Christina Giannikas owns a chain of private language schools in Southern Greece. Here she talks about the benefits of more interactive classroom experiences.
Many teaching approaches have been implemented in language classrooms over the years in order to provide positive outcomes and successful language learners. Although various approaches have their advantages, an effective interactive methodology can help increase confidence and result to successful language learners in an environment where children learn to appreciate the foreign language and encounter it as a means of communication; and what better way to achieve this than by introducing an interactive approach with young learners?
One of the many pleasures of teaching children is their enthusiasm and motivation to explore the unknown. For young learners, being able to use a new language is exciting. However, this enthusiasm may quickly fade if children are exposed to teacher-centred environments where the opportunity to freely explore the language through communication is limited. In order to avoid this, teachers can intrigue their students with more communicative activities.
Contemporary language teaching supports the view that language is not simply symbolic, but largely inference-based. In such an environment, the emphasis is on comprehending and transmitting meaning through interaction within a classroom context.
Rivers (1987) believes that interaction is vital to language learning situations because through interaction, learners can enrich their knowledge of the foreign language as they are exposed to authentic linguistic material while listening or even having a discussion with their teachers or peers.
Nonetheless, in order for students to benefit from an interactive classroom environment, it is essential to provide the appropriate layout. Students can be encouraged to interact when seated in semi-circular groups, ad-hoc clusters of chairs or in pairs, where the teacher is not the centre of the communication network. A teacher can be surprised with how the introduction of an interactive approach can bring out the confident language speaker in even the shyest student.
From personal experience, I could say that introducing this approach benefitted students greatly. It was applied in a monolingual context where using the L1 (First Language) was not only the easy way out, but was considered the norm. For the teacher, this could prove to be a demanding task, one which must be well-planned and thought out. If not, the results could be the opposite of what one would hope for.
My students – beginners and intermediate levels – were used to a teacher-centred environment, with rows of desks facing the teacher, were expected to speak when spoken to and complete their tasks from the coursebooks. When the time came, I explained that they were going to be trying a different layout. They were expected to cooperate and use as much of the target language as possible, because what would be the point of learning a foreign language if not to use it to communicate?
Children would be rewarded for full and harmonious cooperation and continuous use of the target language with ‘stars’ displayed on a poster, next to the children’s names. At the end of the month, the top 4 would receive a ‘Best Student’ certificate.
After the first ‘award ceremony’, the children realised how much they wanted to stand in front of the entire school and be applauded, so they were motivated to do their best. When entering the classroom and asked to fix the desks for group work, their attitude changed. They believed that the purpose of group work would be to use the target language and, of course, more stars (Giannikas, 2011).
here was a noticeable increase in the target language without pressure from the teacher; an act that could coincidentally lead to silence on the students’ part instead of interaction. Other tasks such as story-telling, games and competitions were made easy because the students were not reluctant to use the target language, even though they were in a monolingual context.
An interactive environment can help raise students’ self-esteem as language learners and negate the fact that they are in a classroom. They learn whilst enjoying themselves and become independent L2 speakers in the process. It may seem like a lot of work and teachers may feel that encouraging such an approach may lead to chaos. Anyone would fear losing control; however, with the right classroom management and organization, a very fruitful way of learning and teaching can be brought to the surface.