According to Dave Hewett, one of the aspects of the nature of human communication is that it is enjoyable. We communicate with others because we receive pleasure from it. If that is the case, as language teachers are we putting our students in communicative situations that they will enjoy taking part in? Consider this question, what are your favorite types of conversations? Are they...
The answer you would probably give me if this were a face to face conversation is, yes, maybe not to each of these scenarios, but to many of them. Hewett also reminds us that communication theory teaches us that communication is essential to human development and even our health. So, if all of those things are true, how to we create the same sense of need and enjoyment in our world language classes to encourage rich interpersonal communication between our students?
To answer this question I would like to challenge you to look at the basic objectives or learning targets within your curriculum. If they are like mine, they outline a variety of communicative needs, but how enjoyable or emotionally engaging are they? Do those learning targets make our students excited about using the target language to communicate or are they an extension of the obligations they have to fulfill during their time in our classes? How can we interpret the curriculum goals in such a way that we design learning experiences for our students that illicit their emotion first and convert that into rich target language interactions? My answer to this question is communicative tone.
Let's take a look at a common learning target in a level one course.
I can describe people, places and things.
What kinds of communicative tasks do we ask our students to do with this learning target?
Here are some very common ones:
We often ask our students to describe different people, places or things in hopes of giving them lots of opportunities to use different vocabulary, but what often happens is the vocabulary our students know the best is the vocabulary most closely associated with themselves. What would happen if rather than just change the who or what they are talking about we change the tone in which they talk about that topic. Consider this diagram:
How would our students' engagement change if we add emotion to their interactions? How would our students language choices change if we asked them to change the tone of their message? The answer the question is very easily tested by this simple comparison. We can ask our students to describe either the photo on the left or right. Which do you think they would be more excited to respond to?
Do we only want our students to describe these boys and state the obvious or do we really want more than that?
And what if we took that one step further and asked our students not just to describe, but to flirt with Harry Styles or convince Harry you are the best girlfriend for him or tell him or girls in class why you are a better looking guy than him? Or even, insult Harry Styles. Now, our students don't just look at Harry's positive features, but they have to look at him with new eyes and find his flaws. The focus is no longer just involving the few girls in the class and their love for Harry, but now anyone in the class, no matter how they feel about Harry or One Direction, can get involved based on whatever way they feel.
If we change the tone of our students' communication then we are also
And isn't developing higher and higher levels of proficiency are true goal?
Next time you are developing a lesson or communicative activity consider adding different tones to the scenarios to enrich your students' communications. Let me know how it goes :).
P.S. Thanks to Laura Sexton (aka: @SraSpanglish) for the inspiration to write this post.
The Nature of Human Communication by Dave Hewett - http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/43992_9780857024916.pdf
The Power of the Image by Laura Terrill - http://lauraterrill.wikispaces.com/file/view/Power+of+the+Image+Handout.pptx.pdf
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