The use of communicative approaches in teaching English in elementary school
The Communicative Approach. Children’s ability to grasp meaning. Children’s creative use of limited language resources. Children’s instinct for play and fun. Lessons preparation in junior forms. The role of imagination. General steps a lesson preparation.
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Міністерство освіти і науки України
Львівський національний університет ім. І.Франка
“Застосування комунікативних підходів у навчанні англійської мови у початковій школі”
Tell me and I forget, show me and
I remember, involve me and I'll learn.
The main purpose of learning a foreign language is to enable our students to communicate in it. This is the process of arriving at the point of understanding a language, and this is where the communicative approach to language teaching and learning comes to the forefront. In recent years the communicative approach has become ever more popular and overall effective ways to facilitate second language learning.
The Communicative Approach
The origins of Communicative Language Teaching are to be found in the changes in the British language teaching tradition dating from the late 1960s. The writings of D. Wilkins, H. Widdowson, C. Candlin, C. Brumfit, K. Johnson and other British applied linguists on the theoretical basics for a communicative or functional approach to language teaching; the rapid application of these ideas by textbook writers; the equally rapid acceptance of these new principles by British Language teaching specialists, curriculum development centers, and even governments gave prominence nationally and internationally to what came to be referred to as the Communicative Approach.
The essential characteristics of the approach are:
1. Most of the class time is pent on speaking activities. If the teacher presents a text orally or tells his learners to read it, this receptive task is usually used only as a preparation for immediately introducing a speaking activity related to the text.
2. Only the target language is used in class.
3. Most of the speaking activities practiced in class involve spontaneous exchange in unplanned discourse.
4. The focus of all classroom is on exchange of information and not on the language and its forms. Learners' incorrect utterances are also accepted by the teacher as long as it is relatively clear what they mean.
5. There are no grammar explanations and exercises, no drills of any kind, no grammar tests. Grammar is supposed to be acquired in a non-deliberative way, as a by-product of participation in various communicative activities in class. Only when there is a complete block of communication caused by the wrong use of a language form, can the form itself become an object of the learners' conscious attention and the teacher may try to explain in some way the meaning of this form.
6. Learners' errors, particularly grammatical ones, are not corrected by the teacher in any direct way. They are either completely ignored or corrected in an oblique manner.
7. The teacher is not the central figure in he classroom and the only provider of feedback. Classroom activities are often carried in small groups or pair, with the teacher walking around, listening in and providing help when necessary.
According to the New Conception of Education the main aim of teaching foreign language is forming in learners' communicative competence, which means mastering language as intercultural communicative means, developing skills of using foreign language as a tool in cooperation of cultures of modern world.
Working with young language learners in the primary classroom can be both a rewarding and a demanding experience. To make the most of that experience for both learners and teachers we need to be very clear what is we are trying to do. We must try to identify what learning language in school demands from young children and what it can offer them. We should also acknowledge what the implications of those demands and needs are for the teachers.
Young children do not come to the language classroom empty-handed. They bring with them an already well-established set of instincts, skills and characteristics which will help them to learn another language. We need to identify those and make the most of them. For example, children:
- are already very good at interpreting meaning without necessarily understanding the individual words;
- already have great skill in using limited language creatively;
- frequently learn indirectly rather than directly;
- take great pleasure in finding and creating fun in what they do;
- have a ready imagination;
- above all take great delight in talking!
Children's ability to grasp meaning
Very young children are able to understand what is being said to them even before they understand the individual words. Intonation, gesture, facial expressions, actions and circumstances all help to tell them the unknown words and phrases probably mean. By understanding the message in this way they start to understand the language. In later life we all maintain this first source of understanding alongside our knowledge of the language itself. It remains a fundamental part of human communication.
Children come to primary school with this ability already highly developed. They continue to use it in all their schoolwork. For example, even thought their mother tongue skills are already well established, they may well find it difficult to follow purely verbal instructions and information. When this happens, or sometimes simply out of laziness or inattention, children will tend to rely on their ability to “read” the general message. We can see this happening most clearly when they get it wrong. More importantly, particularly in terms of language development, their message-interpreting skill is part of the way they learn new words, concepts and expressions in their mother tongue as their language expands to meet the new challenges of school.
So when children encounter a new language at school, they can on the same skill to help them interpret the new sounds, new words and new structures. We want to support and develop these skills. We can do this by making sure we make full use of gesture, intonation, demonstration, actions and facial expressions to convey meaning parallel to what we are saying. We must also try not to undermine the children's willingness to use the skill.
