Communicative Activities in English Classes

There is no stable, or official hierarchy concerning the communicative activities typologies, each writer of the field provided their own model and principles. One can find organization such as fluency and accuracy tasks, written or oral activities, pre-communicative with a more predictable and controlled content, and communicative activities referring to openend products. Either way correspondences can be found between all the hierarchies. For the further study, Richard’s (2006) meaningful practice and communicative practice will be applied.

Richards (2006:6-18) divides the activities in three major categories containing mechanical practice, meaningful practice and communicative practice. The first refers to students getting acquainted with the grammatical structure/ vocabulary by the deductive method, then fixing it through drilling. The second one refers to activities where the guidance may still be 52 provided and where students create meaningful contexts with the previously provided information. For example if prepositions of place are taught they can be given maps and buildings to describe the place, or to create dialogues in which they ask about a building/ street and the answer is a sentence with a preposition of place. The communicative activity involves language practice, dialogues and monologues where real information is given and exchanged. For example students draw a map of their neighborhood/village, they present it, then they answer to questions about places, their location or they could give direction, using of course the prepositions of place and the vocabulary related to buildings, streets and so on.

This partition is quite similar to Littlewood’s (1981) who groups them into precommunicative, divided into structural activities and quasi communicative activities, and communicative activities, also divided into functional communication activities, and social interactional activities. Pre-communicative activities serve to prepare the learner for later communication. Structural activities have a similar role as Richard’s mechanical practice, providing grammatical structures or ways in which several such items can be combined. The activities used for this level are the classic ones found in all students’ books, meant to help students obtain control over the grammatical structure. Yet, the student has to understand that the linguistic competence is also part of a communicative system. Quasi-communicative activities would be an equivalent of the meaningful practice which is to provide a bridge from formal exercise to communicative use, and refer to shifting from drills to dialogues.

In communicative activities students have to activate the information and skills obtained in pre-communicative activities to engage in communicative acts. The functional communication activities are based on problem solving which students have to overcome to obtain a defined solution or definition. So basically, one student or group of students has the information which the other or others have to discover through different strategies. The two vectors active here are the sharing and the processing of information so students will be using language to share information either with restricted or unrestricted cooperation, and to process information. Typical activities are picture identifying, discovering identical pair where a learner has to ask their classmates to describe their own picture until the match is found, or discovery of sequence or locations through map reading, etc. Here the activities are based on discovery of information in order to accomplish the task. In addition to this jigsaw, story reconstruction, puzzles, and math problem solving may be considered functional activities as they involve information sharing, and 53 processing.

The other division, also called social interaction activities in which learners become aware of both functional, and social functions of language requested from them, and according to which they have to build their communication. These imply conversations, debates, role-playing simulating different situations, interviews etc.

Harmer (1991) distinguishes between oral communicative activities, and written communicative activities, and divides each into several categories. Harmer does not distinguish between pre-communicative or communicative activities, but one can find correspondences. What Littlewood calls “quasi-communicative”, and Richards “meaningful practice” Harmer calls “accuracy”.

Thornbury (2006) highlights six traits of the CLT activities: purposefulness, reciprocity, negotiation, synchronicity, unpredictability, and heterogeneity. Hence, the students are motivated by a communicative goal such as giving or asking for information, making a request or giving instructions and not just concerned with language accuracy. Concerning reciprocity, this refers to students’ interacting with one another, providing and receiving information, and there is as much need to listen as to speak. Negotiation means that students need to rephrase, or correct, whenever the communication act may have errors so that they finally understand each other. Synchronicity, is the equivalent for instantaneous exchange especially if it is spoken. Unpredictability happens due to the fact that in communicative classes open-end conversations are preferred, therefore neither the outcome, the language involved in the exchanged nor the process are predictable. Finally, heterogeneity refers to students being able to use any linguistic means at their disposal in order to perform the task.

Another remark, as Harmer (2001), and Richards (2006) state as well, is that the communicative activity is based on the information gap, that urges the students to communicate for reaching a final agreement that is useful for their final outcome. Consequently, communicative activities abound with role-plays, games, pictures describing, and comparing, jigsaws, story reconstructions etc, all intrinsically requiring contact, spontaneous exchange of information, full usage of one’s language knowledge, and also activation of all skills.

1. Harmer, Jeremy (1991) The Practice of English Language Teaching, 2nd Edition: Longman Handbooks for Language Teachers
2. Littlewood William. (1981). Communicative language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
3. Richards, Jack C. (2006). Communicative Language Teaching Today: Cambridge University Press
4. Thornbury, Scott (2006): An A-Z of ELT: A Dictionary of Terms and Concepts Used inEnglish Language Teaching. Macmillan Education Australia


prof. Oana Crăciunescu

Școala Gimnazială, Amara (Ialomiţa) , România
Profil iTeach:

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