It takes two to tango, goes the saying. It also takes at least two to interact. Interaction requires both speaking and listening skills – by listening carefully and understanding we’ll be in a position to reply directly to our interlocutor. Interaction requires our students to have mastered certain language functions. In the case of a discussion for example, our students will need to be able to agree, disagree, ask for their interlocutor’s opinion etc. In this blog post, let’s look at five fun activities to build our students’ interactional language and skills.
Take a listening activity from a course book (example shown from Real World) that has interactional language contextualised. Put the useful phrases on cards and spread them out in front of groups of three or four students. Play the listening. When the students hear any of the phrases on the cards in front of them, it’s a race to pick up that card. The student with the most cards at the end is the winner.
Follow up: categorise the phrases into functions (agreeing, disagreeing etc), asking the students if they can come up with the categories rather than providing them. How many more phrases do they know to add to each of the categories?
Bear in mind: This is an introductory activity to highlight interactional language. Students (from primary to adult) love the competitive element, which means they listen very intently. NB. Listening for specific phrases is different from listening for gist (which they won’t get when doing the listening this way) – so a gist activity is also worthwhile to listen for meaning.
(Word Grab credit: JJ Wilson, ‘How to teach listening’)
A classic activity, the disappearing dialogue has students reciting a dialogue (a rather mundane activity in itself), each time with less and less support (words being taken away). Students have to recall the missing words or phrases (in this case interactional language), with the idea being that this practice exercise will help commit them to long-term memory to be used in the future.
A disappearing dialogue might have three or four stages and can be set up on anything from a Powerpoint to a chalk board.
After two controlled activities, let’s take away support and move to freer speech. Here is a discussion question from the C1 level of the PTE general exam.
In the forced output task, our students have the discussion and are ‘forced’ to use the interactional language we’ve been practicing in the lesson. There are a number of ways to do this. We can have the phrases on paper for the students to tick them off as they use them, or on cards to have them pick them up. We can ask students how many they used individually at the end or, better, ask how many each pair of students used altogether (group competition rather than individual reflecting the nature of the task – it takes two to tango, remember).
With these three activities (word grab, disappearing dialogue, forced output), the idea is that we’ve highlighted interactional language and got our students using it in controlled then freer practice with the aim that they’ll use it more independently in the future.
Keep the turn
Make four role cards. On each one include a function (complain, suggest) and an area of content (see cards).
One student begins talking, carrying out the function on their card. The other three listen, finding ways to link their role to what’s being said. As soon as someone can, they interrupt (you can teach phrases for this, eg ‘Can I just stop you there…’), take the turn and begin speaking. Now the remaining three listen, ready to interrupt.
What do the rest of the class do? Listen and try to work out what’s on the four participants’ cards.
Guess the question
Having established that getting students to listen carefully to what one another are saying is key in interaction, let’s finish with a simple activity to develop listening and question formulation.
Students are given a list of questions to answer (potentially personal information questions, features of the PTE General exam.) They choose one of their questions and answer it. Their partner listens and tries to work out the question being asked. Once they’ve worked it out, we swap.
We can make this easier for lower levels if both speakers can see all the questions, or harder by banning the use of question words in answers. We can also have students bring in pictures of themselves, formulate questions, answer them and have their classmates guess the questions (see example above: this time the questions are on show).
There you have it. Five activities to get our students interacting: give them a try!