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by Erica Fischer on Feb 10, 2014

10 Rules for a Communicative World Language Classroom

On Thursday night, #langchat participants were vocal about the topic of communication. In addition to talking about their personal definitions of a communicative classroom, they shared great ideas for how to make world language classrooms more communicative by following 10 key rules.


Communicative World Language Classroom

What is a Communicative Language Classroom?

How do you define a communicative world language classroom? #langchat participants discovered that they had some disparate ideas about what exactly a communicative classroom looks like in action. Still, there was a general consensus that truly communicative classrooms had the following elements:

Holistic. A communicative classroom includes more than just speaking. @mjosey1 said, “Oral language, but also comprehensive oral, and students asking follow up when they don’t understand to clarify.” @madamebaker added, “Interpretive reading, listening/viewing, presentational or interpersonal speaking/writing.”

Informative. Communicative classrooms should be focused on sharing information, whether vital or not. There was some debate as to whether natural, organic, unfocused conversation was considered informative or wasteful. Still, the general consensus was summed up nicely by @SECottrell: “A communicative class focuses on meaning – relevant, motivating, real-world MEANING.”

Authentic. Not only must communication be related to meaning, but it must be able to be further used to accomplish real-world tasks such as sharing their opinions. @CecileLaine said, A communicative class = with real-life tasks to reach proficiency communication goals.” @alisonkis said, “Communicative class can also mean that students write to express ideas and opinions. Write with a purpose and audience in mind.”

Interactive Skill Building. Truly communicative classes are completely interactive, immersive and focused on alternate communication skills like circumlocution. Although student-teacher interactions are important, student-student interactions are key learning tools. Target language usage is ideally above 90% and is demonstrated by the teacher. @SraSpanglish also added, “I guess this is where an emphasis on skills like circumlocution and rephrasing must be added to the definition.”

Communication Based Assessment/Objectives. Rather than learning communication tools and tactics as discrete units, communicative language classrooms are focused on language acquisition as a whole. @tiesamgraf said, “Communicative classes have clear communicative based objectives with grammar integrated but not the focus.” This affects how the classroom activities are assessed, as communication skill improvement becomes the goal, rather than mastery of individual grammar lists or memorized phrases.

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10 Rules for a Communicative World Language Classroom

1. All students have equal opportunity to communicate. This rule, submitted by @alisonkis, is one of the key parts of having a truly communicative classroom. Not only should students have an equal opportunity to speak, but be able to communicate at least partially in a way that they feel comfortable with. Whether that means through writing, storytelling or performing, all students should have equal opportunities to share and gain meaningful language.

2. Communication is focused on sharing tangible information. Although there was some debate on what “tangible information” should look like in the world language classroom, most #langchat teachers agreed that a truly communicative classroom should make holistic sharing of information the key goal. Whether that communication is about world events, authentic resources, or the weather, @SenoraDiamond55 said, “[The goal is] keeping the students talking (most often) to each other and exchanging information.”

3. Communication lessons are concentrated around students’ interests. @senoraCMT said that communicative classrooms include, “…great class discussion of topics the students choose! Things that really interest them! (Not what I think should interest them).” This doesn’t necessarily mean that students should like every lesson, but that an effective world language teacher takes student interest into consideration when choosing units for communication. @alenord said, “Why should everything be about what they like, or find interesting? Sometimes, it’s better to find something they aren’t interested in, then they react in different way!”

4. Communication scaffolding is provided to ensure student success. Although it is tempting to allow students to pick a topic and then struggle to communicate (especially in lower levels), it is much better to provide a scaffolded communication structure so that they don’t get frustrated. @alenord said, “Structured input strategies help focus their attention on the [language] patterns.” Teachers like @alisonkis and @CoLeeSensei use “cheat sheets” for common phrases and questions that will allow students to communicate better.

5. Communication takes place in interesting, authentic contexts. @senorafitch and many other #langchat teachers stressed the importance of, “Real life language usage situations” to keep students engaged. As @SECottrell pointed out, students are more engaged in situations that could actually happen to them, instead of abstract ones that are not applicable to their lives. She said, “Students are more motivated when there’s less ‘imagine’ and more ‘wow, that could really happen to me.’”

