Game Design, Gamification, Learning Design and Assorted Other Strangeness

Talking to someone new

Talking To Someone New

We have all been there; doing an activity in class that’s going really well. The students are engaged and talking—until we ask them to change partners, that is. There are many reasons why an activity can fall apart at this stage.

  1. The students might be unsure of how they are supposed to change and are looking for further information from the teacher on how to proceed.
  2. The students could be shy and not want to engage outside of their social circle. Talking with friends lowers the effective filter after all.
  3. The students could be bored with the activity and ready to move on to something more challenging.

The first reason for activity collapse is the hardest to assess and only comes through careful observation and learning about your specific class.

The second reason is all very good, but as language teachers we need our students to be exposed to as wide a range of input as possible. We do this to prevent fossilization of mistakes within peer groups, and to ensure that everyone is having a chance to contribute to the class.

For these reasons, this post will look at the first reason for activity collapse, and tactics that can be employed to prevent it.

Random groupings

This is where the teacher assigns the partners directly. There are a couple of different methods that teachers can use to do this.

The count off

If there are 16 students in the class, assign each student a number from 1-8. When you have reached 8, restart at 1. All the students with the same number are new partners.


  1. Requires no material preparations
  2. Fast to implement


  1. Students have to pay attention to remember their number.
  2. Can be chaotic as they try to find their new partner

The card draw

Each student is given a card with a shape in a different color. Students are then asked to find a matching shape (or color) for their new partner.


  1. The students can hold on to their card the entire class making it is to do multiple shifts.


  1. Requires preperation and calculating the combinations possible
  2. Can also be chaotic as students move around the classroom

Round Robin

The students are formed into two lines. They have a conversation with the person opposite them. When the teacher calls for a change, the student in position 4 in the illustration doesn’t move, and the rest of the class moves around them.


Round Robin
Round Robin


  1. The students talk to all the students in the class.
  2. Once students get the principle of how to move, changes are easy.
  3. The transitions are less chaotic than in other methods.


  1. Best used with short questions
  2. Can become very scripted


In this method, the students are formed into group of between 3 and 6. These first groups are known as the home group.

Each student in the home group is assigned a number. When it is time to change, all the 1’s sit in a new group, the 2’s in another, etc. They can either then return to their home group, or be assigned a new number.


  1. Home groups allow the students to get used to talking with the same people regularly.
  2. When the teacher uses a return to home the class can discuss all the ideas that they have heard, shared.


  1. This technique works best with discussion style activities. Simple question and answer activities are likely to end to quickly with this method.
  2. If large groups form, it is easy for a student to withdraw and not engage. Groups over 6 become particularly susceptible to this.
  3. Can become very chaotic during the transitions

As with everything in teaching, different tactics have different strengths and weaknesses based on the activity that you are doing.

The Round Robin is more suited to a faster series of transitions than the Jigsaw, which in turn is more suited to in depth group discussion.

Picking the right tactic for your organizational style, and for the activity, will help to make the activity more productive for your students.

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