Pair work is a much-loved, much-used teaching technique—and with good reason. It reduces teacher talk time, lets students working with a variety of classmates, gives you the freedom to monitor, and gets all students talking (not just the most outgoing!). Plus, because it takes the focus off their individual contributions, introverted students enjoy pairwork too. Because you can never have too many ideas, we’ve rounded up a list of our favorite pair work activities. Enjoy!
1. Interview—An oldie but a goodie. Mix interviews up with unusual or funny questions, or by changing the content to suit the unit you are currently studying
2. Speed conversations—Anyone who knows anything about speed dating can imagine how this one works! Arrange chairs in two lines, facing each other. Now pose a question, and tell your students that they must talk with their partner about that topic or question for two minutes straight. When you call time, line A will move along one chair to their right, therefore giving each student a new partner to talk with. Repeat.
3. Picture dictation—Pairs sit back-to-back, each with a piece of a paper. Student A starts drawing something, and describes what they are drawing while doing it. Student B must try to follow Student A’s instructions. When they’ve finished, pairs compare pictures to see how similar or different they were. Ask students to discuss the differences with their partner. This activity can be used to practice different ways of asking questions, giving instructions, discussing similarities and differences, and other grammar constructions.
4. Guess who?—A great way to use board games in class! Student A choose a character from a series of available character pictures. Student B partner asks about A’s character’s appearance in order to reveal who they chose. This is a great way to practice asking and answering the “Wh-questions”. You can use the Guess Who? original board game, download a printable available online, or create your own by cutting and pasting pictures of well-known people.
5. Pen and paper games—Think hangman and pictionary. Playing these games in pairs requires students to listen and respond effectively. You can also add a content review twist to classic tic-tac-toe, in which students answer questions from their exercise book (such as those found at the end of chapter review sections), and win the chance to add an “X” or “O” to the board for each correct answer.
6. Memory—A twist on the classic game, in this version you’ll need to first create a set of cards in which each correct pair forms a question (use color-coding to aid students as they play). When a student correctly matches a question, their partner must answer it. This activity works well at the start the semester, to find out students’ feelings about a new subject, and to introduce controversial or interesting topics.
7. Forbidden words—Sometimes called Yes/No, in this activity pairs ask and answer questions, though are not allowed to say the words yes or no. When they do, the other other student scores a point and play repeats. You may choose to create a championship style activity where winners of pair Yes/No matches play together, until class’s ultimate winner is revealed! (Other words to “forbid” are maybe, um/urh/eh, I, and you.)
8. Storytelling—Tell your class a story, making sure there are several important plot points throughout. In pairs, students must then retell the story. You may like to extend the activity by asking students to write the story out in bullet points, identify questions they would ask the characters, illustrate it, act it out, record it, or create a script.