Children's creative use of limited language resources
In the early stages of their mother tongue development children excel at making a little language go a long way. They are creative with grammatical forms. They are also creative with concepts. Children also create words by analogy, or they even invent completely new words which then come into the family vocabulary. This phenomenon is fundamental language development. In order to make the most of the creative language skill the children bring with them, we therefore have to provide them occasions when:
- the urge to communicate makes them find some way of expressing themselves;
- the language demanded by the activity is unpredictable and isn't just asking the children to repeat set phrases, but it encouraging them to construct language actively for themselves.
That is why games are so useful and so important. It is not just because they are fun. It is partly because the fun element creates a desire to communicate and partly because games can create unpredictability.
If we acknowledge the need for unpredictability, it follows that in addition to occasions when the children practice learnt dialogue or other specific language items under close teacher guidance, there will also need to be occasions when we set up an activity and then leave the children to get on with it.
Children's capacity for indirect learning
Even when teachers are controlling an activity fairly closely, children sometimes seem to notice something out of the corner of their eye and to remember it better than they were actually supposed to be learning. At times this can be a frustrating experience for the teacher but this capacity too can be turned to our advantage in the language classroom. It is part of the rather complex phenomenon of indirect learning.
Language activities which involve children in guessing what phrase or word someone has thought of are very good examples of this phenomenon in action. As far as the children are concerned, they are not trying to learn phrases: they are concentrating on trying to guess right. However, by the time they have finished the repeated guessing, they will have confirmed words and structures they only half knew at the beginning. They will have got the phrases firmly into their minds. They will probably even have adjusted their pronunciation. Guessing is actually a very powerful way of learning phrases and structures, but it is indirect because the mind is engaged with the task and is not focusing on the language.
At primary school level the children capacity for conscious leaning of forms and grammatical patterns is still relatively undeveloped. In contrast, all children, whether they prefer to `sort things out' or `muddle through', bring with them an enormous instinct for indirect learning. If we are to make the most of that asset we need to build on it quite deliberately and very fully.
Children's instinct for play and fun
Children have an enormous capacity for finding and making fun. Sometimes, it has to be said, they choose the most inconvenient moments to indulge it! They bring a spark of individuality and of drama to much that they do. When engaged in guessing activities children nearly always inject their own element of drama into their hiding of the prompt-cards and their reactions to the guesses of their classmates. They shuffle their cards ostentatiously under the table so that the others can't see. They may utter an increasingly triumphant or smug `No!' as the others fail to guess. They stare hard at the rest of the class, they frown or they glower. Here their personalities emerge, woven into the language use. In this way, they make the language their own. That is why it is such very powerful contribution to learning. Through their sense of fun and play, the children are living the language for real. Yet again we can see why games have such a central role to play. But the games are not the only way in which individual personalities surface in the language classroom. There is also the whole area of imaginative thinking.
The role of imagination
Children delight in imagination and fantasy. It is more than simply a matter of enjoyment. In the primary school, children are very busing making sense of the world about them. They are identifying pattern and also deviation from that pattern. Thy test out their versions of the world through fantasy and confirm how the world actually is by imaging how it might be different. In the language classroom this capacity for fantasy and imagination has a very constructive part to play.
Language teaching should be concerned with real life. But it would be a great pity if we were so concerned to promote reality in the classroom that we forgot that reality for the children includes imagination and fantasy. The act of fantasizing, of imagining, is very much an authentic part of being a child. If we accept the role of the imagination in children's lives we can see that it provides another very powerful stimulus for real language use. We need to find ways of building on this factor in the language classroom to. We want to stimulate the children's creative imagination so that they want to use the language to share their ideas.
The instinct for interaction and talk
Of all the instincts and attributes that children bring to the classroom this probably the most important for the language teacher. It is also the most obvious, so there is no need to labour the point. This particular capacity can surface unbidden and sometimes unwanted in all classrooms. Its persistence and strength is very much to our advantage in the primary language classroom. It is the one of the most powerful motivators for using the language. Children need to talk. Without talking they cannot become good at talking.
Lessons preparation in junior forms
While preparing a lesson the teacher plans organization, pupils' doing and saying, and teacher's doing and saying.
The typical form of a lesson in junior forms is a theatrical game. The theatrical game is characterized by a wide usage of game elements, competition, concealed forms of control, functional music, combination of collective pair and individual work. Muck attention should be paid to involuntary memorizing. To involve all pupils in work a teacher should compile a kind of scenario in which every pupil has his role, while the teacher only stimulates and directs his pupils' role-playing.
General steps a lesson preparation
1. Study the school syllabus (general requirements, requirements for a certain class).
2. Observe conditions in which teaching-learning process is going to take place.
3. Acquaint with additional materials available and those necessary for successful work.
4. Study a lesson plan available in Teacher's Book and correlate it with abilities of your pupils, your personal characteristics.
