A lot of the reading I’m doing at the moment is about communicative competence. This is generally agreed to be composed of three strands:
- Linguistic competence: the knowledge of grammar, syntax, phonemic structure and everything else that is required to produce sentences that follow the conventions of the language.
- Sociolinguistic competence: the ability to produce language that is appropriate for the situation, and makes sense as part of the wider context it appears in.
- Strategic competence: the ability to control discourse to suit the producer, to repair discourse when it goes wrong, and the ability to work around linguistic problems or gaps in knowledge. (Canale & Swain 1980)
It seems that in the Korean school context Korean teachers concentrate extremely hard on the first strand, where even from elementary level the focus is on accuracy in reproducing phrases accurately, rather than how to use them in context. Casting a glance at what other native speakers are doing (or at least posting on the internet) it appears that most people are focusing very much on the first of these strands, a little on the second and not very much at all on the third. This is not in any way a criticism, and would seem to be to be the correct balance for the levels of students who are still working their way towards a level of communicative competence where strategic skills would be required. However, I have noted that often during a conversation with students, they are doing fine until they reach a word that they don’t know. At this point, they either seem to give up, or ask someone who might know (usually in Korean). I wanted to show them that it is possible to work around problems with vocabulary, and try to give them a couple of helpful strategies to do it.
My lesson plan started with a quick and fun game of team spelling match with household items to get everybody participating, before moving on to identifying a coffee maker and a cup holder from pictures flashed quickly across the screen. Students were encouraged to use the name if they knew it, or write a sentence of description instead. Points were awarded for any decent effort, including things like “cup bucket”, “place to put cup”, and “drink hole”. For most classes I had to give some hints for the cup holder picture, as it’s a little strange, but that strangeness made it much more interesting for the students. From there we moved on to identifying items from sentences, and then using one or more of those sentences to describe items of realia (coat-hanger, bottle opener, nail clippers, window cleaner) in a taboo style game. The full lesson plan and accompanying PPT can be found here.
Overall this was a pretty decent lesson. The students seemed to appreciate that it all pulled in the same direction, and bookending it with games meant that participation stayed high throughout. It was also easy enough that most of my students could have a go so most people (who wanted to) could get involved. There’s not a whole lot that I would do differently here, save for perhaps introducing some more examples or household items ending in -er during the spelling game. To expand on this lesson, identifying people using -er forms (pitcher, road-mender, speaker, law-breaker) could also be introduced.
How much help the strategies used in this lesson will be to my students is debatable as they don’t often need household vocabulary. However, the sentences used in the taboo game should be, as my students are not great users of the word “thing”, which is ever such a useful thing to master in the cause of paraphrasing. I also hope that more than giving them direct strategies, it helps their attitudes to problems with their langauge knowledge and gives them the belief that they can be solved without resorting to L1.
As always, I’d be delighted to hear your comments.
Reference: Canale M. & Swain S. (1980) Theoretical approaches to second language teaching and testing. Applied Linguistics. 1-1 p1-47.