Annotation: The article deals with classroom interaction and interactive activities in learning English as a foreign language. The author presents the explanation of the term “interaction” and important features of interactive language learning. Effective teaching strategies and the ways to develop, sustain the interest and engagement of students into active participants of interaction are described. Some interactive learning activities are given as an example of a successful work.
Keywords: Interaction, interactive activities, motivation, communicative competence, interactive language learning, skills.
Globalization has made it imperative for graduates to be proficient in oral communication skills so that they can communicate effectively in the academic and professional settings. An effective communicator is able to conduct himself in a variety of personal, professional, and academic environments with confidence.
The Cambridge International Dictionary of English defines the verb ‘to interact’ as ‘to communicate with or react to (each other)’. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English gives the definition to ‘interaction’ as the activity of talking to other people, working together with them. The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines the noun ‘interaction’ as a ‘reciprocal action or influence’ therefore interaction is more than action followed by reaction. It includes acting reciprocally, acting upon each other. Rivers (1987, 57) describes the word through its Latin roots: ‘agere’ meaning ‘to do’ and ‘inter’ meaning ‘among’. It shows us the active and social part of a human being that affects other people through interaction. Brown (2001, 165) relates interaction to communication, saying “…interaction is, in fact, the heart of communication: it is what communication is all about”. Interaction is the collaborative exchange of thoughts, feelings, or ideas between two or more people, resulting in a reciprocal effect on each other. (Brown, 2001). According to Wilga Rivers, he stated that “Through interaction, students can increase their language store as they listen to or read authentic linguistic material or even the output of their fellow students in discussions; skits join problem-solving tasks, or dialogue journals. In interaction, students can use all they possess of the language – all they have exchanges. Even at an elementary stage, they learn in this way to exploit the elasticity of language.” Theories of communicative competence emphasize the importance of motivation. Motivation is a key factor in successful language learning. We must constantly search for effective teaching strategies and the ways to develop, sustain the interest and engagement of students in our classes. Language came into life as a means of communication. It exists and is alive only through speech. When we speak about teaching a foreign language, we first of all have in mind teaching it as a means of communication.
The important features of interactive language learning are:
· Meaning is paramount;
· Effective communication is sought;
· Drilling may occur, but peripherally;
· Attempt to communicate must be encouraged from the very beginning;
· Teachers help and motivate learners to work with the language, encourage them being active participants;
· Fluent and acceptable language is the primary goal;
· Learners are expected to interact with people either in a pair or in a group work;
· Task-based teaching and problem-solving activities should be used;
· A relaxed atmosphere is conducive to free expression, the students feel enough at ease to find the words to express him/herself;
·Tasks prepare students for the real world outside of the classroom.
Teachers of English have to be creative and innovative involving the students in the learning process. It is a great wish of teachers to make students from passive participants to active thinkers and speakers expressing their points of view, discussing and exchanging ideas, solving problems, proving the facts and so on. But how to make learning English more purposeful and enjoyable? It requires an effort on the part of the teacher, who must carefully scrutinize how activities can be used to create a classroom environment that supports interaction and critical thinking. We should organize the learning process where the relation between linguistic competence and communicative competence is important. Communicative competence involves principles of appropriateness and readiness on the part of the learner to use relevant strategies in coping with certain language situations. Without linguistic competence, there is no communicative competence. But communicative competence does not automatically result from linguistic competence. Forms of classroom activities such as role playing, simulations, real-life interactions should be used to provide as much practice as possible for students to develop communicative competence while practicing linguistic competence.
In addition to exposure, students perform better when they have motivation to communicate. First and foremost, we should enforce an "English only" policy in the classroom.
There are many patterns of classroom interaction, such as group work, teacher questioning, individual work, choral responses collaboration, full class interaction. Among these patterns, pair or group work is considered to be the most interactive way. They have three value systems of choice, freedom and equality.
Students can increase their language store through a wide range of interactive games, activities, and tasks. Language teachers have to organize a friendly atmosphere for communicative language practice. Interaction involves not just expression of their own ideas but comprehension and reaction to others. It requires listening, understanding and responding. All these factors should be present as students learn to communicate. Classroom interaction is considered to be a productive teaching technique. Group work and pair work are indispensable for interaction. They promote students’ responsibility, generates interactive language, relieve the anxiety of shy people. The students help each other in groups, they cover much more material in a limited time. Typical group tasks are games, role plays, simulations, drama, projects, interview, problem-solving and decision-making activities. Let’s consider the role of interview technique. Interviewing is a natural interactive activity because it emphasizes group discussion and deliberation. There may be different kinds of interviews. It depends on the students’ level of the language and interests. But to interview a candidate for a specific job is an appealing one. It encourages creative and spontaneous use of language, promotes communicative competence, fosters the whole group participation, promotes friendly atmosphere. Interview technique will enable the students to develop their interview job skills and gives tips on what to do and say during interviews and meeting with the potential employers. Asking and answering function is very important, it ensures active participation of students in the interaction. The technique of description and explanation enables the students to display their ability to explain things, ideas expressing themselves with a considerable freedom of choice of expressions.
