Background To The Study And The Statement Education Essay

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English, an International language, becomes very urgent in Vietnam. More and more people, especially working people and students have to learn English to use at work, in study or for future jobs. Learning English means that we have to learn all four skills: Speaking, Listening, Reading and Speaking. Among these skills, Speaking seems the most important one because it is said to be the best way to help people communicate with each other, so several language teaching and learning methods have been applied to improve students' communicative skill.

Nolasco and Arthur (1988) state that the most important of the changes in methodology of language teaching to create natural language activities in the classroom has been the use of group work. Harmer (1991) also points out that it may be a waste of valuable opportunities if teachers do not use group work in teaching. Many other researchers have mentioned group work activities as chances for students to practise actively the language they are learning. In general, these activities can help motivate students' participation and increase learning effectiveness. Therefore, using group work activities has been predominant and widely used in the world for the past decades. However, how to use this approach the most effectively is still a concern for many teachers in Vietnam and especially for the teachers at VIC.


2.1. Overview of teaching speaking

There are many definitions about "what is speaking?" from many researchers. In an excellent review of the research, speaking is defined as "the process of building and sharing meaning through the use of verbal and non- verbal symbols, in a variety of contexts"( Chaney & Burk ,1998, p. 13). When students are taught in the right way with right activities, speaking in class can be a lot of fun, students can interact with each other easily. By contrast if students do not learn how to speak or do not get any chance to speak English in class they may soon lose interest in learning.

Nunan (2003) defines "teaching speaking" is to teach ESL learners not only to make the English speech sounds patterns be produced, words and sentences stress, intonation patterns of the second language are used, but also to select words, phrases and sentences appropriately according to the suitable social setting with meaningful and logical order.

To sum up, one of the most important parts of second language learning is teaching speaking. It helps students both communicate efficiently and have success at school and later life. Therefore it is essential that teachers should pay a great of attention to teaching speaking in class (Kayi, 2006)

2.2. Students' participation in speaking activities

2.2.1. Definition of students' participation

According to Peacock (1997), students' participation is defined in term of on task or off task in classroom activities. This means that students are on task when they engage and pay attention on all activities required in class, and students are off task when they have "a complete lack of attention to the task" (p.155). They do not care what is happening around them and ignore teachers' requirement.

2.2.2. The role of students' participation in the second language learning

Students' participation plays a major role in language learning in the classroom because most of the level of proficiency achieved by different students is determined by participation. The most successful students are those who have both talent and high level of participation in classroom (Wangsa, 2004). Moreover, teachers can not teach effectively without students' participation because the goal of teaching is to send out information and transform students from inactive recipients of other people's knowledge into active ones (Barry & King, 1993). Students' participation in class is one of the aspects of classroom interaction (Ellis, 1994). It is a process in which opportunities are created for students to practice the second language and to produce output.

2.2.3. Factors affecting students' participation in speaking activities

There are many factors affecting students' participation such as teachers (e.g., teachers' methods and techniques, teachers' personalities and characteristics), learners (learners' styles), materials (e.g., text books, handouts), and environment. Among them, teachers may be the most important factor because when teachers use suitable methods with interesting topics, students will feel eager to participate in given activities. That is why "group work activities" is the main aim of this study to find out its effect to the level of students' participation.

2.3. Group work activities

2.3.1. Definition of group work activities

'Group work' has been defined by a variety of researchers. 'Group work' is a "learning activity which involves a small group of learners working together. The group may work in a single task, or on different part of a large task"( Richards et al., 1993, p.216). Group work can increase the amount of students talking time and maximize the chances for students to take part in speaking activities in classroom. It is indicated that 'group work' is a number of people who interact with one another and who are psychologically aware of one another and who perceive themselves to be a group (Harris & Firth, 1990). Group work is a specially effective activity for teaching English to students. Peak (1991) states that group work is a good way to motivate students to be more active in learning.

In brief, group work is one of approaches to help students with motivation and willingness to interact with each other to fulfil communicative tasks successfully.