6. Teachers demonstrate how to stay in the target language. Especially in lower proficiency levels, students are often tempted to revert back to their native language when they get confused or frustrated. In order to keep the communication high, it is vital to stay in the target language as much as possible, even if the teacher finds it to be more difficult. @mjosey1 said, “[The students] keep me accountable. I’m showing them struggling is okay (not that I struggle). But, finding words they can process is a struggle, it hurts my head!!”

7. The communication environment is a safe place for making mistakes. One of the key issues in creating a communicative classroom is the institutionalized idea that mistakes equal failure. In order to have an effective language learning culture, teachers must create a space that encourages mistakes and celebrates risk-taking. @tiesamgraf said, “Not focusing on errors encourages risk-taking and inspires confidence.” @SraClouser supported this concept as well, saying, “Yes. Students need to be comfortable with their ability and each other.”

8. Incorporates authentic resources into the conversation. @tiesamgraf said, “Using authentic resources helps to add real life meaning to activities.” Not only do authentic resources contribute to the authenticity of the overall communication, they directly and indirectly communicate cultural information that supports holistic second language acquisition. @alenord said, “[Authentic communication is] relevant to students, promotes cultural comparisons, and connections between individuals.”

9. Recognize different communication tactics for different proficiency levels. As students move from novice to intermediate, the role of the teacher changes dramatically in a truly communicative classroom. @sonrisadelcampo said, “Communication differs in each level: lower levels depend on teacher to pull out conversations; upper levels develop discussions from what the teacher says.” @alenord said, “Also, we often mistake level 2 being higher on prof scale. Level 2 is still NOVICE. Part of 2nd year woes is that we forget we are building their confidence. Are the scenarios a balance of comfort and challenge?” @alisonkis suggested using Bloom’s Taxonomy verbiage in order to clearly distinguish what goals each level should be reaching with their communication activities.

10. Vary the types of communication that student’s produce. Several teachers explained that “communication” discussions are often focused on verbal interaction. In fact, communicative classes provide students a variety of ways to share and develop language skills. @CatherineKU72 said, “Learners demonstrate communication by laughing at jokes, moving bodies, drawing, writing, any production.”

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Ideas for a More Communicative Classroom

  • @CoLeeSensei said, “We start every class with ‘greet your partner and find out about….”(changes daily).”
  • @cyberfrida said, “I love it when students read an article and write in their journals to express their reaction or opinion of what they read.”
  • @senoraCMT said, “I like PollEverywhere to find popular topic then find #authres.”
  • @CecileLaine said, “8th graders write to ePals, using chat rooms or email, exchange videos, etc.”
  • @kinom1 said, “I also like when they create alternate endings to stories they had previously made up.”
  • @SrtaJohnsonEBHS said, “I like to practice with ‘I have a problem’ and trade with friend who writes a recommendation/solution.”
  • @senoraCMT said, “Have you ever tried a “silent conversation?” Great communication student to student!”
  • @Ensenenme said, “One of my favorites is playing music from song “Ella y el” and letting them invent the storyline then listen to Atkins version.”
  • @js_pasaporte said, “Teach expressions for extending conversation/rejoinders.”
  • @alenord said, “I like to use picture prompts to encourage sts to talk about things from their opinions and emotional reactions.”
  • @anciana said, “Games like Third World Farmer in Spanish might be relevant to our teenage gamers.”
  • @js_pasaporte said, “With TRIBES there are lots of activities for community-building and creating ‘tribes’ in the classroom. It really works.”
  • @alisonkis said, “RAFT (Role-Audience-Format-Topic) for writing. QAR (Question-Answer Relationships) for reading. Effective strategies to push Ss communicate with purposes.”
  • @alisonkis said, “See-Think-Wonder another strategy to push communication when viewing visual materials.”

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Thank You

A big thanks to @CoLeeSensei and @SECottrell for moderating Thursday’s conversation. As usual, there were many good comments that weren’t included in our summary. If you want to know what you missed, read the full transcript here.

Thank you for participating in ! It wouldn’t be the same without you. If you have additional questions or comments, or would like to suggest a future topic for our Twitter chat, share your ideas on the forum page. It’s always great to get some fresh perspective on what is important in today’s world language classroom.

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Additional Resources

A meaningful approach to grammar
Building Communication
3 Tips To Communicate More Effectively Via Social Media
A Picture for 1000 Words (or Situations)!
En fotos: ¿Qué es la libertad?
Maestros con los grandes
Integrated Performance Assessments (IPAs) Center


Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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