1.1. Background and rationale

The use of English has been gradually increasing in Vietnam. Also, it has a stable ground in the Vietnamese education system. English is introduced to the educational curriculum from primary education (optional) to tertiary education (compulsory). Like many other universities, teachers and students at VUC were affected by the traditional philosophy of teaching and learning. They were subject to many influences of Confucianism as well as by French and Soviet education that focused on academic study of grammar and in-depth knowledge of literary texts. As a result, many students lack the ability to communicate in oral English after graduation from the university. This fact gives rise to the need of a more effective method that creates opportunities for the learners, the subject and the centre of the teaching and learning process to bring full play their intelligence and creativeness.
Over the past few years, the application of the Communicative Language Teaching method has been widely adopted. This marked the beginning of a major change in the language teaching and learning at VUC. And students’ speaking skill as well as communicative ability has been improved remarkably.
VUC Faculty of English has been newly established for two years. Almost all of the teachers were trained about CLT approach at the University and they fully understood the important role of speaking ability among students. Therefore, they made all their effort to apply many kinds of activities in speaking lesson to encourage students to engage in speaking activities in classroom.
As a teacher of the Faculty of English at Vietnam University of Commerce, from her own observations and experience, the present researcher has noticed that there are many speaking activities in the speaking lesson of 1st – year students, but group work – key features of learner – centered orientation – have received more emphasis. The researcher as well as other teachers at the University was well aware of the importance of using group work to energize the speaking lesson of the first-year students. Nevertheless, both teachers and students have faced a lot of challenges in implementing and managing group work during speaking lessons. For instance, the organization of group work is noisy, teachers sometimes lose control of the class or students tend to switch to use their mother tongue when not under the teacher’s eyes and so on. Moreover, the teachers’ procedure in organizing group work in speaking lesson was not very effective.
The above mentioned situation has urged the researcher to conduct a study to investigate teachers’ group work organization procedure, teachers’ strategies to foster students’ English use and teachers’ and students’ difficulties ` implementing group work, the researcher of this study has decided to carry out a research into “How group work is used in speaking lesson of the 1st-year major students of English at Vietnam University of Commerce”. This study is intended to make a modest contribution to an increased understanding of using group work in the speaking lesson at VUC.
1.2. Aims of the study
The purpose of this study is to explore the reality of the use of group work in the speaking lesson of 1st- year English major students of English at VUC where the researcher is serving. More specifically, this study attempts to clarify the procedures of organizing group work activity in the speaking lesson of 1st-year major students and to identify strategies used by teachers to stimulate students’ use of English in group work and the factors bringing about difficulties for the teachers and students in their application of group work. Another aim is to find out teachers’ solutions to the difficulties. One additional aim is to compare teachers’ practice with students’ expectation. Basing on the findings, the research further seeks to suggest practical recommendations for the possibility of group work in the speaking lesson of 1st-year major students at VUC.
1.3. The research questions
In order to achieve the set goals, the research seeks to answer the following research questions:
1. What procedures do teachers follow in organizing group work during speaking lessons for the 1st year major students at University of Commerce?
2. What strategies do teachers use to stimulate and foster English language use by the 1st year major students at University of Commerce in group work?
3. What hinders teachers at Faculty of English of the University of Commerce in implementing group work?
4. What hinders the 1st-year major students at University of Commerce in participating in group work?
1.4. Scope of the study
Though group work is applied in any of the four macro-skills, the present researcher has chosen to focus on speaking skill for the fact that mastering speaking is so central to language learning that when we refer to speaking a language, we often mean knowing a language (Karimmkhanlui, 2006). Among four language skills, namely listening, speaking, reading and writing, group work is used the most frequently in the speaking lesson. Therefore, this research tends to investigate the use of group work activity in the speaking lesson. Also, due to the time constraints, this study only involves a small number of VUC teachers and English-major students in their first academic year.
1.5. Benefits of the research
The research is hoped to be valuable to both teachers and students of Faculty of English at VUC. Firstly, this study has been able to contribute to teachers’ knowledge of CLT approach in general and group work activity in particular. Secondly, from the findings of this study, teachers of English at VCU can be provided with important knowledge and information which may be very valuable for their future lesson planning. Ultimately, the teachers’ transformation in group work implementation will be beneficial to the students.
1.6. Organization of the study
There are five chapters to the thesis. Chapter One presents some background to the research questions pursued in the study. In chapter Two, the literature on Communicative language teaching approach, the relation between CLT and teaching speaking and group work in teaching speaking are reviewed. Chapter Three describes the methodology used in the research study. The findings of the procedures in organizing group work, strategies to foster and stimulate English language use in group work, difficulties teachers experienced when implementing group work and difficulties students experienced when working in group suggested by the participants of the study are reported and discussed in chapter Four. Then, Chapter Five voices some suggestions for improving effectiveness of group work in speaking lesson and proposes areas for further research in the future. Finally, chapter Six discusses conclusions that can be drawn from the study.

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