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2005

28

2


CELEA Journal

Bim onthly

Apr

2005
Vol

28 No

2
ENHANCING INTERACTION IN OUR EFL CLASSROOM
Xu Mingzhi
Shandong Institute of Architecture and Engineering
Abstract

In view of the increasing com m unicative needs
on the EFL users

the author stresses the importance


of classroom oralinteraction based on the belief that
the EFL classroom should provide learners

with
maxim um exposure to the targetlanguage to enhance
their learning and develop their co m m unicative
co mpetence

In this research efforts have been made


recom mend practical ways that can improve
classroom com munication and conduce effective
learning

Suggestions on languageinput

teachertalk
as well asstudenttalk are also offered

Introduction
English as an im portantinternationallanguage
has gained increasing attention from Chinese
educational institutions of different levels over
m ore than two decades

Every Chinese college

university graduate has atleastten years of English


learning experience

Many ofthem do very wellin


various English examinations

However

their
ability to use the language in real com munication
does not seem to conform to the score that they
have achieved

In the Western classroom



Chinese
students are generally quieter than their
counterparts from other countries

especially in
the first semester

In order to probe the causes of


such phenomena

I made a survey am ong 30


overseas Chinese students in Britain

The results
are sum marized as follows

The students

unbalanced English
develop mentis mainly due to the shortage
of oral exposure to the targetlanguage

The Chinese students



reticent behaviourin
the classroom cannot be entirely attributed
to cultural factors

poor language
proficiency and the past learning
experience are the main causes

Examination orientation

teachers

low
orallanguage proficiency as well asthe big
classsize are factorsthat affectthe present
EFL teaching in Chinese colleges and
universities

This survey shows that the main language


problems with the Chinese students are in oral
com munication

Then

how can we im prove our


EFL teaching in this aspect

While seeking
answers to the question

I notice that the recent
achievements in classroom research provide us
with much enlightening information

Literature review of classroo m research



It is acknowledged that the FL classroom
differs fro m other subject classrooms in that the
target language is both what is being taught and
the means by which itis being taught

Allwright

Bailey 1991

Taking the language as the learning


target

com petent learners are expected not only


to be good at the linguistic knowledge

but also to
be com petent in language use

which requires
adequate exposure to the language

In situations
where the target language is seldo m used outside
the classroom

the students

exposure to the target
language is therefore mainly in the classroom

Tsui1995

12

Itis

therefore

crucialto have a
com municative FL classroom

Then what kind of com munication is expected


in the FL classroom

To bridge the gap between
the classroom learning and the

real world

classroom com munication is expected to resemble
the real com m unication outside the classroom
while dealing with teaching and learning issues

6 5
McCarthy and Walsh

2002

hold that the
classroom has its own discourse

it is goal

oriented

and teaching goals and language use are


inextricably linked

In the classroom discourse

it
may be appropriate to engage in typical teacher
talk at one time and it may be advisable to get
students to exchange real information about
themselves and their worlds at so me other time

Appropriatenessin the classroom lies in a balance


between language as

display

and language as
genuine com m unication

loc

cit

An im portant aspect of com munication isthat


com munication is interactional because it involves
m ore than one person

When someone transmits a


message

there m ust be so meone to receive it

If
the receiver signals the reception of the message
and dem onstrates reaction which evokes further
reactions from the message sender or receiver

