Implementing Communicative Language Teaching in an ESL Classroom with Peeragogy on Facebook

 Charles Jeffrey Danoff * (danoff.charles@gmail.com)


Peeragogy is a way to describe peer learning and peer production. For the past few years, I have been working with others to research how peers learn and how they learn best. Teaching English as a Foreign Language has long had an indirect peer component with many methodologies, especially Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), making use of pair work as students work together to complete assignments to improve their English language skills. As Jack Richards wrote in “Communicative Language Teaching Today” (2006):

“Communicative language teaching sets as its goal the teaching of communicative competence. … With CLT began a movement away from traditional lesson formats where the focus was on mastery of different items of grammar and practice through controlled activities such as memorization of dialogs and drills, and toward the use of pair work activities, role plays, group work activities and project work.”

To try and take that one step further in early 2014, I had my students try to develop a place online where they could learn English from one another online with as little teacher intervention as possible. Ideally they would take ownership over the activity and continue using after their participation in our school ended.


My class had 4 students at the time: a young man from Saudi Arabia, a gentleman from Brazil and 2 ladies from Thailand.

I gave the students each copy of the “Peeragogy in Action” portion of the Open Book (http://openbook.okfn.org/). It was over their level, but I have found success with giving students texts that are too difficult for them and then forcing them to figure it out in pairs or small groups. It does not work with all classes, but if you have a group that is willing to push themselves it works.

They read the opening paragraphs individually then discussed in pairs and finally we went over it as a class. They grasped the idea of peer learning online. I am sure the pictures helped. I did not make them read the duration of the text. Instead I had them implement the first action step by answering its questions.

1 Setting the initial challenge and building a framework for accountability among participants is an important starting point.

What are you interested in learning?
What is your primary intended outcome?
What problem do you hope to solve?
How collaborative does your project need to be?
How will the participants’ expertise in the topic vary?
What sort of support will you and other participants require? What problems won’t you solve?

In addition I e-mailed out the following homework assignments to help them think about what they were going to do:

4 Dec 2013
2 | Read the first 3 paragraphs of the Peeragogy lesson plan.

5 Dec 2013
1 | Answer questions from the Peeragogy lesson plan and research technological tools you could use in your Peeragogy group.

9 Dec 2013
2 | E-mail me the answers to these 2 questions: What job/role do you want in your Peeragogy group? AND What is 1 (or more) technological tool(s) your group can use?

After perusing the possibilities for online collaboration, the students decided to use Facebook. Everybody already had an account and they were familiar with how the site worked. They developed a page and decided to name it with a portmanteau based on their own names (https://www.facebook.com/dremuraja/). The way they decided to use it was to find resources online that covered the same subjects we had been learning in class that day.

The students were excited about the activity in general. They were not jumping in the air for joy each time they posted at home I imagine, but in the context of other writing work they were required to do, they seemed to enjoy it as much, if not more. Some examples of how it was used before on various grammar points:

count v uncount nouns

adverbs of frequency

Students also used it as part of their project work. For example this student posted about the food she would make for her “Descriptive Cuisine Project”:

cuisine project

Additonally some students kindly used it as a platform to wish happy birthday to yours truly:

birthday wish

Ideally students would be using page on their own motivation. Both during the time I was teaching them and after I left and the instructor who followed me continued using it, the only way we got them to work was by having them do it for homework.  Two of the students left class, one to return to his home country another advanced to a higher level course. Neither of them used the Facebook page afterwards 2 students no longer in class have stopped contributing. The 2 remaining students have updated it as part of teacher assigned homework, until they also left the class. In total there were 45 posts, which was a fun sign on them using English outside of class in public, but they did not continue using it once they left the class, which was part of the original goal. As an additional note the page got 27 likes, and I believe the likes made encouraged the students to use the page more while it was operational.

Overall I would consider the experiment a successful one. Students demonstrated their comprehension of divergent topics by sharing resources they themselves found on those topics, in addition they collaborated online more than they would have outside of class hours without the Page. As an advocate of Free Software and Open Education, I was not especially thrilled with Facebook as their choice, but I wanted them to take ownership of the endeavor and that happened. I do feel that they closed nature of Facebook limited the possibilities of extending the experiment, but that claim is unproven at the moment. In sum, I feel they had as much fun as they could doing homework during the process: essentially they enjoyed using English online outside the classroom and I feel this fact is something that other instructors can build on, regardless of platoform. As examples, it inspired me in subsequent experiments I did with Peeragogy as the Test of English as a Foreign Langauge (TOEFL) instructor, experimenting with Google Docs, a Google Group collaboration with San Antonio college and having students participate in two MOOCs led by MIT faculty.

Communicative Language Teaching Today (Pedagogical Booklet)
by Jack C. Richards
Copyright © 2006 Cambridge University Press

(*Charles has been involved with teaching English as a Foreign Language since 2008 as a tutor, teacher, resources/materials developer and/or Program Director. He has given talks at conferences in multiple countries on Open Educational Resources, Collaborative Lesson Planning and Peer Learning, or Peeragogy, and is on the Editorial Board of the Peeragogy Handbook. In 2011 he self published his first novella, Keyi its 中文 4 Sucsexy, and his website ishttp://danoff.org.)



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