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by Erica Fischer on Sep 8, 2016

What strategies promote meaningful, purposeful interpersonal communication in WL classrooms?

US Embassy Canada

Consul General Lochman at Mangilaluk in Tuktoyaktuk” (CC BY 2.0) by US Embassy Canada

Last week langchatters dove in to tackle the topic of what strategies can help promote meaningful, purposeful interpersonal communication in the world language classroom. Participants discussed their definitions of “meaningful” and “purposeful” in this context, as well as what skills and strategies need to happen before interpersonal can be achieved. Chatters touched on strategies to help sustain the interpersonal communication DURING the class/activity, as well as ways to promote/foster meaningful and purposeful interpersonal communication BEYOND that classroom or specific activity.  Langchatters finished up by discussing how to also use interpersonal communication as a way to leverage work in the other modes of communication.

Give a hand to our newest moderator Bethanie (@lovemysummer) for leading this stimulating conversation, and say thanks to Kris (@KrisClimer) and Amy (@alenord) for lending their expert assistance. As always, thanks to everyone who participates in #langchat! It wouldn’t be nearly as effective without all of your wonderful input.

Question 1: What exactly is “meaningful” and “purposeful”?

In the world language classroom, “meaningful” and “purposeful” take on fairly similar characteristics when it comes to defining the types of communication that have these necessary attributes. Langchatters’ definitions for these words in this context included interactions that would actually happen in real life, things that are relevant to the student that they can be passionate about, things that students will use in real life communication/interactions that will allows for them to buy in. As @rlgrandis simply put it, “Meaningful = it matters to students. [Students] care. Purposeful = [students] can use it outside of class. It helps get what they need/want.”

Another much agreed upon definition of “meaningful” and “purposeful” communication in this framework was that it has to have a goal so that it’s useful to the learner and there’s a clear reason for why it needs to be learned. It always needs to have a real world application so that students connect to it and envision themselves actually using that material in a conversation outside of the classroom. Like @CecileLaine said, “Meaningful = students connect to it emotionally or intellectually Purposeful = useful communication (not just for the sake of “learning”).”

Question 2: What skills and strategies are essential PRE interpersonal?

In order to have interpersonal communication happening in your language classroom, there are some skills and strategies that have to be in place prior to trying to get students to make generate meaningful and purposeful communication. Participants had a bevy of ideas for what has to happen pre-interpersonal, and a summative list of what students have to be able to do or know is below:

  • Knowing the function or the “why” behind the phrase.
  • Understand how to recycle memorized questions into new ones.
  • Be able to ask open-ended questions while being an active listener.
  • Knowing how to indicate when you don’t understand/ask for clarification.
  • Asking questions, acknowledging response/rejoinders, asking related questions.
  • Circumlocution skills, to handle a situation when they don’t understand what was said.
  • Knowing rejoinders and how to use reactions so that IP practices sound “human”.
  • Have confidence that making mistakes or sounding “weird” is all part of the process.
  • Using verbal pauses in target language so they don’t say “um ok so” when needing to pause.
  • Comprehending the question and showing it, being able to negotiate meaning.

One of the most repeated necessary skills was summed up by @doriecp who stated that students have to have, “Active listening skills. [Know] how to build on/react to what their partner said and not just waiting for their turn to speak.”

Question 3: What strategies help sustain the interpersonal communication DURING the classtime/activity?

Getting students to sustain interpersonal communication during a class or activity is the real goal in a language classroom, especially since the whole point is for students to be able to carry those skills over into real-world conversations.  Langchatters had lots of thoughts to share on the types of strategies that help students sustain IP, and a collective list of ideas to get them there is below:

  • Knowing HOW to ask a question with essential vocabulary such as adjectives, opinions, etc.
  • Encouraging/modeling follow up reactions/questions to expand on conversations whenever possible.
  • Taking control of transitions so it’s not a series of activities, but every step of lesson/conversation must build to high point.
  • Use of timed-speaking intervals so that they have to fill the time after they’ve run out of pre-planned questions
  • Choose a topic they WANT to discuss since more often that not, they don’t care about basic introductions and questions after 30 seconds.
  • Sometimes letting students use some kind of document in front of them to keep things going – list of possible topics, graphic organizer, etc.

A much-repeated thing for teachers to do in these situations was summed up by @tiesamgraf when she said, “Always encourage [students with] ‘and, why, because, also, but’, etc. Always encourage [their] expansion and don’t constantly correct output.”

Question 4: How do we promote/foster meaningful and purposeful interpersonal communication BEYOND class or activity?

The whole purpose of the world language classroom is getting students to be able to communicate in the target language outside of class or a specific activity. Helping students figure out how to have meaningful and purposeful IP communication in the real world is paramount to helping them become true users of the target language. Ideas for promoting that included finding someone outside of class for students to connect with in the TL, having students teach their parents/siblings what they learned in class, using GoogleDocs or Google Hangouts to converse in the TL, working with ELL classes to be conversation partners, using Skype sessions in the TL as homework assignments, and using social media such as Twitter or Snapchat to have students post and have conversations in the TL with students in other classes.

The most popular suggestion for getting students to have meaningful and purposeful IP communication outside of class was to find an authentic audience for them to interact with in as many different places as possible, both virtual and physical. Things like having PenPals, Skype conversations, chat meet-ups, letters, etc., are very effective tools for helping students “get it” outside of class.  @KrisClimer had a much-liked point when he said it helps when teachers, “Strive to find/promote the COOL factor of being an L2 speaker.” and @CristinaZimmer4 had a great idea for a way to do-so when she said that she’s, “I’ve invited [teachers] in [the] building who speak Spanish to class to chat with [students]. They’re amazed that they still speak & [for] them in halls [to talk].”

Question 5: How can we use interpersonal communication as a way to leverage work in the other modes of communication?

Interpersonal communication can be a great tool to help leverage students into working in the other modes of communication. Ways to do so included using interpersonal as a warm-up/brainstorm before presentational, using it as a chance to digest several interpretive documents/videos and contrasting/comparing together, closing every presentational project with an interpersonal share, have interpersonal tasks involve students talking about something from their presentational/interpretive tasks, and using the expectation that they’ll be doing interpersonal to add real weight to the fact that they need to do interpretive listening and reading well.

Helping students understand that all the modes of communication work together in the target language the same way they do in English is a big part getting students to be able to transition from one to the other. A great idea for structuring an activity to help students move from IP to another mode came from @alenord when she shared, “Use IP for Talk #1 of “Talk, Read, Talk, Write” [activity]. [Students] chat in TL about familiar or hook topic, then move to interpretive that amps up.”


Last week, langchatters shared their thoughts on strategies to help promote interpersonal communication in WL classrooms. Takeaways included realizing that it’s a great tool to begin to use interpersonal communication as a warm up before jumping into something more complicated, the face that it requires intentionality and planning to help students use more of the target language, and that it’s important to focus more on teaching students to be active listeners so that they can respond to what their partner is saying. And @tiesamgraf shared an encouraging takeaway for the whole #langchat community when she shared, “[It’s] great to be connected again to the great #langchat team – virtual collaboration ROCKS and inspires me. Thanks ☀.”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined in #langchat this week and we hope that you continue to join #langchat as often as you are able to – if the weekday chats on Thursday evenings at 8 p.m. ET don’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. ET instead!

Our weekly #langchats have gotten busier and busier, so due to space limitations, the summaries always focus on the main themes and takeaways from each week’s conversation. Many tweets have to be omitted but to read the entire conversation from this week, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

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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