Professional Development

Take part in group problem solving with Jack C. Richards

Jack Richards

It’s the last #TDWednesday before Christmas, so we’re treating you to a video and sample chapter from ELT expert, Jack C. Richards! Last week marked the release of his new Cambridge Handbook for Language Teachers, so we spoke to Jack about his newest title, Jack C. Richards’ 50 Tips for Teacher Development.

In Jack’s last post he talked about the role that critical reflection plays in our development as teachers. This week, he outlines the role of group problem solving in teacher development. Watch the video to learn more about forming a group that meets to reflect on and resolve issues and problems.

Jack C. Richards’ 50 Tips for Teacher Development (sample chapter)

Purpose: to form a group that meets to reflect on and resolve issues and problems.

Do you remember the proverb “Many hands make light work”? It stresses how doing something with the help of others often works best. This is true in teacher development where group-based interaction is often an effective way of solving a problem. This is the focus of this tip.

1 Learning in a group: like other group-based activities, the group aims to draw on the members’ collective knowledge, understanding, and experience to explore teaching issues, to develop new understandings of teaching, and to seek to resolve problems. Members of the group interact in a friendly and supportive way and respect each other’s points of views and ideas, functioning as a “critical friend” who gives constructive feedback to support change and solve problems.

2 Participants: groups typically form on a voluntary basis and consist of teachers with shared interests and concerns, and who enjoy collaborating with other teachers to help resolve or clarify shared teaching concerns. A critical friends’ group usually consists of a presenter, one teacher who serves as the facilitator, and up to six or seven group members.

3 Procedures: the group decides when and how often to meet. The format of a group meeting typically involves a teacher presenting an issue or dilemma to the group, and describing the practices he or she employs to address the issue. This could involve an examination of contributing factors that may influence the outcomes of the practice, such as the school culture, available resources, examples of students’ work and anything else relevant to understanding the issues.

4 Issues and topics: the group can discuss any topic that members would like to have their input on. For example:

  • dealing with reluctant learners in a class
  • teaching creative writing with low proficiency learners
  • using collaborative learning techniques in a writing class.


5 The format of a group meeting: although critical friends’ groups can be organized in different ways, the following is an example of how a group functions.

  • The teacher who is presenting identifies the topic or issue they will present and for which they would like the group’s input. For example: “How to make effective use of a short story to stimulate critical and creative thinking on the part of students”.
  • The teacher assembles the necessary materials and resources that will be made available to group members during the meeting.
  • Prior to the group meeting, the presenter and the facilitator meet
    to plan the presentation and choose any resources or examples of students’ work that the presenter will discuss. During this conversation, the presenter and facilitator discuss the kinds of questions that the problem or work practice poses, and identify the issues that will be the focus of the group discussion. They also agree on a format or protocol to structure the discussion.
  • At the group meeting, the presenter first presents an example of student work they would like the group to discuss. For example, in relation to the problem above, the group may receive a copy of the story and examples of things students produced as a response to the story, such as poems, illustrations, etc.
  • The facilitator then leads the group through a series of discussions of the work, during which individual group members comment on or pose questions about the piece of work, such as the skills or knowledge it is intended to develop, the level of learner engagement it might elicit, the accuracy of the work, and so on. During this phase, the facilitator may guide the discussion, posing questions or clarifying and summarizing members’ contributions.
  • Following the discussion, the group explores how effective the meeting was in helping resolve the issue the teacher had presented.



  • Poehner, P. (2011). Teacher learning through critical friends’ groups. In Johnson, K.E., & Golombek, P. R. Research on Second Language Teacher Education (pp. 189–203). NY: Routledge.
  • Vo, L. T., & Nguyen, H. T. M. (2010). Critical friends group for EFL teacher professional development. ELT Journal 64(2) 205–213.


If you liked this, then do take a look at Jack C Richards’ 50 Tips for Teacher Development. In this book, Jack outlines a number of activities which you can use, as an individual or as part of a group, to plan and manage aspects of your professional development. The book focuses on different aspects of development, such as researching your own teaching, engaging in critical reflection, expanding your knowledge of the field, expanding your teaching skills and creating an institutional professional development culture.

Make sure you haven’t missed Jack’s last post, where he talks all about how to engage in critical reflection!

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