com munication in the form of interaction takes


place

In the classroom

the participants in the
interaction are the teacher and students

the
message to be transmitted is mainly the pedagogic
content

concerning which the language classroo m


is

a unique com municative context

Wilkinson
1982

where language is the means of


com munication

end of co m munication

and the
purpose oflearning itis forfuture com munication

Malamah

Tho mas

1987

points out that


classroom interaction is not a one

way action and


reaction but a reciprocal process

Only when the


participants constantly adjust their reactions to
each other

s previous actions can com munication
go on

Malamah

Thomas

1987

39

illustrates
the m utual reactions between the teacher and the
student

in the following figure

Adapted from Malamah

Tho mas 1987

39

This pattern of teaching and learning is


com monly seen in the classroom

For example

Teacher

What are we going to talk about


today

Student 1

AIDS
Teacher

Right

what is the title of the


passage we are going to read

Students

The Battle Against AIDS

Teacher

Yes

The Battle Against AIDS

Why do we take the disease so


seriously

Student 2

Pause

People die ofit

Teacher

Yes

as it is said in the Preview


part

no known cure exists

Anything else

Students

Finding the Preview and reading


from it

It spreads with frightening


speed

Teacher

That

s right

It is an enem y that
knows no nationallimits

In teaching Unit 5

New Horizon College


English

Book I

We can see fro m the exam ple thatthe teacher


acts upon the student and the student reacts

The
reaction

in the same way

acts upon the teacher

who in turn reacts and builds this into her


subsequent action

Such interactions involved in


the classroom are interpreted by so melinguistsin a
different way

In their research

Sinclair and Coulthard

1975

find that most interactions that take place


in the classroom follow a three

part pattern

i

the question

or Initiation

the answer

or
Response

and the feedback



or Follow

up

McCarthy

Walsh 2002

which is later widely


referred to as the IRF model

This exchange
model is typically initiated by the teacher

followed by a response from the student

and then
followed by the teacher

s feedback

The
interaction for one topic may involve more than
one IRFcycle

This can be seen fro m the exam ple


below

In a class after the students discussed an


essay written by one of them

the teacher tried to
pullthe students back to the teacher

class format
so asto allow studentsto

share

the fruits oftheir


laboursin groups

Katz 1996

68

The teacher
started the dialogue by asking

T

Anybody else in the room

is
there anything else you liked
about the paper except for the
fact thatit had a lot of details

S1

The title

R
-
Exchange
7 5
CELEA Journal

60
T

You liked the title

some
laughterin class

why did you like the title

S1

It is short and it im press the


reader

T

Okay

It got yourinterest

It was short

Okay

Iagree

F
I

F
-
Exchange

It

s a pretty clever title

I mean

when Isaw
It

s title

No

I

m Not a Buddhist

um

it
got my attention

ibid

with the exchange analysis added by


the author

Although classroo m interactions may emerge


in a variety of ways

IRF seems to be a most


com mon exchange pattern in classroom discourse

Contributions of classroo m interaction to


language input

language acquisition and


com m unicative com petence
3

1 Input

interaction and language acquisition


Classroom research showsthat whatis offered
by the teacher alone is not sufficient to make the
input co mprehensible

In his Interaction
Hypothesis

Long

1983

stresses the contribution


of the two

way co m munication to comprehensible


input

In his opinion

conversational adjustments
made during the negotiation of meaning create
com prehensible input and maximize learners

opportunities for second language acquisition

Allwright views interaction in the classroom


as the fundamental fact of classroom pedagogy
because

everything that happensin the classroom


happens through a process oflive person

to

person
interaction

Allwright 1984

156

He and other
researchers stress that classroom pedagogy
proceeds via a process of interaction during which
learning takes place

They believe that the


management of classroom interaction is not for its
own sake but for a purpose outside itself

the
advancement of learning

Allwright 1984

Allwright

Bailey 1991

2 Contributions of classroom interaction to


language input and com municative
competence

In the class when the input provided by the
teacher or the textbook is incom prehensible

