Interpersonal communication / conversational styles lesson idea

Overview of the lesson

This lesson deals with interpersonal communication, focusing on various conversational styles. After the class has discussed what makes someone a poor conversationalist, the students read an article titled ‘Don’t be a bore’. While they are engaging in the reading activity, they have a chance to develop various reading strategies such as skimming, scanning, recognizing topics, guessing unknown words, etc. Then, students participate in 2 different activities- guided practice and independent activity. First, in guided practice, students have a chance to describe some people’s specific behaviors (they all have poor conversation skills) given a worksheet by using the vocabulary learned from the class and give them a piece of advice. Then, in independent activity, students are asked to write their own article titled ‘‘the secrets of being an interesting person” by using the reading text as a model without the teacher’s assistance.

Theoretical justification of the activities

Right hemisphere participation

In this lesson there are several activities which stimulate student’s right hemisphere functions to make language learning more interesting, meaningful, and memorable. There are 5 categories of activities applied in this lesson- visualization, emotion, creativity, sociability, artistic sensibility, but I am going to introduce only 3 of them – creativity, emotion, and sociability.

First of all, throughout the whole lesson, students are frequently asked to summarize and paraphrase what the teacher have just said or what they have discussed in a group. Also, in step 10 students are required to write their own article titled ‘‘the secrets of being an interesting person” creatively and report the writing to the class after they have done. Those tasks are all related to creativity. As they are engaging in the tasks, their right hemisphere functions will be stimulated.

Second, in step 7 and 8 the topic is personalized and students have a chance to attach language to emotion, and finally language becomes more meaningful and memorable. In step 7 the teacher asks students personalized question such as “Do you like talking with people?”, “Why do you like talking with people?”, “Have you ever felt embarrassed while talking with someone because of their inappropriate behaviors?” etc. Those personalized questions continue to be asked in step 8. Furthermore, in step 9 students write their own advice to the poor conversationalists and finally they write their own creative article in step 10. Through these activities, student’s right hemisphere functions are activated.

Finally, in this lesson students participate in several kind of group and pair work following the teacher’s instructions. In step 7, students discuss in pairs what makes someone a poor conversationalist and in step 8 they share their ideas about some traits that boring conversationalist have in pairs and with class. In step 9, students give a piece of advice to those who are boring conversationalists, and through the whole class, communicative language teaching is effectively used. The topic is authentic and the language which teacher and students speak in this class is authentic. Also, students actively communicate through classroom interaction. All these activities support sociability of right hemisphere. As participating in this class, students get language more meaningful and memorable.

The Affective Filter, anxiety, and motivation

In this lesson facilitative anxiety and intrinsic motivation are applied in several parts of the lesson.

Facilitative anxiety

Facilitative anxiety is a slight nervousness or tension. Swain says it is helpful anxiety for students and different from debilitative anxiety since debilitative anxiety is too much anxiety which makes students perform badly and underachieve. However, facilitative anxiety keeps students more alert, poised and better prepared for class. In this lesson, the teacher promotes facilitative anxiety through calling on students individually, error correction, having student report their own writing to the class, etc.

First, from the beginning to the end of the class, the teacher calls on students individually by name and asks them several types of questions (type1-6) related to the topic such as “Katie, what are we going to do now?”, “Can you tell us why it is good to read on your own words, Anne?”, “Jin, can you tell us how you felt and how you responded to him?”, “Sun, what was the most difficult part for you?”, etc. When students are called on individually and asked to answer a question, they cannot relax entirely. If they know they will be called on randomly in class, they cannot help but more pay attention to the class.

