Communicative Activities for Children

by Sophia McMillan
(Shane Training Centre, Japan)


Communicative activities are tasks or activities that involve the learners using the target language to communicate with each other.


The point is for learners to be using the language themselves to try to mimic realistic exchanges they could have in the real world. Communicative activities should be learner centred as opposed to drilling activities which require the teacher keeping more of a focal role. Obviously at this age it is difficult to produce genuinely authentic language but as far as possible we should try to set up activities that mimic real life uses of English.

For young learners any activity where the learners communicate directly with each other and not the teacher can be a communicative activity. Even a simple game like Whispers is a communicative activity for young learners.

Below are some communicative activities.
• Role plays – children could act out dialogues based on real scenarios and could then either adapt the dialogues or ‘write’ new ones to personalize the language. The role plays should be based on real situations; shopping, talking to friends, asking for things.
• Dramas – similar to role plays but with an ending or small story attached.
• Information exchange - learners need information from the other learners in order to complete a task or piece of work.
• Surveys – learners find out about class opinion and record it. This information could then be shared with the rest of the class.
• Requests – learners need to collect items or information from fellow learners
• Collaborative tasks – learners work together to design a poster, or a picture, or design a town.

Setting up Communicative Activities
1. Set Context – Give a clear reason for the learners to need the language. With young learners this is a subconscious process. When learners can see a link in an activity to their own lives they are motivated, engaged and can see the goal of the task easier. This in turn will make the language more memorable.

Remember to set context for vocabulary items as well. A red flashcard is just a red piece of card. You could list/ elicit items which are red as well.

2. Clear Purpose &/or Goal - Learners need to have a clear start and finish to all activities. Children need to know what the end product will be as this shows them they have successfully completed the task set. Children need to be praised and rewarded. If tasks are not clear, and children are not sure what the end result is, they will lose interest both in current and future activities.

3. Clear Instructions & Demonstration – Instructions MUST be clear and simple: demonstrations and a practice run of the activity are vital. Check the learners understand what they are supposed to do BEFORE they start. You could have learners show you what they are going to do, or run through the activity incorrectly yourself and get them to correct you.

4. Personalize/Realistic Use of Language – Young learners are egocentric. They have a limited interest or understanding of abstract concepts or things not relevant to them. Personalize as much as possible so they can see how the language might be useful to them and their lives.

5. Comfortable with the Language Needed – Make sure the target language has been sufficiently practiced to allow the learners to use it themselves. You should also review any other language needed for the task.

6. Appropriate Task – Tasks that are too difficult/easy are counter productive. Learners will be discouraged by failure or lose interest with easy tasks. Activities need to be suitable for the age group.

In one-to-one lessons teachers should take the role of a learner in the class. Learners can use other people they know: family, friends, School Counsellor, the teacher etc to fill out activities like surveys. Puppets or characters from the books could double as extra members with the class with either the teacher or the learner determining what they say.

Communicative activities are generally the final production task in a class. When lesson planning it can be useful to start with the communicative activity and plan backwards working out what is needed for the learners to complete the task.

Some Communicative Activities
Picture dictation: One learner looks at a picture (which another learner cannot see), and describes it using the target language. Their partner draws what they are told. E.g. Learner A is looking at a picture of a bedroom. Learner B has a blank outline of a bedroom. Learner A describes the picture e.g. ‘there is a bed next to the window’, ‘there are 3 books on the desk’. Learner B draws these on their blank outline. At the end the learners can compare their pictures. Points can be awarded for accuracy.

Shop Role Play: One learner is ‘the shopkeeper’, the other are ‘shoppers’. The shopkeeper has a number of different items for sale (use classroom realia; plastic animals, fruit, toys etc). The shoppers are given toy money or Lego blocks and go shopping to buy items they want/need. Target language could include: Can I have…? How much is/are….? Here you are. Thank you. It costs… Alternatively, there could be more than one shopkeeper and shoppers must buy items on a shopping list.

Design a Town: Learners are given a large sheet of paper with a basic outline of a town, they then design and draw their ideal or home town. Target language could be: school, bookshop, station etc, Prepositions: next to, opposite; Negotiating language: how about… let’s…

Giving/Following Directions: Learners give each other instructions using basic classroom language; e.g. run, jump, skip etc. This could be so that they complete a task – one learner must direct the other to pick up a specific object and bring it back. Alternatively: one learner is blindfolded and the other has to guide them through a maze or Simon Says or Pin the tail on the donkey

Weather Map Information Gap: Learners create weather symbols, similar to a weather forecast (sunny, windy, hot). Then using a map one learner reads out a weather forecast and the other learners put the symbols on the map e.g. it will be sunny in Japan, it will be windy in Taiwan.

Classroom Surveys: This can be adapted to many different language points.

Dialogue: Learners can make their own dialogue based on the target language. This can be used to act out situations relevant to the learners.

Drama: Learners act out a small drama based on the dialogue taught with a story element. The stories should be simple ones.

Information exchange: This is set up so learners have different sets of information and they have to ask and answer questions in order to complete their information set and the task/table.

Role Plays: Learners act out a situation e.g. in a shop, at home etc… Different to a dialogue in that the communicative exchange is not totally scripted. For this to be successful the learners will need to be very confident with the language and confident with all possible outcomes of the role-play.

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