Therefore, the need to redesign the syllabuses
appeared, so they reflected the notion of communicative competence. Rather than
only pointing out the grammar and vocabulary that students needed to have a
good command of, it was claimed that a syllabus should identify the following
aspects of language use in order to improve students’ communicative competence:
as detailed a consideration as possible of the purposes for which the learner
wishes to acquire the target language. For example, using English for business
purposes, in the hotel industry, of for travel.
some idea of the setting in which they will want to use the target language.
For example in an office, on an airplane, or in a store.
the society defined role the learners will assume in the target language, as
well as the role of their interlocutors. For example as a traveler, as a
salesperson talking to clients, or as a student in a school setting.
the communicative events that in which the learners will participate: everyday
situations, vocational or professional situations, academic situations, and so
on. For example making telephone calls, engaging in casual conversation, or
taking part in a meeting.
the language functions involved in those events, or what the learner will be
able to do with or through language. For example making introductions, giving
explanations, or describing plans.
the notions or concepts involved, or what the learner will need to be able to
talk about. For example leisure, finance, history, religion.
the skills involved in “knitting together” of discourse: discourse and
rhetorical skills. For example storytelling or giving and effective business
the variety or varieties of the target language that will be needed, such as
American, Australian or British English, and the levels in the spoken and written
language which the learners will need to reach: the grammatical content and the
lexical content that will be needed.
(van Ek and Alexander, 1980)
These aspects led to two new proposals for a
communicative syllabus, and the English for Specific Purposes, henceforth ESP.
The first proposal for a communicative syllabus is called a skill-based
syllabus, which focuses on the four skills: speaking, reading, listening and
writing, and it breaks them down into microskills. For instance, the listening
skill could be broken down into the following microskills: recognizing the
topic of a conversation, recognizing the key words in a conversation,
identifying key information in a passage, etc.
A functional syllabus is organized in agreement with
the functions that students should be able to accomplish in English, such as
giving explanations, expressing likes and dislikes, apologizing, etc. The
vocabulary and the grammar are chosen according to the functions being taught,
e.g. if the target is the expression of apologies, “wish constructions” would
be the grammar structure chosen so students acquire the corresponding language
function. A sequence of activities similar to the Presentation, Practice and
Production cycle is used to present and practice the function.
Other syllabus types were also proposed, such as the
notional syllabus, which is based around the content and notions that students
would need to express and the task syllabus, which specified the tasks and the
activities that learners should perform in the classroom. However, it was soon
realized that it is necessary for a syllabus to identify the pertinent
components of a language, and the first communicative syllabus adapted to a
large extent within the framework of CLT was called Threshold Level (van Ek and
Alexander, 1980) and it specified topics, functions, notions, situations,
grammar and vocabulary.
Regarding ESP, many students needed to learn the
English language in order to perform a particular role, such as flight
attendant, accounting, hotel staff, financier, etc. For these students was more
convenient to learn specific aspects of language instead of general English.
Thus, there were differentiations on vocabulary, grammar, functions and topics.
Since the new approach brought changes in the syllabus
design, it brought changes in the teaching methodology. Communication became
significant, leaving behind grammar-based methodologies. Therefore, the new
principles of CLT were as follows: real communication, tolerance to students’
mistakes, importance of both fluency and accuracy, link of the fours skills and
grammar induction. When applying these new principles, several changes
occurred, not only the syllabus and the role of teachers and students, as we
have seen in previous sections, but the activities as well; it was the time for
them to become meaningful and interactive.
4.1.5. The activities
Since the arrival of CLT, materials have undergone changes,
for it was classroom activities reflecting the new communicative principles
what students needed, and these changes have continued up to the present day. I
will concisely review the main types of activities that appeared with the
arrival of CLT.
One of the aims of CLT is to develop fluency in
learners, which is use of language naturally regardless of the students’
limitations. Fluency can be opposed to accuracy, which seeks correct use of
language. The main features of activities focusing on fluency are as follows:
natural and meaningful use of language, use of communication strategies and
unpredictable language. It is the teachers’ function to equilibrate fluency and
accuracy activities. Grammar and pronunciation drills have not completely
disappeared from teaching materials; instead they appear combined with
activities focusing on fluency in order to find the balance that covers
students’ needs. The dynamics of the classroom has shifted as well, from a
teacher-centred perspective to a learner-centred one that allows students to
interact and develop fluency. Pair and group work play a relevant role on the
Three different kinds of practice termed mechanical,
meaningful and communicative were proposed. Mechanical practice concerns
substitution and repletion drills, i.e. the practice of activities that
learners are able to do without a complete understanding of the language;
meaningful practice concerns activities that are to be performed under language
control, in other words, teachers provide the structures to be used during the
exercise. However, learners are asked to make meaningful choices when doing the
activity. Finally, communicative practice refers to the kinds of activities in
which students produce unpredictable language, which means that the use of real
language is the focus of these exercises. Many textbooks based on CLT follow
this sequence: the activities proposed go from mechanical to communicative
practice. One example is this exercise from Passages (Richards and Sandy,
Superlative adjectives usually appear before the
noun they modify.
