BTR-TESOL Unit 4C - Communicative Language Teaching
As a language teacher, one of the most important things you can do to help your students improve their communication skills is to implement real and authentic communication activities into your classes. These activities will help your students be successful when they need to use communication skills outside of the classroom.
Two years ago, Jan taught community ESL classes in the western United States. The make-up of her classes was mostly people of Hispanic origin and her classes tended to be lively and amusing. There was a good level of participation and the students enjoyed working in groups. The main problem was that sometimes the students’ pronunciation wasn’t very good.
After you work through this unit you will be able to describe and apply the following:
If you have learned well, you will be able to implement the principles of communicative language teaching and information gap in your classes through the use of activities that will help your students improve their speaking.
Communicative Language Teaching
The communicative language teaching (CLT) approach is currently one of the most popular in the field. It is an approach in which the focus is on communication and developing students’ ability to communicate. In order to achieve this goal, CLT places great emphasis on helping students use the target language in a variety of contexts and situations. Its primary focus is on helping learners create meaningful communication rather than helping them develop perfect grammatical abilities or achieve native-like pronunciation. Successfully learning a foreign language is determined by how well learners have developed communicative competence. This term refers to a learner's ability to apply his or her knowledge of the language to communicate effectively. One example of communicative competence is to know how to use language for different purposes, such as apologizing or asking for permission. Another is to know how to use appropriate language in different settings, such as using formal or informal language. Another is to know how to continue communication despite limited communication ability. This can be achieved through the use of communication strategies such as asking someone to repeat and/or explain what they said and also, as the speaker, learning how to make better explanations. (For more information on communicative competence, see the resources at the end of this unit).
1. People learn a language by using it to communicate.
It was once widely thought that learners must first have a strong knowledge of grammar before they were ready to communicate. In CLT, learners are encouraged to practice communicating during all stages of the learning process, including the beginning stages, regardless of their grammatical ability (see unit 4B: Types of Practice).
2. Meaningful communication should be the goal of classroom activities.
Communicative activities that involve spontaneous speech in scenarios and situations that the learners are likely to find themselves in are frequently used to encourage authentic (or realistic) communication. Dialogues, if used, are not usually memorized but are allowed to occur more naturally and spontaneously.
3. Learning to communicate is a process that involves trial and error.
As learners create language through communicative practice, it is accepted that errors may occur frequently as they try to discover what works and what doesn’t. This is a natural part of the learning process and one that helps communicative competence. Learners are not expected to be perfect in their communication but they are expected to try to communicate the best they can.
4. Learner errors are often not corrected immediately but can be corrected later.
It is considered that the fluency of a learner’s speech is more important than its accuracy. This means that correcting learner errors immediately would interrupt the communication process and the flow of the learner’s speech. Errors are noted by the teacher but they are often not brought up until a later time if necessary (see Unit 3D: Correcting Errors).
Possible differences from students' expectations
The roles of learners in CLT may be different from their ideas of what learning should be like, so learners may have to adjust. For example, in CLT, students are expected to interact primarily with each other and not the teacher. This may be different from what they are used to. Also, error correction in CLT is often infrequent or absent, whereas learners may be accustomed to frequent error correction. It is also important for learners to understand that successful communication is the responsibility of both the speaker and the listener. If failed communication occurs, it is not always the fault of either party individually. Learners are expected to work together and not blame each other.
Information gap activities are one of the most important kinds of communicative activities.
1. Task Explanation and ReviewThe teacher first explains the activity and reviews any vocabulary potentially needed.
2. ModelingNext, the teacher focuses learners’ attention on the information gap itself so they understand what is expected of them. This is often accomplished by the teacher modeling the activity in front of the class.
3. Performing the TaskStudents are divided into pairs or groups and then left to complete the task. The task is designed so that each participant plays an important role and the task cannot be accomplished without everyone's participation.
4. Teacher MonitoringDuring this time it is the teacher’s responsibility to monitor student practice and provide feedback.
Example ActivitiesHere is an example of an information gap activity that follows the steps above. The purpose of this activity is for students to find out from each other what they did the previous weekend.
In another type of information gap activity, the students will be asked to come up with their own questions in order to obtain the desired information. For example, they can be given a table that requires them to ask get-to-know-you questions of their classmates in order to complete it:
This kind of task will require the students to form questions on their own such as:
They have to ask these questions to three different people and record the responses in writing.
A more advanced information gap task could involve students having a discussion to solve a problem. For example, students could decide together what items would be most important for their survival if they were stranded together on a desert island.
Information gap activities are appropriate at all learner proficiency levels, from beginning through advanced. This is because the difficulty of the task can be adjusted based on the student’s level. Typically, in tasks for beginning-level students, the gap should be small and may require questions and answers of only a word or two (e.g. the cost of an item, an address, a birthday, or a telephone number). The activity can be used to reinforce previously practiced material and is often done in pairs. In tasks for higher level students, the gap should be larger and therefore more demanding in terms of language required (e.g. following directions to a location). The activity may be structured for students to work in groups of three or four rather than in pairs.
Many information gap activities are highly motivational because of the nature of the different tasks. Activities that require the solving of a problem or a mystery can create a high level of interest. Teachers should first try to determine whether an activity is of an acceptable level of difficulty for their students. If the students are sufficiently prepared for the activity, the level of language accuracy will be acceptable.
This video shows an information gap exercise that was done with a class of freshmen at a university in China:
The students are asked to share their likes and dislikes in English with a partner.
Think about each of the following questions related to the video you just watched. Write a sentence or two in response to each one.
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Here are some other units in this program that relate to topics we have addressed in this unit:
http://www.cambridge.org/elt/resources/teachersupportplus/ This website features a number of online booklets including one related to CLT titled “Communicative Language Teaching Today” by Jack C. Richards. It discusses the historical background of CLT as well as current approaches to how it is used.
Here are some published books that have proven to be helpful for learning about communicative language teaching. (All reviews and quotes are from Amazon.com.)
H. Douglas Brown. Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy (3rd ed.) "A widely acclaimed methodology text used in teacher education programs around the world. This user-friendly textbook offers a comprehensive survey of practical language teaching options, all firmly anchored in accepted principles of language learning and teaching. End-of-chapter exercises give readers opportunities to process material interactively." ISBN: 0136127118
Klaus Brandl. Communicative Language Teaching in Action: Putting Principles to Work. Prentice Hall 2006. "A basic text that demonstrates principles and practices of communicative language teaching and task-based instruction. Its primary purpose is to serve as a guide for second and foreign language teachers in training or for those who have embarked on a new career as language teachers." ISBN: 0131579061
Friederike Klippel. Keep Talking: Communicative fluency activities for language teaching. Cambridge University Press, 1985. "This is a practical guide to communication activities in the language classroom, suitable for use with students from elementary to advanced level." ISBN: 0521278716
Jack C. Richards and Theodore S. Rogers. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. (2nd ed.) Cambridge University Press, 2001. "…surveys the major approaches and methods in language teaching, such as communicative language teaching and the natural approach. The text examines each approach and method in terms of its theory of language and language learning, goals, syllabus, teaching activities, teacher and learner roles, materials, and classroom techniques." ISBN: 0521008433