classroom interaction offers the student

students
opportunities to ask for repetition

clarification or
confirmation

resulting in the teacher



s or the
peer

s negotiated modification of input

Through
such oral negotiation

the meaning becomes clear

the input is made com prehensible

The
following is an example of how the teacher

s
question is modified in the process of negotiation

Teacher

When was AIDS diagnosed in the


United States

question

Student1

Sorry

Ibeg your pardon

request
for repetition

Teacher

Okay

listen carefully

acknowledgement and request

When was AIDSdiagnosed

thatis

discovered by doctors in the United


States

m odified repetition

Student1

Sorry Idon

t know

answer

Teacher

Who else can find the information


from the passage

seeking help

Students

In the late 1970s

answer

Teacher

That

s right

confirmation

In teaching Unit 5

New Horizon College


English

Book I

From this classroom conversation we can see


that during the face

to

face interaction

the
teacher received the message thatthe student could
not catch her

She repeated the question as


requested

and did so in a m odified way

Forsome
reason this student failed to answer the question
again

butthe interactions proved to be effective

the other students gave a correct answer

which
was helpful to the first student

We see the
significance of such interaction at two points

Firstly

the interaction in the form of meaningful


negotiation facilitates the com prehension of the
input

increases the possibility that the input


beco mes intake

and

therefore

fosters the
student

s target language develop ment or
acquisition

Secondly

interaction involves the


studentin the language use practice

increases the
student

s exposure to the language

the interaction
itself enhances the student

s target language
acquisition and com municative com petence

The
contributions of classroo m interaction and its
relationship with co mprehensible input

intake

language acquisition and com municative


com petence are shown in the diagram below

The contributions of classroo m interaction
8 5
Enhancing Interaction in Our EFL Classroo m

Xu Mingzhi
and its relationship with co mprehensible input

intake

language acquisition and com municative


com petence

The broken lines represents the
possibility that co mprehensible input might still
make a direct contribution to language acquisition
and com municative com petence

adapted from
Allwright

Bailey 1991

123

Types of classroo m interaction


Itis true that classroo m interactions come in
many shapes and forms

van Lier 1988

and may
be in various com binations

In the classroom
aiming at teaching the target language

the types
ofinteractions often include

teacher speaking to the whole class

teacher speaking to an individual student


with the rest of the class as hearers

teacher speaking to a group of students

student speaking to teacher

student speaking to student

student speaking to group mem bers

student speaking to the whole class

cf

Malamah

Thomas 1987

The firsttwo types ofinteraction are the most


com monly occurring types in the language
classroom

They are characterised by the teacher


initiation

student

response and teacher follow

up pattern

referred to as the IRF exchange
structure

Much argument aboutthese two types of


interaction focuses on the teacher initiating
questions

So me researchers

Nunan 1987

Kumaravadivelu 1993

Thornbury 1996

criticize
those interactive exam ples initiated by the
teachers

display questions for their non

com municativeness and hold that real


com munication can only be realized in the
classrooms when the teachers

questions are of
referential questions

i

e

true information
questions

to which the teacher does not know
the answers

Some other researchers

van
Lier 1988

Seedhouse 1996

Cullen 1998

argue
that the pedagogical nature of the classroom
activities makes its discourse distinct to a certain
extent fro m the natural discourse outside the
classroom

In my opinion

whether classroom interaction
is com municative or not should not be judged by
whether the referential or display questions are
used

but by whether these questions are


meaningfulin the context

whether theinteraction
initiated by the questions prom otes the
com prehension of the language input and whether
the teacher

s questions elicit the students

responses out ofindependentthinking

The third type of interaction refers to the


teacher participating students

group work

helping
student go deep into the discussion by contributing
his

herideasto the subject

Atthistime

theteacher
plays a role of a facilitator oflearning

The fourth type ofinteraction meansthatitis


the learnerinstead ofthe teacher who initiatesthe
question

When this occurs

it is regarded as
learner initiative

Learner initiative is co m m on in
the learner

centred classroom

but rare in the
teacher

fronted classroom

The fifth and sixth types



student speaking
to student and student speaking to group mem bers

are usually called pair work and group work

the latterisinevitably linked to tasks

Researchers
advocating pair or group work believe that these
two types of interaction can provide m ore
opportunities for language production

and
collaborative work facilitateslearning

Student speaking to the whole class is the


seventh type of interaction that mainly occurs in
the student workshop or presentation

which is to
be discussed in Section 6 below

Essential factors of classroom interaction


5

1 Teacher talk
Both em pirical work and research indicate
that the quantity and quality of teacher talk
significantly affect students

