The purpose of the activity
Clustering involves organising sets of key words from a text into specific groups in order to encourage the learners to think about and discuss the meanings of words and the relationships between words.
The teaching points
- Discussing words and their meanings.
- Using the words in discussion and critically analysing and negotiating the possible meanings.
- Using other new words learnt.
Several identical sets of cards (up to 20 cards in each set), each card showing a key word or term that relates to the relevant subject content.
The guided teaching and learning sequence
1. Read a course-related text and identify key or unknown words or phrases that are relevant to the text. Prepare the sets of cards, using these words and phrases.
2. Give each pair or small group of learners a set of the cards.
3. Describe the activity to the learners. The first time, model how to create two or three clusters and then ‘think out loud’ about your clustering decisions before asking the learners to work in their groups.
4. The learners work together to arrange their cards in clusters or groups according to the meanings of the words on the cards. If necessary, they can have a ‘don’t know’ pile; this discourages unsupported guessing. The learners should be able to give reasons for each of their decisions.
5. The learners agree on their clusters and then write, on a separate piece of paper, a general heading that describes each cluster. They place each heading above the relevant cluster. For example, for a text about hairdressing, cluster headings could include products, equipment, hair styles or cutting. Word cards in the cluster ‘products’ might include shampoo, conditioner, styling mousse.
6. Each group then explains their particular arrangement to the whole group or to another small group.
Note: Different groups will decide on different headings for their clusters and each may be valid.
The clustering activity is effective at various stages of learning words that relate to specific subject matter.
- Before teaching specific subject content, you can use clustering to activate the learners’ prior knowledge of key words.
- After new words have been introduced, you can use the activity to reinforce the meanings of these words and to enable the learners to practise using them.
- At the end of a unit of work, this activity can be used to review the learners’ understanding of the words they have learnt.
When the learners have become familiar with the activity, it may be useful for the learners to predict the headings they expect to find before they start actually grouping the words.
Learners can predict the meaning of the words in the “don’t know” pile using the Pair Definitions activity.