How might I improve the communicativeness of any activity in any discipline in any lesson? I can look for and build up three features of communicativeness. For example, let’s say my initial idea for a lesson activity is having students listen to me read an article aloud about Columbus and then answer comprehension questions in pairs. How can I bulk this up with communicativeness? I can strengthen the following:
Feature 1 - Useful and engaging purpose(s)
In the activity, students use language to do something meaningful and engaging (beyond just to answer questions or get points); the activity (or something similar to it) prepares students to use language for academic purposes. In a listening activity, for example, I might tell students, instead of just writing down what they listen to for points, to take notes that they will use in order to prepare for a roundtable discussion to decide whether or not Columbus Day should be celebrated.
Feature 2 - Information gaps
In the activity, students get or give information that they want, need, and don’t have. It might surprise you to notice all the times that students are asked to use language in school--but don’t really need to. Many times they give answers to questions that other students and the teacher already know. All too often, students are being “tested” rather than being challenged to communicate important, needed, and complex ideas to others. For example, if all students read the same story and answer questions about it in small groups or whole class, many will know the answers and not need to listen. I might have students read different texts create podcasts based on several prompts. There are now more information gaps to cross, in which students need to clarify their ideas to others, using language on deeper levels.
Feature 3 - Attention to Language
In the activity, there is extra support and feedback focused on improving how language is used to serve the purpose of communication. This includes modeling, practicing, giving feedback, and/or scaffolding (e.g., using visuals, teaching grammar or vocabulary, re-reading, re-listening, having students paraphrase, etc.). For example, I listen to students’ initial podcasts and think about the speaking abilities of my students and what they need to work on. I have noticed recently that students don’t highlight the introduction of new ideas with langauge that tends to mark these things. So I use a sample text, I read the first part aloud and show it up front for all to see, then I read the rest aloud text with the text covered up. I highlight language such as “A major reason for… Another reason for…. Is …, The second possible effect of….” and how this helps listeners to organize ideas and notes.