Group Talk: An example of how to motivate pupils (particularly boys) and improve oracy in a lower secondary school through small group interaction

Author(s): European Schoolnet
Institution/Organisation: Wildern School, Southampton (UK)

1. Profile of the language initiative

1.1 Background

Main characteristics


The school is a very large 11-16 mixed comprehensive* school of 1800 pupils, serving a residential suburb of Southampton. After leaving the school at 16 years, most pupils go on to local sixth form colleges. The school has a specialist status in the performing arts* and because of its 'overall success in all respects', as stated in a recent government inspectors' report (OFSTED), it shares its practice with other schools in the area in order to help improve school achievement and performance.

Languages in the school


Spanish, French and German are taught in preparation for the GCSE examination. All pupils take a language until the end of Key Stage 3 (14 years) and 50% opt to continue to GCSE. (In 2003 the UK government removed the obligation to continue studying foreign languages after the age of 14, key stage 3).

The school employs a German language assistant and there are native Spanish and German teachers in the languages department. A variety of ICT tools are available such as Smartboard/ Language Learning Websites / Audacity / Movie Maker / School VLE .

There is an annual exchange for pupils with a partner school in Germany and the school takes part in the annual Global Rock in Dresden. In 2008, the school participated in an international Olympics event hosted by the partner school. There is also a visit organised to Paris and Barcelona. The science department of the school is a partner in a Comenius project.

1.2 Description of initiative

The languages department has developed Group Talk over the past four years. Initially targeting two classes, it now covers all language teaching in the school involving all language teachers. The initiative was developed to provide a setting in which pupils could actually enjoy using language in a real situation, rather than in an artificial one, and to increase their enjoyment and involvement. A key aim of Group Talk is to increase the motivation to learn, particularly among boys, who traditionally show less interest in language learning at this age than girls.

The classrooms where languages are taught are set up for group work around tables. Pupils work in groups of between three and six. The lesson usually starts with some formal teaching introducing the necessary tools, useful vocabulary and structures, and how to ask questions and express opinions. The pupils then work in their groups, asking each other questions, stating their opinions and arguing with each other.

Once Group Talk is established, it can be used at any time in a lesson to stimulate debate and embed current learning. It works particularly well as an activity for lesson starters and plenaries.

1.3 Practical realisation

There are four main stages in the development of the necessary language skills:

This approach has been particularly successful with boys who enjoy the freedom to express themselves and to test their views on their peers.

Lesson plans and resources are shared. Multi-media prompts, cue cards and pupil support cards have been developed and shared between members of the languages staff. A training pack including a DVD of ‘live’ Group Talk is currently being produced in-house as an in-service training tool for new members of staff and other schools looking to replicate the project.

2. Assessment of success

2.1 Success factors

2.2 Success indicators

2.3 Lessons to be learned

The use of Group Talk can dramatically raise engagement in lessons. However, it is in its nature also very demanding of pupils, and can challenge comfort zones.  Teachers who use English as their medium of communication often complain about a lack of response or engagement from pupils. Teenage boys are famously monosyllabic in their mother tongue, let alone a foreign one!

Group Talk should not be expected to work every time. Some pupils will use it as an opportunity to socialise. Some pupils will be tired and not want to speak or interact with peers. Like any worthwhile educational initiative which relies on the mood and persona of young people, it can be fallible.

The main lesson learned is not to doubt the worth of what one is doing even if it seems like a ‘bad day’. Perseverance and staying true to the principles of Group Talk will ultimately create motivated learners who can use the foreign language confidently and spontaneously.

2.4  Future plans

Embedding even further the principles and practice with all classes across all year groups.

As younger ones who were ‘raised’ on Group Talk go into Key Stage 4, there will be a need to develop an appropriate amount of sophistication into their debates (stages 3/4 on progression chart).

Need to roll out the project to more schools, both locally and nationally. The project continues to be disseminated at national language conferences which results in much interest. There will be a need to continue to meet the training needs for language departments in other schools.

Need to use technology (video conference / web cams etc) to explore Group Talk with other groups of pupils who are native speakers.