📝Communicative approach – general facts
The main idea of the communicative approach lies in the fact that we focus not on studying a language as a matter but on using this language in real-life situations. The learning process is not about accumulation of grammar and vocabulary but about communication using the skills which are already available.
Here are the main principles of the communicative approach in teaching:
- Studying a language is learning to communicate using the target language.
- All the activities you use at the lesson should have a communicative purpose.
- Four language skills – speaking, listening, reading and writing — should be developed simultaneously.
- The topics of the course are selected according to student’s age, level, interest and learning aims.
- Motivation is top important.
- Trial and error is considered part of the learning process.
☑️Main principles and their practical application
Studying a language is learning to communicate using the target language.
What does a typical lesson look like? Writing out a list on new words, translating some texts using them, opening the brackets for some grammatical rule. But that never gives your student an ability to use the vocabulary he learnt in real life. So the aim of the communicative class is to teach your student to use those words by practicing real-life communication.
In a class with a young learner that looks as following:
❌NOT writing down new words: “go straight ahead – [translation], turn left – [translation]”…
✔️BUT looking at a map together and describing the way from point A to point B.
All the activities you use at the lesson should have a communicative purpose.
When choosing an activity for the lesson a teacher needs to keep just 1 question in mind: “What will my student learn to do after completing this?”
In practical meaning, the aim of an activity is:
❌NOT “to learn descriptive adjectives”
✔️BUT “to learn describing a friend’s appearance”.
In a class with a young learner top communicative tasks are:
- games (any game creates a need for the student to guess something or to give or follow the instructions which is actually a push for communication)
- role-play (imagining yourself in a real-life situation and imitating communication when role-playing a comic or a cartoon)
Actually every level of All Right syllabus has communicative aims formulated in the beginning.
For example, here are some communicative aims of Charlie Starter 1 course:
- Talk and ask about where things are and describe them.
❌NOT: “Learn prepositions of place”
- Describe an animals’ characteristics and features.
❌NOT: “Learn the names of animals, body parts and descriptive adjectives”
- Talk and ask about what you are wearing and what other people are wearing.
❌NOT: “Learn the names of clothes and Present Continuous”
- Talk and ask about possession.
❌NOT: “Learn possessive adjectives”
- Talk and ask about another person’s skills.
❌NOT: “Learn modal verb can”
- Talk and ask about tastes for food.
❌NOT: “Learn the names of food and Present Simple”
Four language skills – speaking, listening, reading and writing — should be developed simultaneously.
This is a tricky moment. Sure enough, communication can be both oral and written, so a teacher implements tasks for all 4 skills, but… sometimes this results in a bunch of reading-writing exercises, maybe one or two listening-reading-writing tasks, which is definitely NOT about communicative approach. It might be easier to focus on the idea that speaking is a priority, so that reading, listening and writing will be added to the lesson naturally without any special focus.
Online teaching is actually the best way to practice communicative approach. There are not many ways to organize the student’s writing at the lesson, so speaking becomes number one activity.
In an online class with a young learner the time should be divided between the activities in the following way:
60% – speaking (at least half of that is student’s speaking part)
20% – listening (a song or a short video for 2-3 min will be enough)
10% – reading (mostly as a part of some other task)
10% – writing (if any at all)
All the rest of listening/reading/writing activities can be sent as a homework.
The topics of the course are selected according to student’s age, level, interest and learning aims.
That’s the easiest part: we talk about pets, friends and school with small kids and about technology, movies and modern music with teenagers. BUT a good communicative class should also include the topics interesting for this particular student.
Let’s imagine the following situation:
Student: girl, 7 y.o.
Level: beginner (A0)
Interests: “My little pony”, drawing
Learning aims: speaking practice, no reading/writing
Topic of the current lesson: pets
What could a teacher implement at the lesson besides the coursebook?
- Focusing around “My little pony” interest + speaking learning aim.
- Looking through the pictures of “My little pony”;
- focusing on the fact that “a pony” is “a horse”;
- finding the differences between a usual horse, a usual pony and “My little pony” characters (wings, horn);
- describing her favourite pony – name, age, colour, size (using the previously learnt vocabulary);
- then describing a usual horse or pony in the same way;
- then describing any other pet of the lesson in the same way.
- Focusing on the child’s drawing hobby + speaking learning aim.
- asking the student to listen and draw an animal;
- then asking the student to guess which animal you drew;
- describing the animals in the drawings – imagining a name, age, colour and size;
- playing a guessing game when a teacher describes the animal’s characteristics and the student guesses the animal;
- same game but changing parts.
Motivation is top important.
What is the highest motivation for a young learner?
- A teacher as a friend, not only a teacher as a guide: do your best to establish friendly relationship with a child; do not stand upon him, stay on the same level in communication.
- A lesson as a game, not as hard work: try to turn every task into a game (e.g. drilling the new vocabulary with scared/happy/angry/bored intonation will add excitement of imitation)
- Appreciation: use all ways to praise your student. For example, All Right classroom has stars to send to the student and an animated character to give compliments to a child for success.
Trial and error is considered part of the learning process.
What is the main reason of the famous “language barrier”? (spoiler: NOT lack of knowledge).
That’s fear of making a mistake.
It is a pity but the students often face dispraise from parents and school teachers for not showing immediate 100% success at language learning.
So the aim of the teacher in a communicative class is to help the student start speaking no matter how many mistakes he makes in the beginning. Every attempt is great. Every error leads to improvement.