IATEFL: Introducing Clare Walsh – helping teens to bridge the cognitive gap

clare walsh iatefl 2018 cognitive gap teens

Last week we heard all about Antonia Clare’s upcoming talk at this year’s IATEFL Annual Conference in Brighton on 10th-13th April.

Today Clare Walsh gives us a taste of what we can expect from her workshop on promoting communicative competence in teen and young adult exam classes.

If you want to see Clare in action, her talk will take place on Friday 13th April at 12.05 in Auditorium 2.

Mind the gap – Three tips to promoting communicative competence in teen and young adult classes

If you ask a teacher what the purpose of their lesson is, the response may be to teach target grammar, vocabulary, functional phrases or one of the four skills. Learners, on the other hand, will probably tell you that they want to communicate with others.

Linguist Dell Hymes first noticed this difference in 1972 – and we’ve come a long way since then. Communicative competence—the ability to express ideas—is present in all of the Council of Europe Framework levels. However, as you go up, there is a slight shift in weight away from linguistic competence (the rules of grammar and vocabulary) and towards the other skills.

Increasingly, teens and young adults are reaching B2+ level classes, where the other skills start to matter more. Briefly, these skills are:

  • Discourse (the ability to recognise and comply with genre expectations, organisation etc.).
  • Sociolinguistic competence (awareness of politeness markers and roles in conversations).
  • Strategic approaches to learning (coping with unknown words, repairing situations when conversation has clearly broken down).

While these are not skills that teens and young adults have necessarily mastered in their own language, here are three things you can do in the classroom to help get them on their way.

1. Strategy – Give students samples of poor language choices. Can they identify the problems in the highlighted text below from Gold Experience 2nd Edition B2+? What’s wrong? If necessary, give them some more appropriate phrases to replace these. Strong students may be able to think of their own alternatives.

2. Discourse – Find something written by a very young child, like this text about cats. What’s wrong with the organisation? Can they improve it?

3. Sociolinguistics – Find a photo that could tell a story, such as the one below, also from Gold Experience 2nd Edition B2+. Ask your students to imagine telling the story of what happened to their best friend. Can they re-tell it silently, with facial expressions, physical actions and mouthing the words? Can they bring back the words and do the actions at the same time? (Don’t ask me how, but this two-stage approach greatly improves their intonation!) Make them swap partners and imagine telling the same story to their parents or the police. What changes would they make?

There are opportunities to help them become better communicators every day. Can you think of any others? Leave your favorites in the comments section below.

Experience, Engage, Excel


If you are at IATEFL this year don’t miss out on Clare’s talk on 13th April. For more information about all the talks from Pearson ELT visit our dedicated IATEFL page.

Clare Walsh is the co-author of Gold Experience 2nd Edition B2+, a new edition of the fast-paced teens course that prepares students for Cambridge language qualifications while building their language and real-world skills at the same time.

Levels B2, B2+ and C1 available now. A1 to B1+ coming soon.

Download a sample or order a copy from your local sales representative today.

In this article