Have you ever had a conversation with someone who only wanted to talk, and not listen?
It’s annoying, isn’t it?
You might try to get a word in, but the other person doesn’t seem to hear you. Instead, he or she just keeps going on about the same topic, repeating the same ideas, with no window for input from anyone else.
In fact, it ends up becoming more of a monologue than a conversation.
Is that really communication?
We all know that authentic communication goes both ways, as an ongoing dialogue between two or more people.
But so often, we struggle to teach language in that way. That’s why it’s necessary to stress the importance of interpersonal communication.
Interpersonal Communication Language Activities and Why You Need Them
Interpersonal communication really gets at the heart of what language fluency is all about. But it’s challenging to construct activities that give your students opportunities for dialogue that are authentic and engaging.
After all, what exactly is interpersonal communication? Why do you need it? And most importantly, how can you incorporate activities for that are both practical and meaningful?
To answer that, we first need to look at what interpersonal communication is in relation to the three possible modes of communication.
What Are the 3 Modes of Communication?
It’s widely accepted that we use three different ways to express ourselves, depending on the situation. For a language learner to become fluent in their target language, they need to first understand the different modes of communication and when to use them.
So, what’s the difference between the three? Let’s take a look.
1. Interpretive communication
This is a type of one-way communication where students use their listening and/or reading skills to comprehend spoken and written language. Some examples would be listening to a podcast or reading a book and answering questions.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with interpretive communication activities in the classroom. In fact, they are invaluable for providing language exposure that can lead to fluency. And reading and listening are both crucial skills for effective communication.
But the awkward fact remains that real-life encounters with the language are usually about holding conversations rather than one-sided listening or reading activities.
2. Presentational communication
This is yet another instance of one-way communication—but in the other direction.
Presentational communication occurs when your students use their writing and speaking skills to present information or knowledge on a topic. Examples include performing a prepared skit or dialogue, or presenting a slideshow.
This type of communication is also valuable to your students. They need to learn how to organize and express their thoughts clearly.
But real conversations are spontaneous. You don’t get a chance to prepare a speech ahead of time. Rather, it’s a give-and-take of listening and responding.
3. Interpersonal communication
This is two-way communication in which both sides actively negotiate meaning through a process of observing, monitoring and clarification.
Needless to say, this describes most authentic conversations in daily life. All parties spontaneously build meaning together.
But it’s tough to achieve this level of spontaneity within the constructs of a classroom, among students who may only have a basic vocabulary at their disposal.
Despite the challenges, though, interpersonal communication is essential for your students to learn how to use the language effectively.
Below are some reasons why you should be adding interpersonal communication activities in your lessons.
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Why Your Students Need Interpersonal Communication Activities
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are some reasons why language learners should be actively building their interpersonal communication skills.
Interpersonal communication helps them build confidence and overcome anxiety about speaking
Let’s be honest; many students find it terrifying to speak up in a language class. They’re accustomed to carefully phrasing their communication via social media comments or text messages. Spontaneous, face-to-face communication feels unnatural and scary.
But by providing plenty of opportunities for interpersonal communication within your classroom, you can build your students’ comfort levels so they can go forth and communicate with confidence.
It develops a more natural understanding of language and how it works
As we constantly express ourselves and negotiate meaning with others, we develop an intuitive understanding of the language.
One example is grammatical rules. You can teach grammar in your lessons, but it won’t really make sense until someone has a chance to hear the rule in action so that they can recognize when something just doesn’t sound right.
It taps into the emotional, affective side of learning
What makes knowledge memorable? Often it’s the emotions we associate with it.
That’s why we often use songs, pictures, stories and literature to make a lesson stick in our students’ minds.
The spontaneous interactions of interpersonal communication force us to dig a little deeper for our responses—tapping into that rich emotional landscape where true learning happens.
Interpersonal communication is the whole reason for studying a language
You know your students are not in your class because they want to learn how to prepare scripted dialogues or to read passages from a text.
They want to be able to listen and speak in their target language.
How many people do you know who studied a language for years in school, yet are unable to speak it? How sad and disappointing. The students in front of you dream of being able to converse fluently in the target language. That’s the whole reason they’re in your class in the first place.
And guess what. Interpersonal communication is the only way to get them there.
By now, you’re probably sold on the benefits of interpersonal communication— that is, if you weren’t already.
But when it comes to incorporating spontaneous, two-way communication in your classroom, you may feel that your creativity is quickly stretched to the limit. That’s where we can help! Read further to learn how to prepare interpersonal communication activities that you can easily incorporate in your classroom routine.
4 Practical and Fun Interpersonal Communication Activities
1. Post-presentation Q and A session
This is a clever way to inject some interpersonal flavor within the presentational mode.
Next time your students give a prepared presentation, follow up with a spontaneous question-and-answer session.
Provide some brief coaching on the vocabulary and sentence structure needed for asking questions, and then let the students ask whatever comes to mind related to the information presented. For this activity, make sure students know they will not be penalized in any way for incorrect grammar or pronunciation. If they feel free to make mistakes, it can lead to a truly uninhibited, two-way conversation.
2. Conversation around the circle
Arrange your students to sit in a circle. Then, move the conversation in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction as each student asks a question. Depending on their level of proficiency, these questions may be improvised on the spot or prepared ahead of time. You can choose to have each student ask a question of the peer sitting next to him/her; or you can have 3-5 different students volunteer answers to the question, depending on the group and their comfort level.
This activity can be adapted to different seating arrangements, and works well in a game format (i.e., have students compete to see which ones give the most answers.)
This is a survey activity that encourages short, structured responses. It can be adapted to any level and gives students structured practice with two-way communication.
Students must create survey questions based on a topic that you’re covering in class. For example, questions about their favorite leisure activities work well if you’re working on a unit about hobbies and pastimes. These can be presented in:
- Open-ended questions: “What is your favorite sport?”
- Yes/no questions: “Do you like to draw?”
Students then circulate around the room, asking their peers questions and compiling the results. At the end, the class regroups so students can share these results, using the target language. Common results shared include sentences like: “Four students like to play baseball,” “Six students like to draw,” and so on.
4. Random object improv
Jot down the names of a few random objects (i.e., “guitar,” “tree,” “pencil,” etc.) on slips of paper and put them in a hat. Students then walk up in pairs or small groups, pick an object out of the hat, and then improvise a short dialogue around that item. This activity can be loads of fun, getting even the shyest students out of their shell.
Communication and the Classroom
Communication truly is a two-way street—and these activities can help you walk down it.
Incorporating more interpersonal communication in your classroom can definitely feel risky! But once you’ve done it and see your students learn how to communicate more effectively, you’ll be glad you did.
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