The funniest person I know is my friend Bob.
The most caring individual in our school is the
also occur with the noun they modify
Of all the
people in my family, my Aunt Ruth is the kindest.
Of all my professors, Dr. Lopez is the most
Superlatives are often followed by relative
clauses in the present perfect.
My cousin Anita is the most generous person I’ve
The closest friend I’ve ever had is someone I met
in elementary school.
A Complete these sentences with your own
information, and add more details. Then compare with a partner.
1. One of
the most inspiring people I’ve ever known is …
One of the most inspiring people I’ve ever known
is my math teacher. She encourages students to think rather than just
memorize formulas and rules.
2. The most successful individual I know is …
3. Of all the people I know …. is the least
4. The youngest person who I consider to be a hero
5. The most
moving speaker I have ever heard is …
6. The most important role model I’ve ever had is
7. Of all the friends I’ve ever had …. is the most
8. One of the bravest things I’ve ever done is …
B Use the superlative form of these adjectives to
describe people you know. Write at least five sentences.
honest interesting smart generous inspiring kind witty
C Group work Discuss the sentences you wrote in
Exercises A and B. Ask each other follow-up questions.
A. My next-door neighbor is the bravest person
I’ve ever met.
B. What did
your neighbor do, exactly? A. She’s a firefighter, and once she saved a
child from a burning building …
There are more types of activities which are essential in CLT materials,
such as information-gaps activities and jigsaw activities, being the latter
also based on the gap-information principle. The basis of jigsaw activities is
that students are divided into groups so they perform a task by exchanging
information with their partners. CLT includes many other activities, such as
task-completion activities (including games, puzzles, etc.), opinion-sharing
activities, information-transfer activities, reasoning-gap activities,
information-gathering activities (including surveys, interviews, etc.) and
role-plays (for instance, improvising scenes).
All the activities mentioned above show one of the most important
features of CLT, which is interaction between students. As I have previously
remarked, pair and group work play a relevant role in the learning process
based on CLT. The use of this work strategy has got several benefits for
students, which are as follows: students can learn from their partners’
interventions, they can produce more language compared to the one they would
produce in a teacher-centred classroom so their motivation becomes higher, and
fluency is developed in a more natural way.
4.1.6. The materials
A matter of contention that appeared because the language produced in
the classroom is intended for students to “survive” in the real world was the
link between classroom activities and the real world. Classroom activities
should reflect the real world as much as possible and therefore use authentic
Authentic materials, whether spoken or written texts, are those that
have been created for native speakers, i.e. real texts such as newspapers,
magazines, advertisements or radio programs. The English language that these
types of texts contain differ from that found in adapted materials: it enables
learners to comprehend the language in the same way that native speakers do.
There is countless supply of real-world materials (authentic materials) which
can be used by teachers to meet their classroom needs of materials. On the
other hand, non-authentic materials are those specially designed for language
learners; these materials have been adapted so students are able to have a good
comprehension on them.
Authentic materials supporters such as Clarke and Silberstein (1977, 51)
argued that classroom activities should parallel the “real world” as closely as
possible. Since language is a tool of communication, methods and materials
should concentrate on the message and not the medium. The purposes of reading
should be the same in class as they are in real life. The use of authentic
materials in the classroom has got several advantages for students, including
the cultural information that they provide and the exposure to real language.
However, some critics such as Widdowson (1987) claimed that it is not essential
for classroom materials to be authentic; indeed, what is really important in
this matter is that materials fulfil their role effectively. Arguments in
favour of non-authentic materials include: they can be motivating for students
and they can be better as they have been created for specific purposes.
Besides, it is well known that the use of authentic materials may become
a burden for teachers for several reasons; “real world” materials may contain
difficult language, which makes it more laborious for teachers to select them
according to the level of their students. As a rule, authentic materials are best
used where the learners are likely to appreciate them and accept them in spite
of the difficulties. Besides, authentic materials are associated with high
levels of proficiency; however, this is a mistaken belief since there are
plenty of authentic materials to be used in classrooms with low level students,
such as menus, advertisements, tickets, etc.
Notwithstanding, since the arrival of CLT, teaching
materials have shifted in order to have a more authentic appearance. For
instance, comprehension texts are designed in a way that they look like
magazine or newspaper articles.