Focus On Communication
Interaction requires communication, the transfer of a meaningful idea from
one person to another. Good teachers go beyond the building blocks of English
such as vocabulary lists or grammar drills to develop a learner's oral, written, and even non-verbal communication skills.
Every lesson should prepare your students for real-world interaction in some
way. Think meaningful and usable.
When communication breaks down, native speakers usually try to clarify any potentially unclear items by asking questions and offering explanations.
They ask for repetition or more information, confirm that the other person has
understood what was said, expand on words or topics, or repeat back a paraphrase
of what they just heard to confirm that they got it right. This is one of the
greatest communication skills, but it can be difficult and ESL learners need to
be taught how to do this in English.
Teachers bring communication into their lessons by guiding learners through
tasks or activities which require meaningful communication in a relevant
context. Here are some tips for making your lessons communicative:
- Clarification Skills
Teach your students how to ask for clarification. The following phrases
may serve as a starting point and can be expanded or adapted to an appropriate
- Do you understand?
- Excuse me? / Could you repeat that?
- Once more. / One more time.
- Please speak more slowly.
- How do you spell that?
- Did you say ______?
- What does ______ mean?
- How do you say ______ in English?
- I don't know.
- I don't understand.
- Pair and Group Work
When students must work with each other or one-on-one with you, they are
forced to communicate. Make sure you have taught them how to ask for
clarification when they don't understand something. If students share the same
native language, limit its use as much as possible. Information gap
activities, role plays, and collaborative problem solving are some
communicative activities explained in more detail in the activities section of
- Individual Communication
Some types of communication are not highly interactive. For example, you
can have students give a speech, write a letter or composition, or report
group work results to the class. As long as they are producing original
language to convey their own thoughts, they are practicing communication.
- Interactive Teaching
Specific practice activities aren't the only place where communication can
occur. While you are teaching your main lesson, you don't need to do all the
talking. Involve your students by asking them for related vocabulary words,
the spelling of a word they suggest, the past tense of verbs (especially
irregular ones), examples beyond those in the textbook, etc. Draw out what
they already know and connect it to their life experiences. For example, if
your text contains the word 'allergy' and you aren't sure if the students
understand it, rather than simply teaching "an allergy is..." and moving on,
ask if anyone knows the meaning and can explain it, what types of allergies
the students can think of, and whether anyone has an allergy. Ask for the
spelling of the plural form, 'allergies.' If your students have a lot to say,
these side-tracks can become time-consuming. You will need to decide how much
time you will allow for this so you can still complete your lesson.
- What Communication is Not
Some elements of your lesson will probably not be communicative. For
example, memorization, vocabulary lists, reading, listening tasks, grammar
structures, and pronunciation practice do not require any original language to
be produced by the learner, yet they are all valuable building blocks for
communication. As a teacher, you should be aware of the difference between
what is communicative and what is not and balance the two.