5. Try to create your own lesson plan that coordinates with your intentions:
a) Think over practical, cultural, educational and bringing-up aims that have to be realized in the lesson.
b) Choose linguistic materials, exercise suitable for realizing the aims.
c) Think over activities which `stir' (wake up, stimulate) a class and which `settle' them.
d) Choose methods and techniques aimed at better acquisition of material and realizing the objectives. If they are chosen successfully, the pupils will see the results of work and it will be easy for the teacher to make conclusions.
e) Arrange components of the lesson logically in accordance with parts of a certain lesson type.
f) Think over the hometask i.e. the time of its presentation, content, size. It is better if it naturally emerges from the lesson procedure.
Basic Principles of Teaching and Learning English in the Primary School
1. Every lesson should begin with a greeting in a foreign language and a talk. In the group of the complete beginners the teacher conducts the conversation with pupils. Later when pupils have already had some experience, a pupil on duty or any other pupil may conduct it. It is possible to arrange the conversation in pairs. A foreign language should be used for all classroom activities.
2. There should be a variety of activities in every lesson.
3. The lesson should be conducted at a high speed when oral drill exercises are performed. Pupils may be seated while saying a word, a phrase or a sentence.
4. The lesson should provide time for the activity of every pupil in the class. The teacher should talk as little as possible.
5. The lesson should provide conditions for pupils to learn. “Language is a skill, so it should be learnt, it cannot be taught,” - M. West once said. Pupils should be taught to learn for themselves.
6. The work done during the lesson should prepare pupils for their independent work at home. At early stages it is advisable not to assign as hometask exercises including language material that has not been covered in class.
7. The lesson should be equipped with teaching aids and teaching materials, which create natural situations for developing pupils' listening and speaking skills in a foreign language.
8. Develop ways of checking whether the pupils understand what they say may be linguistically correct.
All the primary stage first of all we should distinguish lessons of introductory course (first term of the first year of language learning). The peculiarity of introductory course is oral conducting of lesson. Pupils speak and read letters of ABC. They neither read words, sentences, nor write. Oral teaching demands inventiveness, quick activity on the part of the teacher. It is time to involve pupils in the world of English, to find a place for English in their hearts. Bright visualization is obligatory. Games, poems small, dialogues role-play, chorus work should prevail.
The Advantages of the Oral Introductory Course
1. It allows children to get a clear idea of how the language sounds from the very first steps.
2. It stimulates pupils' interest as they deal with the language in its communicative function. For children a language is first of all speech. So they are instructed in comprehension of elementary commands, requests, statements and questions on the hand, and in saying something in a foreign language on the other hand. They may speak about themselves, friends, objects and things around.
3. Much attention is paid to the development of pronunciation habits and skills both in articulation and intonation since pupils are taught spoken language only.
4. Pupils' responses reflect the level of their comprehension of information. If it is slow and inaccurate, they revise it.
5. It provides activity in the lesson. Pupils must listen to what the teacher and their classmates say. Their memory, thinking, visual, auditory, and listening analyzers are at work.
6. It gives plenty of time for hearing, repetition, and reproduction.
After introductory course combined lessons prevail. Such speech activities as reading and writing are involved. Pupils first listen to the portion of learning material, then it in speaking; the previously learnt material is used for reading and writing. Thus, pupils work over the material twice: first in oral speech then in written speech.
Children differ in many ways. They are different in discipline, cultural background and interests. All the teachers are acquainted with such phenomenon: the same children always finish the task first and can get bored or disruptive. Or one half of the students have fulfilled the task while the other part only just begun to do it. Most weaker pupils are often bad listeners because it's difficult for them to understand the teacher. The bigger the class is, the more the problems are compounded.
Schools may be one of the new places left where children can find quiet and sustained application to a task in hand. How can we reconcile this need to give the children periods of sustained calm and independent work with our declared intention to promote interaction and communication? In other words, how can we be sure that interaction and communication do not simply lead to unproductive fragmentation and restlessness? This is particularly important when our classes are large or our classroom very cramped.
The `stir' factor and `settle' one
Some language activities stir a class. In a positive sense `stir' means that activities wake them up, stimulate them. In a negative sense, it may be that the activity over-excite them or allow them to become unconstructively restless. There are other activities, which have the opposite effect. They seem to settle the children. To put it positively, that means they will calm a class down. The negative side of this is to say that some activities will bore the class into inertia.
If we know the effect of activities like this, we can plan lesson, which neither stay stuck in dullness nor get out of hand in excitement. So it is useful to make your own list from experience of your particular class or classes. For example, most teachers find copying quietens children like magic. So does colouring. Competitions, on the other hand make children excited and noisy.
Another way of looking at it is in terms of the different effects of different language skills. Oral work always seems to stir. Listening usually settles. You can equally well apply the same stir/settle distinction to any typical and regular teaching. For example, you perhaps have a routine oral exchange of several sentences with which you regularly begin a lesson. Ask yourself whether it basically stir or settles. There may be occasions when it is not an appropriate start.
It will help to think of any classroom event in this way. What happens when you hand out books? If the answer in your experience is `stir' then there will be occasions when you quite deliberately choose to delay the event until you have settled the classroom down. In order to have the freedom to adapt, we need to know the effect of what we do. So you count make up a chart, which reflects your experience.
listening (if they have something to do)
tests (if not too difficult)
being read to
Notice that the headings say `usually'. This is because as soon as we start doing this, we find ourselves saying sometimes like, “Well oral work does stir but, in a funny sort of way, chorus work seems to calm them down.” Or “Pairwork makes them noisy so I suppose it's a stirrer, but sometimes they get so absorbed in what they are doing that they settle”. So we have to take into consideration all these aspects, which help us to plan our lesson successfully.
The role of the Teacher
The teacher plays different parts in the course of teaching. The teacher adopts a variety of roles according to the activity conducted in the classroom.
As a manager the teacher gives instructions for pupils. As a model the teacher asks pupils to repeat a sound, a sentence after her for pronunciation practice. The teacher goes round listening to the groups, to pairs practicing dialogues. Here she (he) is a monitor. She or he is a counselor when she advises pupils how best to approach a task. The teacher explains new language material and this is case she or he is an informant. The teacher provides material and guidance to enable pupils to work on their own. So, here, she or he is a facilitator.
A good teacher should be enthusiastic, creative, patient, and understanding towards the many pupils he or she deals with.
There are some activities, which may be included in the structure of the lessons in the primary school.
1. Developing speaking skills:
a) Help Winnie the Pooh to guess what present is there in the box?
(Forms of work: pairwork, group work, individual work).
In this activity pupils practice vocabulary, grammar structure “Is there …?”, they may suggest their own version.
b) Help Winnie the Pooh. Say what he should take to the school.
c) Discussion. Look at the pictures and say what do you like or dislike.
children language lesson preparation
Pupils may colour the pictures.
d) Help Winnie the Pooh to colour the picture.
This activity may be used for developing listening skills.
2. For practicing (ABC) letters a lot of activities may be used:
a) letter recognition
Help the letter G to find its garage.
b) Help the little butterfly to fly its flower.
3. For practicing letters and sounds such an activity mat be proposed.
Show the mice the way tom their houses.
4. For developing listening skills and practicing colours such a game may to be used.
Game “Cat Tom”.
Pupil1 is “Cat Tom”.
The class in chorus asks him: “Cat Tom! Cat Tom! What colour do you want?”
Pupils says: “Mew-mew!” I want “red”. All the pupils have to touch the red card (or pencil). Who is wrong will be out of the game.
There are some `settle' activities, which we may use in our lesson
Find what letters are hidden in the pictures
The communicative approach has changed our stereotypes about teaching-learning process. It accents children's participation in the classroom, where the teacher is not the central figure of the lesson. She or he is only the provider of feedback. Most of classtime is spent on speaking activities and only target language is used. Pupils a taught to communicate in non-deliberate way, their errors are corrected in an oblique manner. We should know our little learners, their abilities and their interests. The teacher should know that little children do not come to the classroom empty-handed. They bring with them an already well-established set of instincts, skills and characteristics, which will help them to learn another language. They are already very good at interpreting meaning without necessarily understanding the individual words. Intonation, gesture, actions and circumstances all help to tell them what unknown words probably mean. Children frequently learn indirectly rather than directly. They have a ready imagination and take great pleasure in finding and creating fun in what they do. And above all they take great delight in talking. This knowledge will help us in our work. While preparing a lesson in the primary school the teacher plans a kind of scenario of the theatrical game, in which each pupil has his role. The teacher only stimulates and directs his pupils' role-playing.
The lesson should provide conditions for pupils learn. “Language is a skill, so it should be learnt, it cannot be taught”, M.West once Said. So, pupils should be taught to learn for themselves. And our task is to make the process of learning interesting and enjoyable.
1. Halliwell Susan. Teaching English in the Primary Classroom/Longman 1998.
2. Mark Fletcher. Teaching Success The Brain-friendly Revolution in Action!/English Experience 2000.
3. Rob Nolasco and Lois Arthur. Conversation. Resource Books For Teachers/Oxford University Press 1987.
4. Юлія Дацько, Тамара Бабенко. Методика навчання англійської мови/Цикл лекційю Львів ЛДУ 1999.
5. Anna Krystaniluk. Lesson Preparation in Junior Forms/”English” №40, October 2003, p. 5-6.
6. Концепція навчання іноземних мов у середній загальноосвітній 12-річній школі./”English” №6, February 2004, pp.3-8.
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