Speaking Module

Speaking: Module.

It is important for teachers to understand the different types of oral activities in foreign language teaching as well as the different goals of activities. Unfortunately, teachers often confuse oral practice with oral communication. In general, the goal of guided practice activities is to improve accuracy, whereas the goal of communicative activities is to improve fluency. While guided practice activities have their place in beginning foreign language teaching, they are no replacement for actual communication.

This table distinguishes the defining features of guided practice from those of communication.
Guided Practice Communicative Task
teacher-controlled learner-controlled
pedagogical real life, authentic
(one thing at a time) synthetic/holistic
(many things at once)
(one right answer) open
(no single answer)
focus on accuracy focus on fluency

Lesson 1

Putting it Together
Communicative Competence

In 1980, the applied linguists Canale and Swain published an influential article in which they argued that the ability to communicate required four different sub-competencies:

grammatical (ability to create grammatically correct utterances),
sociolinguistic (ability to produce sociolinguistically appropriate utterances),
discourse (ability to produce coherent and cohesive utterances), and
strategic (ability to solve communication problems as they arise).

A Jigsaw Task

A jigsaw task is a specific kind of information gap task, that is, a task that requires learners to communicate with each other in order to fill in missing information and to integrate it with other information. For example, in the video, the students are not aware that their note cards contain a communicative problem (e.g. a violation of prescriptive grammar, ambiguous reference, etc.) that indicates a deficiency in one of the sub-competencies of “communicative competence.”

Listen to the students attempt to paraphrase their language sample and see if you can determine which language sample below indicates a lack of which competency.
Sample 1 Sample 2
“OK, now move your cursor over and choose the scene from the menu.””From the what?””The menu.””Menu? Why do they call it a menu?””Well, ’cause you choose from a list. Just like in a restaurant. A menu.”

“Oh, OK.”
“Hello Mr. Patterson, thanks for dropping by. I’ve reviewed your bank statement and… “(interrupts) “Dude, you gonna ask me a bunch of lame questions?””Ah…lame questions…uhm…I don’t know, uhm…well, I DO have a few more questions.””Well, make it fast ’cause I am on a tight schedule!”
Sample 3 Sample 4
“I told ‘em about it.””Told who about what? “”John and Mike about the report. And he wasn’t happy about it?””Who wasn’t happy?””Mike wasn’t.” He eated the ice cream.
She no think you right.


[flowplayer src=’http://coerll.utexas.edu/methods/video/mp4/sp/sp-01-01-jigsaw-01.mp4′ splash=http://teachenglish.co/wp-content/themes/education_wp_theme/images/tvplay.jpg]

The language teachers are asked to characterize four different samples of language on note cards.

Duration: 04:57
Putting it Together

Grammatical competence differs from sociolinguistic, discourse, and strategic competencies because it does not presuppose interaction.


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How the four sub-competencies fit together to form a whole called “communicative competence.”

Duration: 02:05

Lesson 2

Models of Communication

Another way of distinguishing communication from oral practice is in terms of their different cognitive processes and requirements.

Have you ever experienced a communication problem that made you aware of the cognitive processes and demands of communication? Have you ever had a word in mind but didn’t know how to pronounce it? Try to recall such a situation in as much detail as possible.
Levelt’s Psycholinguistic Model

One of the most influential psycholinguistic models of oral production comes from Levelt (1989). This model breaks speech production into four separate cognitive processes:

utterance formulation;
speech articulation and

Speaking as a communicative activity requires all four processes. However, much oral practice in the classroom merely requires the repetition of prefabricated phrases that does not entail the first two cognitive processes.


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The important components of Levelt’s psycholinguistic model.

Duration: 01:32
Lee’s Classroom Model

In the book Tasks and Communicating in the Language Classroom (2000), Lee outlines criteria for operationalizing communication, that is, creating a workable pedagogical activity based on real communication. These criteria make a handy checklist for distinguishing real from apparent communication.


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The important components of Lee’s classroom model.

Duration: 01:01

Lesson 3

In this lesson we’re going to discuss the challenges and the benefits of communicative tasks in a classroom. And, I think that these kinds of activities are particularly challenging for beginning teachers because they require a certain amount of classroom management — you are giving control over to learners and you’re putting them in groups. And that, number one, can take a lot of time sometimes, and number two they can often get off task. And so I wanted to start this module off by getting right into the problems that beginning teachers often have while negotiating these kinds of activities. And in this lesson I actually ask the students what they find most challenging, and see if we can find solutions — ways around these challenges.

Then, I didn’t want to be so pessimistic and talk only about the challenges and what’s negative here, but emphasize the benefits, because I do think that communicative tasks are very important for communicative language teaching. Obviously, you’re practicing fluency, you’re practicing true communication. But the literature points to all kinds of benefits that beginning teachers aren’t aware of. So we spend a little time in this lesson talking about those benefits.
Lesson 4

As a teacher, what do you find most challenging about oral communicative tasks aka “group work?” Here’s what some language teachers say:
Anke said…

“I think it is sometimes difficult to have students talk in the actual target language. They tend to fall back to their L1 when they don’t know a word or how to phrase it.”

T.J. said…

“I find that keeping students engaged is the hardest thing to do with group work and communicative activities.”

Elena said…

“Students sometimes start talking about their last or coming weekend (in English) instead of working on the group work/activities.”

Han said…

“The students who are good at talking are always talking and those who are not good at talking are always silent.”


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A discussion of the top four challenges reported by the language teachers.

Duration: 01:56

Lesson 3

Benefits of Communicative Tasks

Despite the inherent difficulties that all group work presents, beginning teachers should not avoid communicative activities. Brandl (2008:289) gives an excellent summary of empirical studies that demonstrate the benefits of learner-centered instruction (aka group work). In a nutshell, these studies indicate that student-centered communicative activities result in far more opportunities for negotiated meaning than teacher-centered activities.