Second, the teacher frequently corrects students’ error in class. In this lesson the teacher usually explicitly points out the error without correction and gives students time to think so that they can correct their error by themselves on condition that they know the answer. However, if it is a bit difficult for the level, the teacher corrects the error and has students repeat what the teacher has just modeled to the students. Here are the examples in the lesson plan; (student) “I felt absolutely uncomfortable and lose interest talk to him.”- (teacher) “You lost interest in talking to them.” / (student) “He always concentrates himself,” – (teacher) “concentrates himself?”- (student) “Oh, concentrates on himself.” If the teacher is willing to correct student’s error, then the students will have a slight tension and concentrate more on the form while answering a question.

Finally, in step 10 students have a chance to report their own writing to the class. To make a presentation in class definitely makes students feel nervous and apprehensive. However, because students know they are going to present their writing after the task, they will probably do their best to write a good article during the time. The students will take this task more seriously. On contrary to this, if there is no anxiety in class, students will be just too comfortable and they won’t be interested in participating in the difficult task.

Intrinsic Motivation

In this lesson the materials are motivating because they contain a strong advice. The title of the reading text is “Don’t be a bore” and the text says people resent and dislike those who bore them. After describing the main characteristics of boring people that research has identified, it concludes that we should work on changing them now if we have some of those traits. Some people can agree with this advice, but some might not. Like in this case, if materials contain opinion, conflict, strong advice, or controversy, the lesson will be more interesting and motivating. Thus, the reading text this class uses encourages students to feel motivated to participate in the class based on their own desire to communicate. That is intrinsic motivation.

In this lesson the topic is personalized in step 7 and 8. The teacher asks students personalized questions throughout the step 7 and 8. Here are some of the questions in the lesson; “Do you enjoy talking with people?”, “Have you ever met someone who made you feel just uncomfortable while having a conversation?”, “Have you ever talked with that sort of person, Sonia?”, “Do you know someone who is self-preoccupied?” etc. Like in this case, if the teacher personalizes topic, the students will have intrinsic motivation because they can connect the topic to their real lives. They can approach the topic easily with more interest and motivation. Thus, there is a good possibility that students are motivated to participate in the class.

The opinion gap in step 9 and 10 makes this lesson motivating. In step 9 the students are asked to give a piece of advice to those who are poor conversationalists. Since each has a different poor conversation skill, the students should give advice to each person appropriately given a worksheet. Here are the sample answers; “Chuck should ask others about their interests.”, “Helen should be more self-confident and not worry about having to impress others.”, “Alexis should stop complaining so much and be more positive.”, “Carlos should keep the conversation flowing more smoothly.”, etc. Every student may have different advice and students are willing to hear those different advices and share their ideas with the class. Likewise, in step 10 the students write their own article titled ‘‘the secrets of being an interesting person”. Their opinions about the characteristics of interesting person may vary from person to person. This opinion gaps and other gaps such as information gap, experience gap, and imagination gap give students clear reason to communicate. When students realize there are some kinds of gaps, they try to bridge the gaps through communication. They have a good reason to communicate. Thus, the opinion gap in this lesson is motivating because students are willing to engage in the activities in step 9 and 10 without any reward or positive feedback.

Input and Output

This lesson includes both input and output to reach a communicative goal. The students build up competence by comprehending input and producing language.

Input

First of all, in step 8 the students get quality input. The students read an authentic article concerning a boring conversationalist and have a chance to look back on themselves. The article (input) is at the students’ current level and slightly beyond the current level of competence, namely, what Krashen calls i+1 because +1 is automatic and always there in authentic language like the one in this article. The reading text has communicative message and the teacher always ask the students real questions related to the topic for communicative use. Also, the text contains full of vocabulary and language rules. It does not focus on only one language point like fine tuning input. Thus, with this authentic material the students get ‘+1 ‘naturally.

Moreover, the teacher asks communicative questions to provide meaningful input throughout the lesson, especially in step 7 and 8. The questions are like this; “Can you tell us why you like talking with people?”, “What do you think makes someone a poor conversationalist?”, “Can you tell us how you felt at that time and how you responded to him?”, “What was the most difficult part of the activity for you?” etc. The teacher does not know students answers or opinions. So, these questions are genuine and meaningful because the questions are used for real communication. Authentic conversations always include comprehensible input so that students can acquire the language naturally.

