The Communicative Approach, also known as Communicative Language Teaching, is pretty much as the name implies. It refers to teaching English in natural and meaningful ways for communicative purposes. In this way, English becomes a medium for communication rather than an academic subject. And why not? The language was meant for communication.
So, it just makes sense to teach language within the same context. Thus, lessons utilizing the Communicative Approach will revolve around communicative objectives. As such, teachers don’t control the lesson as much as they facilitate language acquisition.
What’s It All About?
So, how do we incorporate the communicative approach into our lessons? Just think of what people typically communicate, and you’ll be right on target. For example, people introduce themselves all the time. People use language to make friends; talk to strangers at a bus stop or at the airport while waiting for their flight to board. They go to school and interact with classmates, the registrar, and teachers. In addition, they exchange ideas with colleagues and supervisors on the job. They eat out, buy medicine, go to the grocery store, make and take phone calls, write emails, and so on.
So, lessons can focus on meaningful communicative tasks such as chatting with a colleague in the break room about what they watched on TV the night before, where they intend to travel this summer, or their thoughts on the new boss. Using Communicative Language Teaching means having lessons that incorporate the appropriate vocabulary, expressions, grammar, and activities that might come up. That’s also another reason why realia is an essential element of communicative lessons when possible.
Another aspect of a communicative classroom is helping learners help themselves. There’s an old saying that goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” We can apply that here. As teachers, we don’t want to teach learners ‘about’ English, but we want to teach them how to ‘use’ English. By doing so, we prepare them for when they’re outside the classroom without a teacher to guide them.
You might be saying, “Okay, that’s all well and good, but how do I make it work in the classroom?” Here’s where we’re going to put it together. We’ve separated them according to language levels to help you see which works better with certain learners.
Communicative drills simply mean statements or questions and replies that are systematic (e.g. A: Nice to meet you. B: Nice to meet you, too.).
Dialogues provide structure for communication in everyday settings. As learners improve and gain more confidence, you can have them branch out from the dialogues to personalizing some of the wording.
Working in pairs, groups, or teams can help less confident learners develop more confidence. The more confident students can model the language and assist them in reduced-threat environments.
Since writing is a part of communication, why not assign writing tasks for beginners. You can do them in class where they have guidance and can be monitored. Or, you can give them work to do at home where they can take their time. It’s your call.
This simply means giving learners various contexts with which to practice the language. For example, today’s lesson is on ordering at McDonald’s. Tomorrow’s lesson: Enrolling in the local fitness center. Context helps learners connect the dots so to speak.
General conversations allow intermediate class members to talk about relatively common topics such as what they did yesterday, their family, favorite movies, their favorite foods, etc. Since these are topics they’re familiar with, they’ll have a certain amount of confidence that can be built on via scaffolding.
Read and Speak
You can provide appropriately-leveled reading materials for your students. Have them read. Then, ask comprehension questions; from there, get into conversation questions. The idea is that they have the reading material accessible to refer to for their responses.
Role-playing for common subjects is an excellent resource for providing intermediate-level students with a framework for communicating their thoughts. It also teaches them the ins and outs of using English in different contexts.
Again, writing assignments can be leveled up for intermediate learners. You can ask them to summarize what they read. You can ask them to write emails addressing basic topics (they’re not ready yet for too much detail).
Debates challenge advanced level learners to dig deeper for their opinions about various topics. But, we don’t advise pushing learners to debate from a side they don’t agree with.
Simple discussions of more in-depth ideas can develop English skills in advanced learners. For example, instead of something simple like favorite movies, which is more suited for intermediate levels, you can get them talking or writing about the elements of a movie (e.g. setting, plot, characters, special effects, soundtrack, stunts, etc.) and describe the movie according to its elements.
In-Class Writing Activities
Challenge advanced students to write in-class assignments. This gets them thinking on the fly and is like a jolt toward improving their ability to express themselves.
This is one of my favorites. Ask or assign class members a news segment to read, listen to, or watch. Then ask them to report on it the next day to a small group. This gets them talking as if they were sharing news with a colleague or friend.
Read and Paraphrase
You can have advanced learners read texts and challenge them to paraphrase what they just read – as if they were sharing it with a friend over a cup of coffee.
In today’s blog, we’ve discussed a little about Communicative Language Teaching also known as the Communicative Approach. It can make your lessons and classrooms communicative instead of academic in nature. It offers learners opportunities to use English in meaningful and interactive ways. Not only that, but it prepares them for the outside world, which is our ideal goal as teachers.
We also looked at practical applications of the communicative approach and separated them by levels. This will help you make more informed decisions when preparing your lessons.
If you’d like to learn more about the Communicative Approach or how to teach your lessons more communicatively, contact us today. We offer internationally-recognized and quality TESOL training that will help you teach your learners how to fish (you’ll have to read the entire blog to get that).