Communication is crucial in the process of language development. In fact, being able to learn a language without actually realising that you are learning is not only an effective way of language learning, but it also creates a natural, relaxed and friendly environment that encourages students to thrive and stay engaged during a lesson. For this reason, my teaching approach focuses primarily on the use of conversation as a fundamental base to my lessons following both a Direct and Communicative Approach in the classroom. The use of interactive activities using visual aids, such as props, and organising lessons outside of the classroom will also be incorporated into my approach; this will allow students to always have the opportunity to share their own knowledge and opinions by interacting and engaging with one another.
The first thing I would ask myself, as a teacher, is: what are the needs and goals of my students? My answer would be: to be able to feel competent, communicate, execute meaningful tasks using the target language and simply interact confidently in conversations related to a wide range of topics. I strongly believe that students of all ages should be leaving the classroom feeling confident, proud and motivated to use what they have learned in class and apply it to their day-to-day lives. If you were learning a language, of course you would want to be able to use it, wouldn’t you?
My main aim would, therefore, be to make sure that there is no barrier when it comes to speaking. For this to succeed grammar structures will not be of paramount importance during the lesson; instead, the teacher should focus on the use of target language and its pronunciation, as these are the two language areas that can always be thoroughly assessed. The idea would be to use these approaches so that students feel at ease when wanting to speak freely to the teacher by asking questions, instigating debates on something that they agree or disagree with, or incorporating their own personal experiences whilst contributing to the class. I would also ensure to ask students to think about topics that they personally believe would be relevant, enjoyable to learn, and incorporate these into the syllabus. Building a cordial rapport between teacher and student will then prove to students that as a teacher you are there to guide and facilitate rather than simply instruct, and that they themselves can also be responsible for their own learning.
It is important to remember that not all students are going to feel confident enough to express themselves in another language, as some will be more advanced than others. For this reason, I have decided to include interactive activities that take place both inside and outside of the classroom; not only will this encourage shy students to come out of their shell and flourish, but it will provide a more relaxed atmosphere that will stimulate interaction between those students who feel anxious and are less able, and those who are more outgoing and advanced. Interactive activities would take place at the end of every topic so that vocabulary and structures learned would be able to be put into practice using practical methods that use all four macro skills.
An example of how an interactive activity would be executed:
Learners: Intermediate level, teenagers
Interactive activity: Aim is for students to produce their own brochure for tourists. In preparation, students decide on three tourist hotspots to visit in the city centre. During the interactive class, students are taken to an information point where they will be able to collect authentic material to use as inspiration. They will also have the opportunity to ask questions and practice dialogue (in English) with the employees at the information desk. The next exercise would be to visit tourist attractions so that they can draw outlines of buildings and collect information first-hand (descriptions, directions, historic facts) that they can use for their brochure. Back in the classroom (next lesson), students will have to pick one of three tourist attractions researched and complete the brochure using the information they would have already collected. The idea would then be for students to peer assess each other to see the accuracy of the information given. The teacher will later assess the students’ work for accuracy and progress.
Especially with teenage groups, this would be a practical way for students to work together and complement each other when learning; they will be practicing all four macro skills together as a class, which is much more effective than when working individually. The teacher, however, would have to thoroughly prepare resources in order to make sure that every exercise is relevant and that new elements introduced extend teaching. Teachers could, as a result, collaborate together by sharing ideas, experiences and thoughts on how successful the activities were, establishing concrete methods that would add excitement to the syllabus. This is why I believe a situation, task and content-based syllabi are extremely important to language learning; it invites students to learn in an interesting and motivated way without them genuinely noticing that they are absorbing new information.
When teaching children and adults, the same teaching method can be applied using activities that are appropriate to the age group being taught. For example adults, who are known to be able to concentrate and focus for longer periods of time, can be shown documentaries and movies that can then initiate a topic for debate or a dialogue activity, or role-play, between students. Using authentic material such as newspaper articles and advertisements are also a great resource as these are something that they will be in contact with on a daily basis. Although a conversational approach will be used by the teacher in both the high and low levels, the difference would be that the teacher will be able to take on more of a playmaker role in the higher levels and allow free conversation to take place. In lower levels, the teacher will have to pay much more attention to guiding the students and keeping them motivated by providing extra information, aiding their language learning by following a more structured use of communication and of course, praise, praise, praise.
Children, on the other hand, are more demanding and need to be kept engaged and occupied throughout the lesson using fun and exciting exercises in class. An efficient way of doing this is through introducing characters and stories that they already recognise, for example fairy tales and cartoons. This is important as children, in fact students of all ages, find it much easier to remember information that they have previously been exposed to. The fact that students would have already been introduced to some of these characters and stories will also aid the teacher in being able to teach without the children knowing that they are being taught. I would intertwine this with introducing the Total Physical Response method (TPR) at this stage of learning and incorporate construction games, songs, rhymes, role-plays using costumes etc. Children have a very short attention span and so the teacher will have to make sure to use a variety of activities in one lesson, more so than when teaching teenagers and adults. Allowing students to dress up, bring in toys and stories from home will also provide the teacher with a base to create an interactive activity at the end of every topic taught.
Setting homework and using a mixture of formative and summative assessment would be an effective way of testing students’ knowledge and skills. For teenagers, adults and students that belong to intermediate levels and above, reading and written activities should be given for homework. By the end of the lesson each student should be able to speak about a specific topic using the correct vocabulary and structures. The idea after this is for them to use both productive and receptive skills and put what they have learned into practice, this time focusing on their spelling skills and the way in which they structure a written argument. For children, it would be better to continue using visual exercises such as drawings, paintings, cartoon strips, stories with images so that they can use their artistic skills and still stay interested because it’s true that every child loves to draw! Formative assessments could take place at the end of each lesson in the form of concept check questions, a mini debate between students, a mini role-play that they have to act out or simply a set of three questions that the students have to come up with for their partner to answer; remember, all communicative exercises. It is always good to include peer assessment as the teacher can then gauge what students found difficult and what needs revising next lesson.
Finally, I am going to explain the importance of not using the mother tongue during class. Teachers do not want students to become dependent on their native language during class. The focus on using a conversational approach is to increase students’ opportunity to communicate in the language being taught and this will be hindered if using the mother tongue. As mentioned at the very beginning of this essay, my aim is to have students leaving the classroom feeling as if they are able to form a sentence and use the target language learned to express their own feelings, opinions and experiences to the world; I would want students to place their attention on the real meaning of what they are trying to express, not on how something can be translated or said in their native language.
In essence, for learners to become accomplished, speaking and participation should come hand in hand. For this to happen, students and teachers have to collaborate with each other. The teacher should no longer be viewed as a strict controller and assessor in the classroom and the student as a passive learner, but rather the teacher as a conversationalist facilitator and guide, and the student as a communicator who is capable and more than responsible of their own learning. Through this process, teachers will be able to witness some phenomenal results in the classroom. And a creative, forward-thinking way that this can be done? Through communication, a connection between student and teacher and more importantly, through appropriate and purposeful conversation. By using interactive activities, continuously motivating students by giving them verbal, as well as written, praise and adding a touch of everyday conversational life into the classroom, students of all ages will no doubt realise that language acquisition is not as difficult as it may appear. After all, if it weren’t for communication, would society ever have been able to evolve at all? Probably not.