Lastly, in this lesson the teacher makes input comprehensible and gives students caregiver speech. The teacher frequently rephrases what s/he has just said using smaller chunks or changing the word order, and often provides examples related to the topic with caregiver speech. For one example, in step 7 the teacher makes use of a visual to connect students to the context being presented. The teacher shows students a picture of people at a party with this teacher talk: “Imagine you are invited at this party and you are asked to individually talk with all the people here. Do you think you will always be glad to keep the conversations going?” As students are seeing the picture, they express their feelings and opinions. For them, it is more understandable and memorable because, with this visual, the teacher makes input comprehensible and the students become to easily imagine the party is being given ‘here and now’. It has the same effect as the caregiver speech. When the teacher speaks caregiver speech and makes input comprehensible, +1 is always present in the input automatically. It exists in every meaningful message and caregiver speech.

Output

In this lesson students must produce language to answer teacher’s question. When they produce language to reach a communicative goal, that is, to answer a question, they sometimes hesitate, have a trouble, or fail, and notice they have a problem. It inevitably happens because their interlanguage competences are not fully developed. When the students are engaging in only reading and listening activities, they cannot have a chance to notice their problem. Only when they produce their language, they can discover or notice the gap between their interlanguage competence and the communicative goal. In almost all steps, the students make errors and the teacher corrects their errors. Here are the examples; (student) “we can have a chance to look back ourselves”- (teacher) “Look back on ourselves” – (student) “Ah, look back on ourselves.”/ (student) “We should place the cards to face down the table.” – (teacher) “Place the cards face down on the table,” “Would you try again?” -(student) “Yes. We should place the cards face down on the table” – (teacher) “Everyone, repeat after me. We should place the set of cards face down on the table.” Like these examples, while students are producing language, they have a great chance to discover their problem. In class, the teacher can be the best helper to fill the gap between student’s real competence and the communicative goal on condition that the teacher knows error-analysis. When the students solve their problems either with the help from the teacher or by themselves, they can build up their interlanguage competence. In this lesson, sometimes the teacher cues the answer and sometimes directly tells the students according to the degree of the difficulty for the level. Also, the teacher sometimes writes student’s error and the answer on the board and has the class chorally repeat what the teacher wrote on the board. All these reactions depend on the difficulty of the language. Anyway, through this process, the students find the solution of their problem and finally develop their interlanguage competence.

In step 10, students write their own article titled ‘‘the secrets of being an interesting person”. They should write down their own ideas about what makes a person interesting. Thus, the students control the discourse and have a chance to experiment with the leading edge, namely, hypothesis testing. The reason why this independent practice or hypothesis testing is so valuable is that when students try out new forms, they have a chance to think about the form again and make some changes. That is what Swain calls reprocessing. Leading edge is the forms that a learner is unsure about and still thinking about. These forms are unstable because the learner has not figured out how to use them, exactly. This is the stuff with which the learner has to do hypothesis testing. Only learners can choose their leading edge. So, this independent activity is important. During this activity, the students have a chance to select new forms (leading edge) and reprocess them. As the teacher gives the students chance to test their language in this activity, the teacher will be able to have better understanding of students’ interlanguage competence.

Conclusion

This lesson is based on several important theories of SLA to help students build up their competence effectively, and it is being proved in this report. This report is justifying the lesson’s theoretical foundation connecting the whole lesson to those theories of SLA; 1) Right hemisphere participation, 2) The Affective Filter, anxiety, and motivation, 3) Input and Output. Having carefully analyzed this lesson according to the SLA theories, I conclude that this lesson is well designed and well supported by reliable SLA theories, and I believe it can be used in a real class for this level of students.

Submitted by Joo Young

Filed Under: Teaching methodology

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