The use of role play makes language learning more student centered and interactive. It creates a more spontaneous and realistic learning environment that prepares the students for social interaction through the medium of a foreign language. Role plays may be used around every day situations as well as around topical problems. The learners are asked to choose a particular role and to imagine him/her in that role in a particular situation. Then they are given a set of instructions that would be expressed in the concrete situation.
Beyond this, we can create motivation in the form of interactive games or activities where the students need to communicate in order to complete a task--also known as a "task-based" activity. Games are highly motivating and entertaining, and they can give shy students more opportunities to express their opinions and feelings. Games encourage the students to interact with one another and to think creatively and actively about the language they are using. They also enable learners to acquire new experience within the foreign language that are not always possible during a typical lesson. The example is the game “Tourist Guide”. The teacher explains the game by asking: “Have you ever been a tourist guide in your city?” He assumes the role of a tourist on a walk or a drive around the city. The tour might begin by having one “guide” to tell something about the history of the city. The “tourist” could obtain further information by asking questions about population, industries, buildings and monuments, shopping centers, entertaining places and so on. “The tourist” may ask and re-ask the information clarifying some facts. “The tourist guides” try to give much specific information arising the interest to the excursion.
One good solution is cooperative learning activities. They facilitate interaction among students. Let me give an example. “Think, pair, share” is a technique in which students are given a question or problem to solve. First, students are given time to think individually about the solution. Then they work in pairs and compare solutions. Finally, each pair shares its solution with the class. The students are active participants of this work because they inform, explain, confirm, agree or disagree, criticize, approve, encourage, assure, find common ideas. The following thought-provoking questions were offered and raised hot discussions: Should boxing be banned? In disasters like the sinking Titanic, who should be saved? Should Olympic athletes be tested for drugs? Should animals be used to test new products? Is it easy to be young? Would you give up certain luxuries to save the environment?
Well-organized interactions will make learners rack their brain, speak their mind, and share their views with others naturally.
Students work individually or in groups to gather facts about a topic by brainstorming, researching, and interviewing. This provides plentiful data and activates their background knowledge and experience of the topic. They compare and assess the information, then point out the similarities and differences in the information they have gathered.
Before deciding on what type of classroom interaction we want to use for a particular lesson activity, we should think about whether the goal of the activity is fluency or accuracy. In fluency-oriented activities, we want the students to be able to speak without much interruption. The point of fluency activities is to encourage the students to use as much language as they know in order to communicate fluidly without halting. The point of accuracy-oriented activities is the opposite. We want students to focus on a particular point, usually grammar or vocabulary, and focus on getting it right. In accuracy exercises, the flow is not as important as pronouncing or saying the target vocabulary or grammar correctly.
The following speaking skills might be seen as significant:
a) The ability to agree or disagree (Accept or reject ideas).
b) The ability to identify people, places, events.
c) The capability to express preferences.
d) The skill to express opinions and give arguments “for” or “against”.
e) The ability to ask for and give suggestions.
f) The ability to convince, dissuade.
g) The ability to report on what people are asking and saying.
h) The ability to summarize a conversation and make a conclusion expressing own point of view.
A lot of people think that learning a language involves simply acquiring knowledge like learning history or geography. But learning a language is a lot more like learning tennis – it involves learning a skill, whereas learning history or geography simply invоlves learning a set of facts or events. Facts and knowledge are static, but skills like tennis or English are living and changing and need constant practice. They are spontaneous activities between two or more people. And just as in a tennis game you never know where the ball will land next, in English you can never predict what another person will say. How can students learn to react in situations in English? In tennis, what leads to a good game is practice, and this involves not only learning the rules of the game and doing repetitive drills, but also spontaneous practice with real partners. It is the same with English. What leads to mastery of the language is not only learning the “rules of the game” – grammar and doing repetitive drills, but also spontaneous practice with real partners, classmates. English is an important tool for the learners for career mobility and social advancement, that’s why it should be taught as a functional language.
1. Douglas, Brown H. (2001). Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy (2nd ed.). New York: San Francisco State University.
2. The Cambridge International Dictionary of English on CD-Rom.2000. Cambridge: Cambridge.
3. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English New Edition for Advanced Learners. Pearson p.918.
4. The New Oxford Dictionary of English on CD-Rom.1998. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
5. Wilga Rivers 1987. Interactive Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.