How to Achieve Genuine Communication in an ESL Classroom
Genuine communication in the classroom is the most vital component of an EFL course, regardless of factors like type and length of course or the students’ level.
In a way, achieving genuine classroom communication is not as difficult as it may seem. However, it requires skill and preparation. The first step is for the teacher to create a friendly and supportive atmosphere that encourages natural communication and make students feel at ease. To do this, the teacher needs to be genuinely interested in the students, their lives outside the classroom, and their needs in the classroom. That’s why it’s always beneficial to get to know your students and establish a professional, yet friendly working relationship. A good starting point is setting up “get to know everyone” games and activities at the beginning of the course where the students learn about each other, each other’s interests and preferences, as well as get to know the teacher.
Creating a friendly environment is always a good start. However, it’s not enough. Even in the friendliest of environments natural communication can die if the teacher can’t manage the classroom and doesn’t provide a wide enough range of communication-stimulating activities.
Seating is an important aspect of classroom management that can boost natural communication and thus improve the whole learning process. There are a few important points that the teacher should consider when arranging seating in the classroom, mainly group size, level, and whether it’s a multinational class or not. Typically, it’s easier to manage smaller groups of students who are roughly at the same level. When a teacher is fortunate to have a class of 10 or fewer students, it’s possible to use all types of seating arrangements. However, in some countries classes can be quite large, which makes seating arrangements such as pairs difficult to monitor and control.
In a multi-national classroom, it’s essential to avoid grouping people of the same nationality together. When all pairs or groups are mixed, the students will have to communicate in English and find ways of saying what they want to say even if they are not 100% sure of their grammar.
Even though seating is an important part of creating successful learning environment, the most efficient way of ensuring genuine classroom communication is providing a wide range of carefully planned classroom activities designed to engage each and every student.
A good starting point is ensuring that all materials and activities are designed to create a VAK (visual-auditory-kinaesthetic) presentation. In other words, it’s important to make sure that there are appropriate texts and visual aids, audio and video materials, and suitable games and activities for every lesson. All materials and activities selected for a particular lesson should complement each other.
It’s quite easy to combine all types of activities. For example, an activity using a set of flash cards when learning body parts and appearance can be combined with a game when students are asked to raise their arms, touch their nose, etc. This can be followed by a listening exercise that requires the students to jot down some information about the people described in the exercise.
Another very important part of achieving genuine communication in the classroom is making sure that less advanced or shy students don’t get disadvantaged or even ignored.
There are several techniques that can help encourage less confident students to take part in a discussion. One of them is pairing a less confident student with a more advanced student, so that he or she can receive some peer advice and help. This can also help the more advanced student discover more about the language and the way it works.
Asking questions is another way to engage the whole class. This can be achieved by asking questions that can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no”, always asking random people so that the whole group stays engaged, and discussing things that interest the students.
With non-beginner classes, role plays are a good way to engage everyone and prompt the less confident students to communicate with the rest of the group. In the case of a big enough level gap, it’s good to give the less advanced student some keywords that he or she could use. At a later stage, the student should be encouraged to communicate without the help of keywords and thus develop his or her speaking skills.
All of the above-mentioned techniques will help to improve genuine communication in the classroom. However, the most important of them all is carefully planning lessons so that they include exercises that naturally lead to communicative activities. This will help to maximize the students’ confidence level and prompt them to communicate more actively and freely.
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