Independent Learning: Group and Pair Work

Group and pair work in the classroom may seem like a daunting task to manage but with practice, some great collaborative learning will be taking place in your classroom. It is a way to encourage students to take more responsibility for their own and for others’ learning. It is also a way to support each other and use the strengths of one student to complement those of another for a successful outcome for all.

Cooperative learning shows increased individual achievement compared to that of working alone. When students are able to work together with their peers they are able to share experiences and build on their individual learning as a team. Perhaps they will feel less threatened or intimidated to try new things when working alongside someone of similar ability or perhaps they may be supported by a peer using their student relationships.

So how do we include this style of independent learning in our classrooms?

Initially, independent learning does take some practice and planning on your part. At first it may seem a bit chaotic and disorganised but the more you use this way of teaching and learning, the more familiar it will become to everyone.

It may be an idea to begin with pair work. Decide on the task or activity that you would like your students to participate in. For example, it may be researching the water cycle for Geography and presenting their findings or it may be solving a mathematical problem together.

There are 2 ways to approach groupings – either you allocate who works with who, or you allow students to choose. Factors to consider though; will students be sensible together? Could students of stronger ability support those who need a bit extra help? Do you need to allocate a role/task to each person?

When you first introduce this way of teaching in your classroom, it may be best if you take a leading role in the decision making in order to guide the students through this way of learning. Your role is that of facilitator rather than leader in this method of teaching, so rather than direct students with the actual knowledge acquirement, it is your job to direct them in ways of working towards an outcome successfully. Guiding them with approaches to tackle challenges and work their way through obstacles. It is the students that need to be doing the decision making in order to further their knowledge.

It is also important to equip your students with success criteria – what is it they need to achieve by the end of the task? What do they need to produce? How much time do they have? The students need clear direction and outcomes in order to gain success and this is where your role as facilitator is key. Remember to give students clear signposts – how much time they have left to complete, a signal that requires them to be quiet again and listen. Classrooms may become noisy with this type of learning so you may need to introduce a signal that allows students to recognise it is time to stop talking, such as 3…2…1, or your arm raised into the air.

Approaching group work will have the same method – you select groupings based on certain criteria or you may allocate tasks and roles.

This way of independent learning is incredibly important in developing our students’ skills in preparation for later life. Not only will they develop independence but they can take ownership and responsibility for their own progress as well as learning how to face obstacles and overcome them.

We have a range of resources dedicated to this way of teaching and learning on our Teach2030 website. A certified course, series of live workshops as well as teaching tips. Please visit www.teach2030.com for more information.

Encourage Independent Learning in your classroom with Teach2030


NEW! Developing Students’ Independent Learning Skills: Part 1

Introduce ways to make your learners more engaged! In this course, we define independent learning and how it differs from whole class learning.


NEW! Developing Students’ Independent Learning Skills: Part 2

In this course, we outline 4 major strategies that can be trialled in the classroom to help students become more independent


Independent Learning Workshop Series

By taking this ownership of learning, we are providing them with the lifelong skills they need for their future work lives.

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