2.3.2. Advantages and disadvantages of using group work activities Advantages of using group work activities

Being explored by many researchers, group work activities have been found to be able to used as one good way to increase students' motivation to take part in speaking activities. It is clear that when students work in a group, they feel more confident and tend to be less embarrassed when they make mistakes (Jacobs, 1998). Kramsch (1987) states that if teachers organize group work activities, students will have a chance to use language with the least fear of loosing face. Moreover, students can avoid loosing their faces when participating in a group conversation even if when students do not have anything new to say, they can comment, paraphrase or expand on their group-mates.

Working in groups means that more students have more opportunity to talk more. Group work activities not only give students far more chance to speak the target language but also encourage them to be more involved and to concentrate on the task. Students feel more confident when they are working in groups than when they are on show in front of the whole class.

Group work helps students increase the relationship between students and encourage them to cooperate and negotiate in English. Harris (1991) says that "By designing more group assignments, we can exploit the benefits of group-work, where the weaker students will learn by having others help" and he also claims that "the students who teach each other will learn better than if they were learning alone". In addition, group work activities enable teachers to create and provide students with as many opportunities to communicate and practice what they have learnt as possible. A great number of researchers such as Nolasco and Arthur (1988), Harmer (1991), Brown (1994), (Gower et al., 1995), Ur (1996), and Davies & Pearse (2000) also share the same finding that group work activities provide students the best chances for practice.

In group-work, learners perform a learning task through small group interaction. It is a form of learners' activation that if of particular value in the practice of oral fluency: learners in a class that is divided into five groups get five times as many opportunities to talk as in full class organization. (Ur, 1996, p. 232)

Tran (2001) and Zhenhui (2001b) share opinion that group work activities help reduce the element of teachers' domination and create more chances for interaction within the class. Nuun (2002) once again confirms the advantages of increasing practice opportunities that brought when starting group work activities. They encourage both weak and strong students to extend themselves to their full talent.

Moreover group work helps students have a good atmosphere to work and practice with their friends. (Nolasco & Arthur, 1988)

In short, group work activities provide great opportunities for students to practice the language they are learning in a relaxed environment, which will lead to better quality of language production. However there are also problems when using group work activities in class. Disadvantages of using group work activities

Apart from above indicated advantages, group work activities can not avoid having a few disadvantages.

Group work activities have a bit challenging to teachers because the aim of working in groups is to provide students opportunities to interact with each other without teacher's interruption, so the teacher has less control over what is being done in carrying out group activities than when doing whole class activities. When the teacher does not keep an eye on students, they may ignore their present task to chat or lapse into native language. Therefore native consequences may result if group work activities are carried out in the wrong way with a lack of teacher's oversight and control (Harris and Firth, 1990).

Furthermore, in each group there are both strong students and weak students, and as usual strong students are usually active and dominate the group's work, resulting in reduced chances for week students to express their ideas due to their passive manner. In addition, each member of the group has to conform to the norm established by all group members, so sometimes conflicts may occur within a group because of an unaccepted individual's opinion. Malamah (1988) states that conflict often appears in interaction situation which leads to broken communication.

From mentioned disadvantages, it is important to organize group work activities in a right way and the teacher's roles in carrying out these activities are extremely necessary.

2.3.3. The teachers' roles in carrying group work activities

In classroom, teachers are people who have responsibility for the management of the classroom activities (Widdowson, 1990), or are in a position of "dominance" the process of exchanging information between students (Wright, 1987). Some researchers have stated different roles of teachers in group work activities at the same time: an organizer, a controller, and a participant.

According to Harmer (1991), being an organizer is one of the most difficult roles of a teacher in group work activities. The organizers have to tell students what activities they are going to do, give them clear instructions and information of the activities.

As controllers, teachers have to control what activities students do, what language they use and make sure that all students take part in their task (Sheils, 1993). Besides, teachers are expected to go round and take notes of difficulties and mistakes for late comment (Brown, 1994 & Harmer, 1991).

