The ABC of ELT

Communicative purposes

[Blog post too long? Why not check out my one minute video on communicative purposes?]

Communicative purpose is basically jargon for a good and meaningful reason to be speaking. Although it sounds so obvious it is really essential for activities.

I’ll give you an example of what happens with out one and you can see why it’s so essential.

“Number 1, Yes, number 2, yes, number 3, no, number 4…etc”

This is a real life statement (it would be wrong to call it a dialogue) I had in a class when I ask some young learner students to check their answers. He knew that his answers were correct, He didn’t care if the other students were correct (so despite there actually being a communicative purpose it was one he didn’t like.) and instead lead to one students simply say numbers and yes or no.

A perhaps more commonly occurring example would be to create sentences using X grammar about yourself (personalised) and then tell your partner. The dialogue may well be exactly the same as the one above with the exception of slightly more complicated grammar stated.

However if this was changed to make the task have a communicative purpose [Find out if the sentences are true, Is the sentences true about yourself too, who has had the most interesting experience…] then instantly a whole host of other lexis comes to the for and the activity can come to life.

“What was your first sentences,
It was ‘I have never been in a hot air balloon’
I think that’s true, I think you don’t like flying
Your wrong I have!

So what makes a good communicative purpose. 
Well in Scott Thornbury’s How to teach speaking he identifies some core ingredients.

  1. Productive: It should maximise speaking opportunities
  2. Purposeful: There should be a clear out come of objective
  3. Interactive: All communication (even monologues) require or aim to get a response from someone else. 
  4. A challenge: It should stretch speakers to use their full capabilities
  5. Safety: It shouldn’t be too hard or impossible for the students to complete, or feel they can complete.
  6. Authentic: The should be about real uses of using the language so the knowledge can be used outside the classroom. 
All together these elements make for a great Speaking task.
Of course, not all these element’s are necessary at all stages of a lesson (for example within remembering [or controlled practice] stages) However, they can be used and should be considered for activities at a variety of different stages across the whole lesson.

Are there any elements you don’t include? are there any others you do?

Thornbury, S. (2005) How to Teach speaking. p 90-91. Harlow: Pearson Education.

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

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