HOW TO USE THE COMMUNICATIVE APPROACH

An Introduction to the Communicative Approach

The Communicative Approach is based on the idea that learning a language successfully comes through having to communicate real meaning. In the Communicative Approach, the main objective is to present a topic in context as natural as possible.

In this page, OnTESOL introduces the principles, features, and techniques used in the Communicative Approach. You will also find free video tutorials on how to teach grammar, vocabulary, and language skills using the Communicative Approach.

Communicative Approach -Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)

Principles Of The Communicative Approach:

  1. Language learning is learning to communicate using the target language.
  2. The language used to communicate must be appropriate to the situation, the roles of the speakers, the setting and the register. The learner needs to differentiate between a formal and an informal style.
  3. Communicative activities are essential. Activities should be presented in a situation or context and have a communicative purpose. Typical activities of this approach are: games, problem-solving tasks, and role-play. There should be information gap, choice and feedback involved in the activities.
  4. Learners must have constant interaction with and exposure to the target language.
  5. Development of the four macroskills — speaking, listening, reading and writing — is integrated from the beginning, since communication integrates the different skills.
  6. The topics are selected and graded regarding age, needs, level, and students’ interest.
  7. Motivation is central. Teachers should raise students’ interest from the beginning of the lesson.
  8. The role of the teacher is that of a guide, a facilitator or an instructor.
  9. Trial and error is considered part of the learning process.
  10. Evaluation concerns not only the learners’ accuracy but also their fluency.

Main Features and Techniques of Communicative Language Teaching

  1. Meaning is paramount.
  2. Dialogues, if used, enter around communicative functions and are not normally memorized.
  3. Contextualization is a basic premise. (Meaning cannot be understood out of context. Teachers using this approach will present a grammar topic in a meaningful context. Example: If the new topic to teach is Present Continuous, the teacher will not mime the action of ‘walking’ and ask: What am I doing? I am walking. Instead, the teacher will show, say, pictures of her last trip and tell the students something like: I have pictures of my vacation. Look, in this picture I am with my friends. We are having lunch at a very expensive restaurant. In this other picture, we are swimming at the beach.
  4. Language learning is learning to communicate and effective communication is sought. (When learners are involved in real communication, their natural strategies for language acquisition will be used, and this will allow them to learn to use the language.)
  5. Drilling may occur, but peripherally.
  6. Comprehensible pronunciation is sought.
  7. Translation may be used where students need or benefit from it.
  8. Reading and writing can start from the first day.
  9. Communicative competence is the desired goal (i.e., the ability to use the linguistic system effectively and appropriately).
  10. Teachers help learners in any way that motivates them to work with the language.
  11. Students are expected to interact with other people, either in the flesh, through pair and group work, or in their writings.

How Authentic Materials Fit with the Communicative Approach:

The Communicative Approach is about helping students develop communicative competence, which means the ability to use proper grammar and linguistic structure in different  real-life contexts and the ability to adapt to different situations. In this light, Authentic Material is key to helping students develop their grammar and vocabulary while exposed to listening, speaking, reading, and writing activities.

Authentic Material allows teachers to supplement or eventually replace the boring ESL textbook. The following is a compilation of authentic material sources most commonly used in the classroom:

  • Ad Banners, advertisements, billboards
  • Catalogs, college and university brochures, flyers, travel brochures
  • Movies, scripts, commercials
  • Radio shows, newspapers, Internet websites, magazines, TV shows
  • Social media, YouTube, phonebooks
  • Ticket stubs, manuals, menus, maps
  • Greeting cards, horoscopes


The following video tutorial shows how teachers can use songs to teach English

Authentic material can be used at different levels. The table below will guide you on what materials fit best with your classroom.

Communicative-Approach-Using-Authentic-Materials-
Using authentic materials in an ESL lesson plan

Myth: The Communicative Approach Does Not Pay Attention to Grammar Structure

The style of English used in Authentic Material is natural and communicates whatever the material was created for, rather than teaching a particular structure. For this reason, some critics indicate that the Communicative Approach does not place sufficient emphasis on grammar rules, so the method could not properly teach grammatical competence. 

Placing too much emphasis on games or authentic material can lead to a fun and engaging lesson, but the students do not learn anything of value. This is common when people take a sub-par TEFL certification course that lacks comprehensive training in lesson planning. Teachers need to be proficient in grammar rules and have the ability to structure a lesson plan that properly follows each stage of the Communicative Approach.  

The video below will help you understand how to teach English grammar function and structure using the Communicative Approach


Teaching Integrated Skills with the Communicative Approach

One of the benefits of the Communicative Approach and related approaches under the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) umbrella is that teachers can integrate a grammar or vocabulary lesson with receptive and productive language skills.

With the Communicative Approach, a grammar lesson can be integrated with a speaking lesson creatively.  Authentic material such as movies, newspapers, comics, and songs is key to supporting English language learning in an enjoyable and meaningful context to students. However, as these comprehensive lesson plans show, authentic material is supported with activities that reinforce practice of grammar structure. 

For example, this Communicative Approach lesson plan developed by an OnTESOL student during the TESOL course shows how a TV show supported by activities that follow the PPP format can be used to teach Phrasal Verbs. This other PPP lesson plan shows how a newspaper article can be used to teach the Present Progressive.

Read: How to Teach English Using Radio or Podcasts


The Communicative Approach is International

The Communicative Approach is used in different classroom settings worldwide. It is easier to implement in well-managed language programs with a maximum of 15 students. With proper training and a bit of experience, it can get easier to implement in large classes of 40+ students where Direct Method or Audio-lingual  (known as Army-style method) are more commonly used.

OnTESOL graduates have written extensively on how the the Communicative Approach helped them adapt to any classroom situation in the world!

Jacob used the Communicative Approach in Hong Kong to supplement the textbook and teach writing skills to advanced students

Jamie, an OnTESOL graduate in Indonesia, used the Communicative Approach to teach English in a local development program that offered English lessons to scuba diver guides. Jamie did not have access to many resources but focused on meaningful activities to teach them basic math skills, how to tell time, geography, biology, as well as good communication skills and conflict resolution.

In Canada, Clare used the Communicative Approach to supplement the FCE Oxford textbook in a lesson that connected students from different nationalities about their home foods.

Learn to Create Professional Lesson Plans Using the Communicative Approach!

Free Video Tutorials on The Communicative Approach:

Teaching Grammar Using The Communicative Approach

Teaching Vocabulary Communicatively

Teaching Reading Skills Using The Communicative Approach

Using Authentic Material

Recommended Further Reading:

3 Sample Activities Using the Communicative Approach with Intermediate Levels

Previously, we shared a few activities using the communicative approach with beginner levels. The activities gave language targets practical purpose and real-life context. When we use the communicative approach in our classes, we prepare learners for communication and interaction that they’ll likely encounter outside the classroom. So, in that sense, we’re not just giving them…

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3 Lessons Using the Communicative Approach for Beginners

The Communicative Approach is a natural method for teaching English as a language. As such, communicative are anchored to some common use of the language. The benefit is that learners practice using the target language in the classroom while preparing to use it in the world outside. Today, we’re going to focus on a few…

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Practical Uses of the Communicative Approach

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…

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