For the November 2017 edition of English Teaching Professional I wrote an article on a classroom rapport building practice that I’ve called peer needs analysis (PNA). Here I provide a brief introduction to PNA, and some free resources that you can try out in your own classroom. See the article itself for more ideas and visit my website for a downloadable list of other PNA activities.
What is peer needs analysis?
Peer needs analysis can be defined as the act of raising students’ awareness of the needs of their co-learners in a class. It ‘aims to turn needs analysis into a social event’ (as I described it in Speaking Games (Anderson 2014). Within the communicative classroom it’s likely to be beneficial for several reasons:
- It provides an opportunity for meaningful communication between learners, whether this be through spoken or written interaction
- It fosters patience and understanding of their peers’ challenges, needs and interests
- It enables learners to see ways in which they can help their classmates to learn
- It helps to raise learners’ awareness of the challenges that the teacher faces in planning courses and lessons for groups of learners with diverse needs, interests and preferences
- It can serve as a useful tool on the path towards a more negotiated curriculum
Peer needs analysis (PNA) can be done pre-course, in the early phases of the course (initial) or as an ongoing process throughout the course. It is adaptable to both closed courses and courses where continuous enrolment means new learners may join at any point.
Here are three simple ideas that you can try out if you want to start experimenting with PNA in your classroom:
Useful for pre-course and initial needs analysis
Rather than getting learners to complete needs analysis questionnaires on their own, or interviewing and completing them yourself, most needs analysis questionnaires can be adapted so that each learner can interview a partner and complete the questionnaire for them. Any difficult vocabulary can be pre-taught, and is likely to come in useful for ongoing needs analysis and study skills. Such peer interviewing can be followed by an activity in which larger groups of learners compare the needs of their partners, identifying areas of similarity and difference. When appropriate, presentations can even follow this and precede syllabus planning sessions.
Needs analysis surveys
Useful for initial needs analysis
Create a list of questions that will provide useful needs analysis input (see Figure 1). Give one to each learner and ask them to survey the whole class with the same question, taking notes as they do. Afterwards, each can give a brief presentation on the findings and you can take a copy of their notes.
Needs discussion activities
Useful for initial and ongoing needs analysis
This involves providing learners with opportunities to discuss aspects of their needs, preferences and interests together, usually in small groups. They can discuss preferences with regard to error correction, differences in reasons for learning English, the qualities of a good teacher or rank areas of grammar in order of importance (see Figure 2). Activities that encourage the learners to come to some agreement or consensus tend to be more successful for PNA, as they force them to notice, consider and balance any differences that they find.
While I have only tried it out in adult classes, I suspect that some of the activities will also be useful with teen and younger learner classes, especially if you are teaching a class for a long time and have a degree of control over your syllabus. If you do try it out with younger learners, let me know how it goes.
Peer needs analysis has uses beyond those I’ve listed here. For example, if sensitively done, it can be used to raise awareness of specific educational needs among a class of learners, and explore issues of inclusivity and diversity through the resulting interactions. Never will I look upon needs analysis as simply admin again!
Anderson, J. (2014) Speaking Games. Peaslake, UK: Delta Publishing.