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Teaching English Communicatively

Page history last edited by Chris Moore 11 years, 9 months ago



In this unit you will


  • look at the idea of 'Communicative Language Teaching'
  • find out why it is so popular in English language classrooms all over the world
  • see how it can be applied in your classroom 



Think About It


1. Please write down what 'communicative' means to you in a teaching situation?





Obviously, communication has to do with speaking and listening to each other - very important skills for everyone, and for language learners in particular.


Having a 'communicative' approach when teaching means we concentrate on getting learners to do things with language – to talk about their ideas, talk to each other, ask questions, describe their lives, and find out things. This methodology, generally called Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), is the dominant and most successful model in English language teaching today.




It's very simple. Because this is how language is used. We learn language so we can communicate with it. Language is practical, hands-on stuff.


In CLT, the communicative nature of language is always the key focus. When students do activities in class, the speaking and listening areas are the priorities. However, learning grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation patterns is also seen as important parts of a learning programme. When we speak more accurately, it is easier for other people to understand our ideas.



2. How close was your answer to (1) to the ideas expressed by CLT?





3. In a ‘communicative’ lesson, what do you think your students will be doing?







We think it means that your students will be doing some or all of these things:


  • talking to you
  • talking to each other
  • asking questions
  • saying what they think
  • describing their lives
  • discussing answers
  • helping each other
  • correcting each other
  • sharing ideas


4. Many teachers believe that using a communicative approach is a great way for students to learn English. Why do you think that is?






Here are some of our thoughts:


  • By talking in English, students can understand how it works in practice
  • Students can see whether they have understood a language point by trying to use it
  • When they talk to each other, they can see very quickly what they can or cannot do in English
  • They can learn from each other, as well as from the teacher
  • Using the language is ‘learning by doing’, a great way of learning anything
  • Talking together and discussing ideas is fun!

5.    If you use CLT to teach English, what activities could you use in the classroom? List a few ideas you have:








Here are some of our thoughts:


  • Ask students to do an exercise in pairs or small groups - and speak English to each other, of course!
  • Ask students to discuss their answers to an exercise and see if they have the same or not – if they are different, ask them to work out why
  • When a student makes a mistake, ask the other students to correct it (not you)
  • Ask a student to use a new word in his/her own sentence
  • Ask students to solve problems together
  • Ask students to form pairs and then create a role-play to practice a language point
  • Give some sentences with the same grammar point in, and then ask the students to discuss why that point is being used
  • Play a fun language game with teams


All student activity should be in English wherever possible. Students may find this difficult at first, but keep going. With practice they will get used to it, get better at it, and then they will learn to expect it.




Here are some key principles of CLT. Please read through them and think how you use them in your classroom.

Students should:


  • use English whenever possible - learning by doing
  • speak about their lives, their ideas, and their feelings in English
  • interact, collaborate, take risks, express individuality, have fun
  • understand that it’s OK to make mistakes – this is part of the learning process
  • produce their own language that they have thought of – not just repeat the teacher or the book
  • be motivated to use and learn English

Teachers should:


  • encourage the students to use the language without correcting them all the time
  • encourage their students to think about the language and to try things out
  • involve students in a variety of different activities
  • encourage students to work together so they can learn from each other
  • make the English class a fun place to be
  • guide and help students - resolve arguments, ensure everyone is involved, ensure everyone understands new language
  • monitor students' strengths and weaknesses & build into future lessons

So, are your students talking in English? Are they trying new words and grammar in their own sentences? Are they using English to describe their lives, their thoughts and feelings?

If not, then perhaps it's time to make a change. Let’s get your students using English, having fun, and learning plenty on the way.





Practical ExamplesCommunicative Language Teaching in Practice

Asking students to draw a picture is a great way of seeing if they understand prepositions of place - in, on, beside, opposite, etc. A simple scene with some objects is normally enough, for example a picture with the sun, a house, a tree, a river, a man, and 2 children.

Here are 2 possible ways of running this activity:

1. Teacher Centred Activity


The teacher describes a simple picture for students to draw: “Draw the sun in the right hand corner. Draw a large house in the centre of the picture, and draw a tall tree next to the house on the right…” etc

The students listen and do their best to follow the teacher’s instructions. At the end they show their pictures to the teacher and the rest of the class.

This is good for:       (i) practicing prepositions of place
                                 (ii) listening practice

2. Student Centred Activity


List the objects on the board (sun, house, tree, etc). Then ask the students to draw their own picture using the objects. They are not allowed to show their picture to anyone else. Then put them in pairs. Each student now has to take it in turn to describe - in English - his picture to his partner without the partner looking at the picture.


Give them 2 minutes to do this. The person listening and doing the drawing is allowed to ask questions, check what their partner said, seek clarification, and so on. After 2 minutes, the students compare their pictures and discuss what went right or wrong.

This is good for:           (i) practicing prepositions of place
                                     (ii) communicative practice – so listening AND speaking – and doing it in all kinds of ways

In task (1), the teacher centred activity, the students are passive, following the teacher’s instructions, but not using the language themselves.

In task (2), the student centred activity, the students are actively using the language in a real dialogue. They get to listen, ask questions, give instructions, repeat and clarify information, check understanding, and discuss the results. It can be a lot of fun.

Task (2) also provides you, the teacher, with a great opportunity to listen to your students, and see how good they are with the language used. Not just prepositions, but also giving instructions (imperatives), asking questions (question forms), and asking for clarification, among others. You can then see how much extra work needs to be done on these areas in future lessons.