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Benefits of oral communicative tasks.

Duration: 02:43

Lesson 3

This lesson focuses on defining what a task is. And actually there’s been a lot written on this in the literature on task-based language teaching. Some people say that a task is not really a language unit at all, that it’s really a unit of activity. But how we’re going to define a task in this lesson is: a human activity (that is, you are going to be doing something) that is goal-directed (that is, you’re doing something to accomplish a particular goal). But the real crux here is it’s going to require interaction — interaction between two people — partners — or a small group.

So for example, say you want to hire a job candidate. You have an opening in your company and you need to hire somebody. That’s a task. And, if you break it down, the first thing you are going to do you might review some resumes, you might post the job, you go over the resumes that you get from the applicants. You then have to match their qualifications to the actual job. And then as a group you’re going to have to have that difficult decision-making process and come to some kind of agreement. So that’s a pretty good example of what I mean here by task. There is an activity, you’re hiring somebody, and the activity is goal-oriented and it requires interaction among a small group.

A task is (1) a classroom activity or exercise that has (a) an objective attainable only by the interaction among participants, (b) a mechanism for structuring and sequencing interaction, and (c) a focus on meaning exchange; (2) a language learning endeavor that requires learners to comprehend, manipulate, and/or produce the target language as they perform some set of workplans. (Lee 2000:32)

Lesson 3

Design Principles

Now that we have considered the defining features of real communication and have discussed the difficulties of keeping students on task, we are ready to analyze what makes some communicative tasks succeed and others fail.

We will begin by thinking about the demands that a communicative task places on the student: cognitive, linguistic and communicative. It is important to strike a balance when designing a task (aka “the Goldilocks Principle”—not too hard, not too easy). Next, we will look at the features that most well-designed communicative tasks have in common.
Task Demands

To help judge the difficulty of a task, teachers should consider the following demands placed on the student:

Linguistic complexity (vocabulary, grammar, textual/genre conventions)
Communicative stress (face-threatening topic or task; number of people involved; relationships of those involved)
Cognitive demands (familiarity with topic; memory requirements; processing demands)


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Task demands and how to strike a balance.

Duration: 01:01

Task Structure

The way a communicative task is structured (or not) has a great deal to do with its ultimate success in the classroom. When considering how to structure a task, Lee (2000: 35-36) suggests that designers ask themselves these four questions:

What information is supposed to be extracted from the interaction by the learners?
What are the relevant subcomponents of the topic?
What tasks can the learners carry out to explore the subcomponents? (e.g., create lists, fill in charts, etc.)
What linguistic support do the learners need?

Have you ever attempted to teach a communicative task only to find out that your students are lacking the linguistic resources to complete the task? Have you ever come across a task that is too unstructured or too complicated?

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Four key principles for structuring communicative tasks.

Duration: 00:45

Lesson 3

Unsuccessful Tasks

Sometimes it is easier understand what works by analyzing what doesn’t work. For example, a communicative task that leads to little or no real communication is often simply poorly-designed. In this part, we will look at three tasks that fail largely because they violate principles of good design.

Consider the following example task:

Teacher: “What do you all think about the current situation in Gaza? Do you think that Israel has the right to invade Gaza? Are you in support of Israel’s action? Is it self-defense?”


Teacher: “Well, do you think that Hamas has the right to bomb Israel?”


Teacher: “Uhm, does anybody listen to the news?”

[A few heads nod.]

Teacher: “OK, but you don’t have an opinion?”


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Language teachers analyze the unsuccessful task.

Duration: 02:57

Consider the following example task:

The teacher put the students in small groups of four. Next, she gave each group a handful of cards with questions on the cards. Finally, she told them to take turns discussing the following questions:

What kind of music do you like?
What kind of music do your parents like?
What kind of music do your grandparents like?

The teacher was surprised when the room grew quiet after a minute or two. Why didn’t the students “discuss” the questions?

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Language teachers analyze the unsuccessful task.

Duration: 01:38

Consider the example following task:

The teacher gave the students a paper with a paragraph that was to serve as the springboard for discussion:

“I want you to read the paragraph. Circle words you don’t know and underline grammatical structures that we’ve studied in this chapter. After that, find a person in the room who you haven’t worked with before. Work together to understand the paragraph. Next, find another partner to discuss the paragraph. You are going to write two statements on the board. One statement agrees with the content of the paragraph and the other contradicts the paragraph. Make sure to include as many circled words and underlined grammar points.”


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Language teachers analyze the unsuccessful task.

Duration: 00:42

Lesson 3

Analyzing Tasks

The unsuccessful tasks all violated established design criteria. The following tasks meet most of the design criteria and as a consequence are more successful.
Physical Portrait Task

Look at this example task from Français interactif and think about it in terms of the demands it places on students. Is this task well-balanced in terms of cognitive, linguistic, and communicative demands? Is it too easy, too difficult, or about right for the level (first year French)?

Physical Portrait (English)

Physical Portrait (French)

Does this task meet the design criteria for “good” communicative tasks?
Do you think this task would work well in a beginning language class?
Could this task be improved? How?


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Language teachers analyze the example activity and suggest ways to improve it.

Duration: 04:11

Finding your “Type” Task

Examine this example task from Français interactif: Finding your “type” (English) PDF

Finding your “type” (French) PDF

Does this task meet the design criteria for “good” communicative tasks?
Do you think this task would work well in a beginning language class?
Could this task be improved? How?


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Language teachers analyze the example activity and suggest ways to improve it.









Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. 2010. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin.