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Using interactive activities on English lessons as part of the communicative approach

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006

Авторы: Трегубова М.М., Нурбаева Ж.

When we communicate, we use the language to accomplish some function, such as arguing, persuading, or promising. The preparation for the communication can be inadequate if, for example, students know the rules of language usage, but they will be unable to use the language. Furthermore, since communication is a process, it is insufficient for the student to simply have knowledge of target language forms, meanings and functions. Students must be able to apply this knowledge in negotiating meaning. It is through the interaction between speaker and listener (or reader and writer) that meaning becomes clear. The listener gives the speaker feedback as to whether or not he or she understands what the speaker has said. In this way, the speaker can revise what he has said and try to communicate his/her intended meaning again, if necessary.

Using different types of games on English lessons is very important, as with the help of games students learn and remember the new material better, and it gives them an excellent opportunity to communicate with each other and develop their speaking and listening skills. Games have certain features in common with real communicative events - there is a purpose to the exchange. There can be games of different types on English lessons, such as, games with the help of which we can review or learn the vocabulary. Students can work in groups, and it will help them to express their thoughts and feelings, or they can work in pairs and it will teach them to listen to the opinion of their partner.

The most widespread activity nowadays, according to our observations, is group work. The group seems to be a natural framework for the way ideas are worked with in the real world. People, on the whole, enjoy sharing ideas, learning from one another, and cooperating. In the workplace, people have discovered that cooperation is a much better tool than competition. We have noticed that in large multilevel classes, group work is obviously a key element as it lets students to learn from one another. When working in small groups, students have a greater chance to practice oral fluency.

Group work is best used when it is not the only classroom interaction pattern, but when it is combined with many other strategies. Indeed, the large multilevel class works better when we provide a great deal of variety. We can plan our lessons to include teacher-fronted work, individual work, and pair work, as well as group work. If we plan correctly, our lessons will become an interesting balance between control balance in pairs, free practice in groups and individual performance through mingling strategies.

Through our observations we have noticed that:

1. Dialogue practice, vocabulary drill, and grammar review tend to work best in pairs.

2. Problem solving usually works best in groups.

3. Discussions work best in triads.

We decided to make some kind of a handbook, which will help other teachers in our college to use different types of games on their lessons of English. Also we conducted a seminar at our college, where we spoke about kinds of games, when and where they should be used. At the seminar we demonstrated some of the games by playing those games with teachers, and everyone took part in it with pleasure.

There are some questions and answers that will help us to understand why a language teacher should use different games on his or her lessons.

What is the role of the teacher? What is the role of the students?

Unlike the traditional classroom, the teacher in the interactive classroom is a facilitator of the students’ learning, not the dictator or some depository of knowledge that students are dependent from. He or she is a manager of classroom activities. In this role, one of the teacher’s major responsibilities is to establish situations likely to promote communication. During the activities he or she acts as an advisor, answering the students’ questions, guiding, monitoring and evaluating their performance. In more advanced classes, the role of the teacher may be reduced to that of the mere reference: the teacher only replies to student-initiated questions.

Students are, above all, communicators and sources of information. They are actively engaged in negotiating meaning - in trying to make themselves understood - even when their knowledge of the target language is incomplete. They learn to communicate by communicating.

What are some communicative characteristics of games?

Students use the language a great deal through communicative activities such as games, role-plays, or a problem-solving task. Activities that are truly communicative, according to methodologist Morrow (in Johnson and Morrow 1981), have three features: information gap, choice and feedback. The information gap feature allows students to be involved in exchanges and receive missing information as the outcome. While communicating, a speaker has a choice not only about what to say, but also how to say it. In the same way, students should be given opportunities to develop strategies for using target language more than their native language. Games are usually played in small groups. Small numbers of students interacting are favored in order to maximize the time allotted to each student for learning to negotiate meaning. As students negotiate meanings, they exchange opinions and make comments. The peer feedback plays a crucial role in developing communication skills in the target language.

How are student feelings dealt with?

Through the games students will be more motivated to study a foreign language since they will feel they are learning to do something useful with the language they study. Also, the teacher gives them an opportunity to express their individuality by having them share their ideas and opinions. The teacher should remember not to dominate the discussions and establish “rules” for accepting differing and opposing opinions. In no way should the teacher “overrule” an opinion that is different from his or hers. When interaction through games is well planned and sustained, students do not feel intimidated and are free to express themselves. The teacher should watch the disagreements lest they turn into conflicts, which may happen during most heated debates. It is, after all, only a game. A good preventive (and communicative) exercise would be brainstorming with students ways of expressing disagreement in a polite and persuasive manner. Small groups provide an opportunity for “quieter” students to speak up in a non-threatening setting. Again, the role of the teacher is to make sure everyone has a “voice” in a group discussion.