When students are doing their tasks, teachers can play a role of a "co- communication" (Littlewood, 1981), or a "competent speaker" and "a good listener" (Sheils, 1993).

In conclusion, there are many demands on teachers when they organize group work activities. They have to realize and understand their roles to make the group activities the most effective.


From the theoretical background to speaking skills, group work activities as well as previous study, it is clear that group work activities can bring about many benefits to students in their speaking lesson, especially to motivate students to participate in speaking activities.

However the use of group work activities has not been popular at VIC. In this study, I would like to do this research on the use of group work activities in speaking lesson with a research design with a view to finding out the effectiveness of using group work activities to the level of participation of the first year students at VIC. The method of the research is discussed in detailed in chapter three.

3.3. Data collection instrument procedures

In order to answer the research question of this study, two kinds of data collection

instruments including observation and interview will be used.

3.3.1. Observation Rationale behind the use of observation

Classroom observations are used wildly for assessing teaching. Observational method is defined as procedures and techniques that are based on systematic observation of events and often used in studying language use and classroom events (Richards et al., 1992).

In addition, observations are most often used to collect data about the teachers' knowledge of the subject matter, to study language learning, teaching methods and processes of actual lesson in the class. Observations are also effective when approached as a collaboration means to benefit all involved. Observations can give observers useful feedback that might not be revealed by other assessment methods. By using observation, I myself recognize how my students are working on tasks more exactly than other methods. Procedures

In my study, classroom observations were carried out with 6 students (among total of 48 students in my class of tourism).. Each observation was done with an observation sheet (Appendix 2) which was used by Hopkins (1985), Peacock (1997), and Trinh (2004). It has proved to be a good tool for collecting data on class behaviour in language teaching. This focus on students' on- task behaviour to measure students' participation in English speaking activities.

of observation sheets.

3.3.2. Interview Rationale behind the use of interview

Beside observations, interviews are useful to collect data about interviewees' opinions and feelings. Patton (1990) states that "Opinions and feelings are likely to be more accurate and meaningful once the respondent has just verbally relived the experience"(p.294 ). Interviews also help me find out the things that I can not observed. For example when I talk to my students, I can directly hear what they speak about their thought and feelings. They are willing to share their attitude and opinions with me about their English learning if I give them a comfortable and friendly atmosphere.


5.1. Recommendations

On the basic of theoretical stance of the use of group work activities, and previous studies on it, a research on the use of group work was done to compare with the individual work for the first year student at VIC, This research has obtained some findings which prove that the use of group work activities is better than the use of individual work at improving students' participation in English speaking activities. Students become more active and spontaneous to do their tasks. Moreover through this research I could get more information about students' attitudes towards English speaking activities and the method that they are being taught at VIC.

5.2. Limitations

The study has attained some significant success in increasing levels of participation in English speaking activities of the first year students at VIC. However, there are also some inevitable limitation existing.

Firstly, as the study has been done as a small number of subjects and in a short time, the generalization of the result is limited. The study would be more reliable if it was done with longer period of time.

Secondly, within the scope of the study, I only focused on the changes of levels of students' participation in English speaking activities with the use of group work activities.

Lastly, I have only mentioned but not dealt with factors that affect students' participation.

Being aware of the limitation, I have two suggestions for further studies

1. What are main factors affecting students' participation in English speaking activities at Colleges in Vietnam?

2. How are group work activities organized and used successfully in classroom?

5.3. Conclusions

This study aims at exploring the effects of group work activities on the levels of participation of the first year students at VIC. A research was carried out with 6 students of tourism . Observations and interviews were used as data collection instruments. Finally, the method of descriptive statistics was applied to analyze the result collected.

The results show that working in groups is better than working individually in motivating students to participate in English speaking activities.

It is hoped that the findings of this research will provide useful information for teachers who want to have better and more effective English speaking activities in classroom. I also hope that based on the result of this study, group work activities will be applied widely in teaching English, especially speaking activities at VIC.

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