Traditionally, the teacher was
viewed as an organizer of classroom activities; a controller over the implementation of
these activities; and an evaluator of students performances of the activities. This
dominant role was based on the premise that the teacher was the "expert" who
would impart his or her knowledge or "expertise" to the unknowing student, who
in turn would be assessed by evaluation instruments intended to measure the amount of
Nowadays, students play a much more active role in
the learning process. No longer passive recipients, they are contributing to the planning
and implementation of what transpires in the classroom; continually adopting and adapting
strategies to accomplish immediate as well as long-term goals; and acquiring and
developing critical thinking and cooperative learning skills. This emphasis in language
teaching and learning is on the communicative nature of language. It is the content of the
message that takes preeminence over accuracy of form. In short, the essence is language
for communication and self-expression.
The communicative approach emphasizes ways to increase student-talk and decrease
teacher-talk. This approach to language teaching has necessitated including in our lesson
plans the production or performance stage, in which students have the opportunity to use
the new language in simulated real-life situations. We create activities that engage
students in meaningful interaction, in which their attention is focused more on what they
are saying than on how they are saying it. It is this free practice that enables learners
to use the language outside the "artificial" context of the classroom.
Message vs. errors
The communicative approach has forced us to reexamine not only how we elicit
student-talk, but also how we respond to it. Now that we are interested in the content of
the message, at least as much as the form, we need to respond genuinely to student-talk
with the same natural emotions that we inject into everyday conversation. Only by doing
this can we really convince students that we are interested in what they are saying.
The communicative approach has consequently altered the way we deal with and react to
errors. According to David Cross (1992), in real life we rarely react to "local"
errorsthose which do not interfere with comprehension of the message; but we do
react to "global" errorsthose which impede comprehension of the message,
simply because of communication gaps. If we are engaged in activities aimed at developing
fluency, we may choose not to respond to specific errors at all, at least immediately.
If, on the other hand, we are engaged in activities aimed at improving accuracy, we may
consider it important to respond to incorrect forms. A simple nod, facial expression,
gesture, or repeat of a mistake with rising intonation is often sufficient indication of
an incorrect form, which the student is capable of correcting him/herself. Furthermore, if
exercised properly and politely, students are generally not intimidated by input or help
from their peers. Both self-correction and peer-correction encourage the active role of
the student and promote cooperative learning in the classroom.
Free and controlled activities
With the renewed emphasis on student involvement, the teacher is obliged to create and
implement both controlled and free activities that encourage students to speak. The venue
for speaking can and should be integrated with the teaching of listening, reading, and
When the focus is on listening or reading skills, the students are drawn into the
schema-building, vocabulary discussion, or other preparatory activities of the
prelistening or prereading stage. Furthermore, student-talk is elicited through guide
questions, comprehension questions, and directives to retell, describe, and summarize the
events, characters, or places in the listening or reading text. In the postlistening or
postreading stage, the text is exploited in more interesting and challenging activities
such as debates, discussions, and role plays which center around student-talk.
Student-talk is further maximized by having activities that involve pair work and group
work, as these will engage all the students in speaking. Also, both individual and group
writing exercises involve some speaking centered on schema-building and brainstorming.
Further interaction occurs in group writing and peer editing, since students exchange
ideas and make corrections or improvements in a collective composition. In short, speaking
is the skill that seems to be most easily integrated into the teaching of each of the
other basic skills.
Speaking can also be a part of every stage of the lesson includingpresentation,
practice, and performance. Although the presentation stage is dominated by the teacher,
students can also contribute personal ideas and talk about what they already know about
the new language or topic. Also, at this stage, learners should be encouraged to use their
imagination and make guesses or predictions about stories or dialogues.
Adrian Doff (1988) discusses the value of this type of elicitation by making the
following points. First, it helps to focus the students attention and make them
think. Second, it helps students make the connection between what they already know and
what they are about to learn. Third, it helps the teacher assess what the students already
know, thereby making it easier to adapt the presentation to an appropriate level. I would
add that the inclusion of eliciting in the presentation stage adds variety to an otherwise
teacher-dominated activity and enhances student motivation.
In the practice stage of the lesson, students have the opportunity to reproduce and
practice the new words or structures. The use of pictures in this stage greatly reduces
the monotony of mechanical drills. By using pictures, the teacher is able to elicit
predictable responses in a more interesting way and with less teacher-talk.
Jeremy Harmer (1983) refers to the stages of practice as personalization and
localization. The former allows students to convey meaningful information while talking
about themselves; the latter allows them to use the places they live as a reference point.
So, instead of talking about the characters in the textbook, they can talk about
themselves, their friends, and their own families. Likewise, the places in the textbook
can be replaced by the names of local places. By personalizing and localizing the
information or situations in the textbook, students can adapt and expand written texts or
dialogues in useful, meaningful, interesting, and beneficial speaking practice.
The performance or production stage of the lesson should provide the students with the
opportunity to use the language previously presented and practiced during the lesson in a
communicative context. Students should be encouraged to express their ideas, opinions, and
feelings in discussions and debates. The important element of fun can be injected into
this stage with games and simulated role play. Genuine questions that encourage
student-talk are used in information gap tasks.
Developing students communicative oral skills is one of our most important goals
in language teaching. Now more than ever before, oral skills are essential for interactive
survival in a global setting. To accomplish this goal of developing students
communicative oral skills, we need to encourage interactive discourse and self-expression.
Classroom activities that increase student-talk and promote interaction among students for
communicative purposes will help us reach this goal. Such activities can be implemented at
all stages of the lesson and in conjunction with the teaching of the other basic skills.
Communicative language teaching offers us an unlimited realm of options and ideas for
encouraging and enhancing student-talk.
Cross, D. 1992. A practical handbook of language teaching. London: Prentice Hall.
Doff, A. 1988. Teach English: A training course for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge
Harmer, J. 1983. The practice of English language teaching. Essex: Longman Group