A young student studing on a laptop with an online teacher

Michael Hogan is a teacher trainer and materials writer with over 20 years of experience in the ELT world. Chia Suan Chong is a teacher trainer with a background in communication studies. Together, they’ve developed the CertPT course which is designed for practicing teachers who want to deepen their understanding of pedagogical theory and enhance their practical teaching skills. They presented a webinar at Spring Days 2021 which looked at communicative competence, mindfulness and wellbeing, and how to foster interaction in the classroom. 

What is communicative competence? 

Communicative competence refers to learners’ ability to use language to communicate successfully. This means going beyond grammar and vocabulary, to the understanding of social context and to the appropriate use of language in those contexts. 

So, how can we help our learners become more communicatively competent? Well, Michael Long’s Interaction Hypothesis is a good starting point. This theory states that interactions themselves promote language learning. Interactions help students to understand their own communicative strengths and weaknesses, and encourage them to use all their language resources to negotiate meaning. 

Practical ideas to promote student interaction

As teachers, we should foster a culture of interaction in our lessons. Here are three practical ideas to give our students lots of opportunities to interact online. 

Warm-ups

Get students interacting within the first few minutes. An easy and simple way to do this is through a quick poll, some multiple-choice questions or a true / false statement related to the overall lesson topic.

Images

Photos often act as a prompt for discussion or description. You can find images in free online resource banks, such as this one from ELTPics on Flickr. You can get your learners to practice forms such as used to or the third conditional (If I had done that….) to describe them. You could ask them to arrange a set of photos in chronological order and explain them, working in groups. 

Gap activities

Another way to drive interaction between your learners is to make sure that the task contains a gap of some kind, for example, information that is missing or that students have to find out from each other. Let’s have a look at some activities which naturally encourage authentic communication. 

Try an illustration gap activity with your students. In pairs, one student describes an image to another, e.g. a room. The second student listens, asks questions and draws the image as they understand it. They both then compare pictures and discuss.

Reasoning gaps are another activity that can be done in pairs or groups. Present a situation of a misunderstanding and encourage students to discuss what’s going wrong and how it could be solved. For example, a misunderstanding that may be caused by different international styles of greeting someone for the first time – kiss, bow or shake hands. 

Opinion gaps also create lots of opportunities for discussion. Present an opinion for students to discuss in pairs or small groups, for example, “There are only advantages to working from home and everyone who can work from home should continue to work from home even after the pandemic is over.”

Motivation, wellbeing and mindfulness

Interactions and language-related work aren’t the only opportunities for interaction in the classroom. You can create a culture of communication in your classroom around the students themselves; how they’re doing and how they’re feeling. There are important links between wellbeing, mindfulness and learning. Both wellbeing and mindfulness can directly influence a learner’s motivation. So, as teachers, it’s important to regularly support learners in these areas. 

Wellbeing activities 

Wellbeing relates to how people feel and function on a personal and social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole. Poor wellbeing can have a negative effect on motivation, learning experiences and success. The opposite is also true; poor learning success and experiences can have a negative effect on wellbeing. 

So, what are some classroom activities which relate to wellbeing? Well, you could ask students to keep a diary of their social media usage and screen time and discuss how they feel about it.  Ask your students to visualize a place that makes them feel good. Guide them through it with questions. Or, ask students to keep a diary of the typical things they do in a week and how they feel about them. These type of activities will create lots of opportunities for reflection. 

Mindfulness activities

Mindfulness is the ability to be present in the moment, fully engaged in what we’re doing and free from distraction. And there are lots of ready-to-go activities you can try with your students. Draw a (stress) curve which maps out how you and your students feel at different times of the day. Create a quiet moment and ask students to close their eyes and focus on the thoughts in their mind. For fun, ask students to put a raisin in their mouths and focus on the texture and taste of it. 

The webinar goes into more detail of all the activities mentioned, as well as ideas on how teachers can improve their own mindfulness in the classroom. 

Learn more about Spring Days 2021 

The Spring Days 2021 webinar series addressed many of the challenges faced by teachers in the last year. Over 20,000 teachers from around the world came together to reflect, learn, and develop. 

Amy Malloy and Donatella Fitzgerald hosted webinars on coping with technostress. There were sessions on how to use the ESAP framework, and how to assess young learners’ skills online, along with a general session on tips and tricks for hybrid learning

Lost learning was another popular strand of the Spring Days events, with sessions on online assessment and the challenges of teaching during the pandemic

Ken Beatty, the plenary speaker, gave an overview of the last year of online learning, and the round table discussion focused on hybrid learning. 

All the webinar recordings from Spring Days 2021 are available on YouTube.

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