may supply some investment to organize and use the program on a bigger scale such as student-organized English speaking clubs, English students’ newspaper that provide necessary experience in learning this language, important knowledge and main skill to learn English better.

In addition, when organizing group work activities, these important factors should be taken into consideration: setting up a group work activity, managing group work effectively, organizing group successfully.

Further more, the realization of this study has showed the orientation and showed the practicality of using group work in teaching English in Vietnamese education, especially in university context, where a lot of teachers use traditional approach and students depend on them a lot. Group work activities are very important and necessary for Vietnamese students, especially the first year students, who have finished high school, where teachers use traditional methods of teaching English a lot. Participating in group work activities can help them improve their independent working, have more critical thinking skills.



Byrne, D (1981). Communication in the classroom. England: Longman.


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