Book review: Successful Group Work

Alphabet Publishing must have been feeling generous! Not only did they send me Classroom Community Builders (Burns), but I also received a copy of Successful Group Work by Patrice Palmer. This book hasn’t been out long, so it’s the perfect time for a review!

Successful Group Work is a short book of 13 activities for teaching teamwork skills. Palmer begins by writing about some benefits of group work in the EFL classroom, such as increased student talk time and the chance to negotiate meaning. She highlights, however, that to ensure group work is effective learners first need to be aware of what makes it a success – that’s where teambuilding skills come in. Activities in the book are designed as a ‘complete course’, helping students identify and develop the necessary teamwork skills in order to succeed in group projects.

In defining ‘teamwork skills’, Palmer refers to a list compiled by the Conference Board of Canada, clearly stating how each of the activities in the book focus on these various skills. Some examples include:

  • Recognising and respecting diversity
  • Contributing to a team
  • Understanding and working within the dynamics of a group
  • Planning, designing or carrying out a task

There are some good tips in the introduction about setting clear expectations and post-task reflection.

The activities

The activities section begins with icebreakers and moves on to highlighting the benefits of teamwork. There are then a set of team building activities, a few tasks that focus on developing teamwork skills and strategies, and finally a section on reflection and evaluation.

I was familiar with a few of the activities, like the icebreakers and tower building task. The ‘Benefits of Team Building’ section had a useful activity – students practice memorising word lists alone, then repeat the task together and assess the benefit of this. It’s a simple task but likely to work well with some of my classes. I’d have liked to see a few more activities like this in the ‘Benefits…’ section.

Taking these activities as sequential, I think it’s a good idea from the author to have encouraged learners to try some teambuilding activities before introducing skills and strategies. I can see how some team building activities could be repeated (perhaps adapted slightly) with students applying some of the skills and strategies they’ve encountered.

Favourite activity

The self-reflection activity (number 12) was the best of the lot – it has a photocopiable checklist which I will definitely use after my next group project with my teen classes.

Who is the book for?

The moment I flicked through the book I thought ‘this is ideal for my teen classes’. I spent some time reflecting on these classes last year when I was struggling to get students collaborating (well, even just speaking!). I implemented a fair few ideas into my practice (see this post), but I can see how this useful series of activities from Palmer would help prepare my teens for collaborative tasks and group work. Perhaps teambuilding skills are something I’ve neglected…

Having worked at plenty of summer schools in the UK, I’d say that this is MUST BUY for those preparing a summer school syllabus. Basically, you have a very well structured first day of lessons in this book – maybe into day two (depending on timings).

How could the book be improved?

The activities are really good – easy to follow, sequenced well, a focus on self-reflection, and activities that reference an existing framework of essential skills for teamwork. I mentioned that more activities related to the benefits of team building might be useful.

The main improvement I’d suggest would be to include example process language for use with these tasks. Although the instructions are clear, I can see teachers needing to anticipate quite a lot when it comes to useful/required language for students performing some tasks, especially in an EFL setting. Some prompts here, or an appendix of possible process language, might save teachers time and give less experienced teachers some ideas.

Summary

If you’re running a UK summer school then this is a very useful book. If you’re looking for ways to develop life skills in teen classes then this looks like a good book to use for the start of term. If you’re superstitious then a book with 13 activities in should probably be avoided!

Successful Group Work by Patrice Palmer is available from the Alphabet Publishing website: ebook $1.99, print version $7

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2 comments

    1. Cheers Patrice, and well done on your first publication! Let me know if you have any more books in the pipeline – I found this one pretty useful so look forward to reading more

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