What is the role of the students’ native language?

The target language should be used not only during communicative activities, but also, for example, in explaining the activities to the students or in assigning homework. The students learn from these classroom management exchanges, too, and realize that the target language is a vehicle for the communication, not just the object to be studied. However, the students’ first language may have an interfering effect, as incomplete knowledge of the target language is likely to be compensated through use of Russian/Kazak words and structures. The teacher should be aware that it is one of the strategies (the students should not be scolded for that and provide help by offering the right English equivalents.

To overcome the typical problem that students cannot transfer what they learn in the classroom to the outside world and to expose students to natural language in a variety of situations, there should be used some authentic language materials such as newspaper articles, job application forms or the use of weather forecast when working with predictions.

There can also be used such activities as jigsaw puzzles and scrambled letters/sentences. The students are given a passage or a text in which the sentences are in a scrambled order. This may be a passage they have worked with or one they haven’t seen before. They are told to unscramble the sentences and restore the story to its original order. This type of game teaches students about the cohesion and coherence properties of language. They learn how sentences are bound together in a paragraph. This will have profound implications in the development of their writing skills. Thus, such kind of game can be used for written passages. Students can also be asked to unscramble the lines of a mixed-up dialogue. Or they might be asked to put the picture strip story in order and write captions to accompany the pictures. Students find it enjoyable, funny and it seems for them that studying English language becomes easier.

Many other activities can be done with the picture strip stories. For instance, students have a choice as to what their prediction will be and how they will word it. They receive feedback, not on the form but on the content of the prediction, by being able to view the picture and compare it with their prediction. This activity describes as an example of using a problem-solving task as a communicative technique. Problem-solving tasks are good as they can be structured so that students share information or work together to arrive at a solution. This gives students practice in negotiating meaning. A popular negotiation activity with many of our students is The Desert Island. Students are given a set of 36 items to choose from to “survive” on a deserted island and groups have to negotiate to arrive at the initial list of 18, then 9 and finally the optimal list of 6 items only.

Another kind of games that can be used on the lesson is a role-play. Role-plays are very important as they give the students an opportunity to practice communicating in different social contexts and in different social roles. Role-plays

can be set up so that they are very structured (for example, the teacher tells the students who they are and what they should say) or in less structured (for example, the teacher tells the students who they are, what the situation is, and what they are talking about, but the students determine what they will say). Students also get feedback on whether or not they have effectively communicated.

Here are two more examples of games that we found helpful in our classrooms in initiating and sustaining student interaction.

1. The teacher reads a number of predictions like the following:

In 1992, a woman will be elected President of the United States.

By 2000, solar energy will replace the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

By 2050, people will be living in the moon.

The students are told to make statements about how probable they think the predictions are and why they believe so. They are also asked how they feel about the prediction. All students take part in this discussion and it gives them an excellent opportunity to express their thoughts and listen to the arguments of their peers, while they are learning new vocabulary and practicing new phrases and word-combinations.

2. The teacher has the students divided into groups. One member of each group is given a picture strip story. There are six pictures in a row on a piece of paper, but no words. The pictures tell a story. The student with the story shows the first picture to the other members of his group, while covering the remaining five pictures. The other students try to predict what they think will happen in the second picture. The first student tells them whether they are correct or not. Then he shows them the second picture and asks them to predict what the third picture will look like. After the entire series of pictures has been shown, the group gets a new strip story and they change roles, giving the first student an opportunity to work with the partner in making predictions. This kind of game lets students to communicate with each other and develop their imagination through creating their own stories.

The teacher gives the students the directions for the activity in the target language. It can be said that the target language is a vehicle for classroom communication, not just the object of study.

In conclusion it can be said that perhaps the greatest contribution of the communication is asking teachers to look closely at what is involved in communication. If teachers intend students to use the target language, then they must truly understand all that is included in the concept of communicative competence. Different types of games are to be used across language proficiency levels to revise, to learn, to retain the material. Students find learning through interactive activities more interesting than studying the same material in a traditional rote way as it gives students a great opportunity to expand their overlook and express their ideas, thoughts and feelings and, of course, communicate with each other.


1. “A course in Language Teaching”/ Penny Ur, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

2. “Communication in the Language Classroom”/ Tony Lynch, New York 1997.

3. "Communication in the Classroom" /Johnson, K. Morrow, K. Oxford University Press, 1981

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006

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