Classroom Interaction in Teaching English as a Second Language

Teaching ESL takes a lot more than a good textbook.

For a new English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, figuring out classroom interaction can be tricky. A language-learning classroom tends to run much differently from a typical lecture-style classroom. No matter what the age of your students, consider the type of classroom interaction that will be most beneficial for the particular lesson you're teaching.

1 Methods

The type of classroom interaction you employ will largely depend on your own teaching philosophy and training. Some teachers stress the grammar-translation method and teach English through the students' native language. Other teachers use a more communicative method in which grammar constructions are not overtly explained or drilled. Community Language Learning (CLL) is another strategy for language teaching. A CLL teacher avoids lecturing and allows students to correct and learn from each other. Some teachers advocate "the Silent Way," a strategy where the teacher says as little as possible and the students are encouraged to "discover" the language on their own.

2 Considerations

Most teachers do not strictly stick to one teaching method or strategy, but rather combine different aspects of several strategies to create effective classroom interaction. Students need input from a source who knows the target language, which is why "the Silent Way" is not a very effective teaching method. Students will not learn to produce a language without input and exposure, and both vocabulary and grammar are important tools for language learners.

In addition to exposure, students perform better when they have motivation to communicate. First and foremost, you should enforce an "English only" policy in the classroom. Beyond this, you 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. An example of this type of activity is a "gap fill"; one student has the information that his partner needs to fill in the blanks.

3 Types

There are different types of classroom interaction you can use to vary your lesson plan. Teacher-centered activity is when the teacher controls the group. This can consist of lecturing, explaining a new grammar concept on the board, having a whole-class discussion, choral drilling or asking individual students questions.

Alternatively, students can work individually, in pairs or in groups. You can even have the entire class working together on a project or game, with you as the teacher simply in the role of facilitator. At times you can assign a student to be in charge of running a game, and you can sit with the class and be a participant. Mixing up the types of classroom interaction used in your ESL class can help students stay attentive and interested.

4 Focus

Before deciding on what type of classroom interaction you want to use for a particular lesson activity, think about whether the goal of the activity is fluency or accuracy. In fluency-oriented activities, you will 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. You 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.

5 Feedback

Another key part of classroom interaction is teacher feedback. In order to improve, students must get feedback and correction. During accuracy exercises, you may choose to correct students right away, while during fluency exercises you may want to simply listen and jot down any glaring mistakes. You can give feedback orally or in writing. Sometimes you may want to correct an individual student in front of other students, while at other times it is better to offer general suggestions and corrections for the entire group. When giving feedback, always bear in mind the cultural context, as some students may not be comfortable receiving individual correction in front of their peers.

Heather Carreiro is a certified English teacher who has been writing since 2008. The editor of Matador Abroad, her work has appeared online at BootsnAll, Matador Network, GoNOMAD, Journey Beyond Travel and Expat Women. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in linguistics and Middle Eastern studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is pursuing a Master of Arts in English at Bridgewater State University.