This task is a great example of Communicative Language Teaching. It is useful, challenging and fun. It gets students to really use English, rather than just listen or repeat. So, try and think of how you can get your students to talk to each other in similar ways. It’s great for their learning and great for their motivation.





Before we start, a moment of reflection:

Have you ever tried to learn a new language? Think back to that time. Write a few words that an outside observer might use to describe how you learnt - your behaviour, your motivation, and your interactions with others while you were learning. What worked for you? What didn't? If you have never learned a second language, think about something else you have learned – maths, geography, to play a musical instrument, a new sport – and ask yourself the same questions

Now, imagine a child in your classroom. How can you take the ideas from your personal experiences recorded above and integrate them into your classroom?



 Module 1 - Introduction

OK, let’s get started. The first thing we’d like you to do is answer a few questions about you as a teacher, and what you think works in your classroom. Just write down a few words for every question. Please do this – by writing things down, you are articulating all those thoughts and ideas in your mind and have something you can look back on at a later time.


A.   About you: 

Please write down your answers to the following questions.


1. How would you describe yourself as a teacher?



2. How would your students describe you?



3. What are your strengths as a teacher?



4. And your weaknesses?



5. What would you like to learn from this course?



B.   Previous Teacher Training:


Write down the name(s) of any teacher training course you have taken, and say what the main learning points were for you.

 a. the name of the qualification:

b. the length of the course:

c. when you took it:

d. the main things you learnt from the course:



C.   Good and bad teaching

Think about your experience, both as teacher and as a student. Think about the times you've watched others teach, and all those conversations you've had with others about teaching. Now answer the 2 questions below:


1. What makes a bad teacher?

Write down 5 things and feel free to ask a friend or colleague what they think too. Sometimes discussing a questions with others can generate many more ideas and memories than on your own.









Here are some of our ideas:

  • A bad teacher is boring
  • talks too much
  • doesn't let the students do anything
  • just gets the students to repeat things without checking they understand what they’re saying
  • doesn't prepare for lessons
  • is not sure of the subject matter



 2. What makes a good teacher?

As above, write down 5 things and feel free to ask a friend or colleague what they think too.










 Here are some of our ideas:


  • a good teacher is interesting and engaging
  • makes students look forward to the next lesson
  • makes students laugh
  • gets students doing things
  • lets students find the answer for themselves
  • gives students a sense of progress
  • knows what s/he's talking about



3. What makes good teaching in practice?

Now think about what 'good teaching' means. What kind of classroom activities does this involve? What motivates and engages students? What makes them laugh? What makes them learn?

List a few ideas of specific things a teacher can do here:





Here are some suggestions: 

ü  Involve all the students, so everyone is part of the learning journey

ü  Do things that make students laugh

ü  Do things that make students speak lots of English

ü  Set language challenges - puzzles, problems, tricky questions - not too easy, not too difficult either – to make students think!

ü  Play language games

ü  Use different types of exercises and activities

ü  Use pair and groupwork, so students are talking and learning together

ü  Explain language points clearly and check that everyone has understood

ü  Ask students to use English to talk about their lives



These questions were to get you thinking, and to introduce some of the key ideas that will run throughout the course.


Look at the course contents now. This is a modular course. This means you can select which of the different modules are most useful to you. You don’t need to do them all – though you can do if you wish. You can also decide which order to do the modules in. This means you can prioritise the ones that will be of immediate relevance. It's up to you to take an honest look at your teaching and decide what works for you.

This is also a practical course. It’s essential that you try the ideas out in the classroom, and see what works best for you. We are most interested in giving you lots of teaching ideas and tools that can be applied in practice. And don’t worry if some things don’t work first time – change it a little and try again. These ideas and tools are all used successfully in classrooms all over the world. They are designed to make your classroom a place where learning is fun, engaging and inspiring.

We hope that this course will give you new ideas and new ways of teaching English in your classroom. We hope that you will be inspired to examine your teaching and look at areas you feel need improving. We hope you will enjoy teaching more, and that your students will enjoy learning more and make amazing progress in their English.






The Objectives of the Course

•  To provide English Language Teachers foundation level course which lays the ground work in TEFL

•  To enable English Language Teachers to walk into the classroom a prepared and confident teacher


Learning by Doing

The course is activity-based - this means you learn the underlying principles of TEFL by taking part and doing it. All the activities you do on the course you could be using with

your own students wherever you teach in the world. This is why it is important to analyze what you do during the course.


Things To Consider

•  Why did we do that activity?

•  What made that activity successful?

•   How can we adapt activities to different levels?

•   At what point in a lesson would we do certain activities?

•  How was the activity organized?

•  How was the specific target language (tense, vocabulary, structure, function. practiced in the class?

•  How can we change the activity to practice other language?


Comments (2)

Moeko Takagi said

at 3:06 pm on Aug 18, 2010

I like there are many questions, but I wonder that if there are answers right after the question, people may just look at the answers without really think about it by themselves. If we really want teachers to think about it, I think we want to hide the answers first and pop up later. Like we can make an icon. When teachers finish answering the question, then they can click the icon to see the answers.

Chris Moore said

at 4:14 pm on Aug 29, 2010

Agree! This was also my intention - perhaps a pop up as you suggest on thge online version, and an answers section in the printed version.

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