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Interaction Patterns in the English Language Classroom

Interaction patterns in the language classroom

Teaching English is different from teaching maths or teaching geography because English is a language and this means that practising English must involve communication. This brings up the question of who students should be communicating with. One of the criteria a CELTA lesson is assessed on is planning interaction patterns. There are a number of different interaction patterns commonly used in a language classroom.

Individual work

Sometimes in class, students will work alone. This would happen if students were reading a text or a difficult exercise. Many teacher trainers will advise their CELTA trainees not to have too many stages where students work individually. You want to avoid making a lesson feel like an exam. However, most people need at least a little alone time in a lesson to process things at their own pace and to give their social and linguistic batteries a chance to recharge. As with many things, it comes down to balance. Too much alone time will be boring and won't engage students. Too little alone time and students won't have the time to think through what they're learning.

Individual work on a lesson plan can often be shortened to Ind or S.


Language classes often feature a lot of pairwork. When students work in pairs, they are actively communicating i.e. using language. If a teacher monitors and ensures pairwork is carried out in English, then every pairwork stage counts as speaking practice. Pairwork also allows students to help each other and to teach someone else, one of the best way of remembering something new. Finally, it helps manage mood and atmosphere in the classroom - the higher the level of student engagement and interaction, the better the atmosphere is likely to be.

Pairwork on a lesson plan can often be shortened to PW or S-S.


Groupwork allows you to vary partners, because too much pairwork can lead to students always working with the same person. If a student always works with the same person, they can start learning each other's mistakes. A student can also get bored of always working with the same partner. Groupwork changes the atmosphere in the room, but it can be difficult for shy students to contribute in groupwork situations and they may end up not getting much practice if the lesson includes lots of work in bigger groups.

Groupwork on a lesson plan can often be shortened to GW or Ss-Ss.

Open Class

Open class is when the whole class is working together, often with the teacher at the board. When a teacher is demonstrating something using mime or visuals, or if they're asking questions to check understanding, open class work is often the best option. However, many newer teachers may lean too hard on the concept of open class work in the belief that if they're not 'leading' the class, then there's no learning happening. For this reason, trainees on CELTA courses are often encouraged to reduce their open class stages and to increase other interaction types, to maximise students' levels of contribution to a lesson. Of course, even in open class stages, a teacher should ideally be eliciting from and involving students as much as they can, but even with this, we can only raise student talking time if we include pair and groupwork as well as open class stages.

Open class stages on a lesson plan can often be shortened to OC or T-Ss.

In the end of the day, all interaction patterns have value and it really is about balance. I recommend always reviewing your lesson plan with the idea of balance in mind. If students work by themselves, with partners and with the teacher, then they're getting a variety of input and output, which should make lessons more engaging and give more chances for practice of different types.

Dr Connor O'Donoghue hails from Ireland and he started teaching English as a foreign language in Poland in 2003 and he became a CELTA trainer in 2008. He has taught and trained in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Connor also holds a Masters and a PhD in Education from Trinity College in Dublin. He has previously managed large teacher training centres in Vietnam and in London before founding DC Teacher Training.

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