How can we boost learner interaction to promote language learning?
Here are 7 points to consider when selecting communicative tasks for the EFL classroom
- Emphasis on communication and language use
For Harmer, ‘successful language teaching’ should be judged according to the ‘balance of the activities our students are involved in’. Since in most EFL classrooms learners have limited opportunities to practise the language outside the classroom, Harmer considers ‘genuine communicative tasks’ as an important part of the lesson. We therefore need to come up with activities that will increase student talking time (STT) and will give our learners the opportunity to utilize their knowledge and find ways to interact, to express themselves in a creative way and to get their message across in the target language.
2. Task/topic authenticity
As Penny Ur (1996) points out, ‘purposeful and original activities’ will foster the learning process and will significantly boost learner motivation. For Harmer (1982:166) students must have a desire to communicate and there must be some communicative purpose to their interactions in the language classroom. In order to boost the learning process, it is therefore essential to provide our learners with meaningful, authentic topics and tasks that will encourage interaction and communication in the TL.
Below you can find a list of communicative tasks for EFL classrooms that can be used and adapted to our students’ specific level and needs
3. Increasing learner motivation
For our communicative activities to be effective, we need to increase our learners’ willingness to get actively involved in the lesson and use the TL in a more relaxed and playful way. Our learners need to feel motivated enough and discover new lexis and L2 structures on their own in order to appropriately convey meaning in the target language.
Active involvement is key to a successful learning environment. By letting our students have their say and choose the topics they want to focus on, we instantly give them a more active role, we make them co-designers of the lesson. Learning is then more meaningful to them as it is connected to their everyday lives, their preferences and interests. Through this inclusiveness our learners feel they are in control of the lesson flow and become more engaged in the language tasks.
4. Praise – encouragement – lowering learner inhibitions
In many cases our learners will rarely find the opportunity to practise the TL outside the language classroom. It is therefore essential to encourage them to interact in the foreign language as much as possible. We need to make it clear to our students that errors are part of the learning process and that the goal of the communicative activities is to express themselves freely and creatively in the L2 without the fear of making errors. We must give them the freedom to cooperate with other learners and to try to communicate successfully and appropriately in the TL. Our learners’ interlanguage will constantly evolve through creative mistakes. It’s not just the drilling and the exercises that will boost their linguistic development but the interaction, the constant effort to turn their passive vocabulary into active. As Harmer (2001) points out, the students’ attention during these tasks needs to be focused on the content of what they are saying rather than the form.
For a communicative activity to be successful, we must encourage a friendly, relaxed learning environment. If there is a a trusting and supportive rapport amongst the learners and between the learners and the teacher, then there is a much better chance for useful interaction to take place. Positive feedback plays a very important role here. By praising their efforts (instead of only making corrections) we keep their motivation levels up and encourage them to express themselves more freely in the TL. Praise and focusing on the positive aspects of our students’ TL output will motivate them to want to talk/write more in the L2. Our students’ self-confidence and self-esteem will increase and the fear of making errors will slowly go away.
5. Respecting our students’ different learning styles
In order to grasp our learners’ attention and increase their willingness to participate in the lesson we need to focus on their different learning styles, on their personalities, their feelings, their likes and dislikes. We also need to provide them with a variety of different tasks that will satisfy our learners’ needs (ex. role plays and simulations for the kinesthetic ones, paragraph sequencing for the visual types etc.). We need to make sure that the task is adapted to our learners’ level and that our students have received all the necessary input (lexis/grammar) they need in order to complete the activity and to effortlessly express themselves in the L2.
It is important to remember though that participation during the lesson is beneficial as long as it is not stressful. Some students may not be willing to interact with others. We must therefore carefully examine and monitor our learners and adjust our teaching in order to satisfy their learning styles and needs. We need to be able to direct our teaching towards their strengths and offer as much personal focus and guidance as possible.
6. Encouraging collaboration rather than competition
Real-life simulations, games and quizzes will not only increase student talking time (STT), but will also enhance our learners’ communication skills. By working in pairs or groups in order to write a role play or a story for example, our students will combine their imagination and their knowledge of L2 lexis and grammar and will learn from one another. It is important to focus on this positive aspect of student collaboration and to clarify that competitiveness is not the goal of these interactive tasks but creative and constructive learning.
7. Allowing thinking time
Keeping the right balance between giving them enough time to process and absorb the information regarding the task, but at the same time having our learners learn to obey and stick to certain time limits is important. Again this will depend on the purpose of the interactive activity and what we want to achieve. We must make sure our students have enough time to listen, think, collaborate with one another, process their answer and speak. Thinking time and monitoring are important as we need to check that our learners are ‘on task’, that they have fully grasped the purpose of the activity and are not switching to their L1 during group work.
Bygate, M. (1987). Speaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Harmer, J. (1982). What is communicative? ELT Journal, Volume 36, Issue 3, April 1982, Pages 164–168, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/36.3.164
Harmer, J. (2001). The practice of English language teaching. Longman.
Scrivener, J. (1994). Learning Teaching. Oxford: Heinemann
Ur, P. (2012). A course in English language teaching. Cambridge University Press