behaviour in the
classroom and

hence

their learning

In a
traditionallanguage classroo m teachers did almost
all the talking

and teacher talk predominantly


focused on gram mar

error correction and pattern


drills

It seems that in order to give students


opportunities to speak

the teacher should reduce


teacher talk time

TTT

However

in the EFL
setting

where teacher talk is generally recognized


as a valuable source of com prehensible input

sim ply stressing the reduction of TTT may not be


appropriate or accepted by the learners

When
inviting students

opinions about English teaching

Ifound thatthey cared abouttheteacher



sinputso
much that they even neglected their poor oral
proficiency problem

Therefore

the teacher
needs to convince the students that they can
achieve more if they participate in the classroom
activities more actively

In addition to the quantity of teacher talk

9 5
CELEA Journal

60
the quality ofteachertalk attracts moreinterest of
this study

In the previous section

discussion on
display and referential questions has touched upon
one dimension of this variable

The teacher can


use questions of different kinds to stimulate the
students

participation

What is needed to be
further em phasized in this section is the affective
aspect of teacher talk

especially in the feedback


m ove

As Tsui

1995

43

points out

if a teacher
constantly provides negative feedbacks to student
talk

student questions or responses

it will

create a sense of failure and frustration among


students and willinhibitstudent contribution

On
the other hand

if a teacher

values every
contribution and provide encouraging feedback

m ostlikely it will motivate

the students to learn


and participate in class and will help to create a
warm and social climate in the classroom

Although many teachers have realized the


im portance of the harmonious interpersonal
relationship to learning

they still find it difficult


to arouse students

enthusiasm for learning
activities like topic discussion in the classroom

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves

Does our talk


enable the students to feel the classroom topic
relevantto them

We need to pay attention to a
few more aspects of teacher talk

such as

the
introductory remarks

warm

up questions

etc

Good opening talk and

or well

designed warm

up
questions

are helpful to stimulate students



interest in the material content and may bring
about com munication not only am ong the people
presentin the classroom but also with the material
writer asis expected

2 Student talk
Chinese students are generally quieter in
classrooms than their counterparts from other
countries

What are the main reasons for this

Moststudents attribute their inactive behaviour to


their poor oral proficiency of the language

Fear
of making mistakes is undoubtedly another key
factor that hinders students

oral participation

Some students choose to keep silent just to avoid


being laughed at by peers

If teachers expect m ore


students to open their mouths in class

a certain
degree of tolerance of oral errors is necessary

D rnyei

2001

proposes that teachers should


change the habit of correcting every single mistake
and give selective corrections instead

It is useful
for the students to understand that everyone
including the teacher may make errors in
speaking

and aslanguage learners while we try to


make conscious use of our linguistic knowledge to
inspect our oral production we give priority to
getting ourideas acrossin the targetlanguage

The
mistake that we make today will m ost probably be
avoided tom orrow

College

university students are typically full


of interesting ideas

but very often they lack


sufficient meansto expressthemselves orallyin the
English classroom

Therefore

it is necessary to
provide the students with some conversational
strategies

such as

paraphrase

approximation

appealing for help

asking for repetition



asking
for clarification and use of discourse markers to
take or hold the turn

etc

D rnyei

Thurrell
1994

Stenstr m 1994

It proves to be helpfulin
practice if the teacher can convey the messages
like the following to the students

Ido not mind if you interrupt me when I


speak

but betterin a way thatthe English


speaking people normally accept

Making mistakes and being corrected are


both natural things in language learning

Let us not care too much about them



Please try to use the language newly
learned because it has proved to be a good
way to im prove one

slong

term mem ory

In speaking

do not make excessive


demands of yourself and be tolerant of
others

errors

When one student breaks down in his

her
speech

other students

assistance is
welcome

Im plications and suggestions


Ihold that we should create a com municative
atmosphere in our English classrooms

because in
the EFL setting students

exposure to the target
language is largely in the classroom

In linguistic
terms

classroom interaction offers students


opportunities to negotiate meaning and

therefore

facilitates the comprehension of


language input and com m unicative competence
develop ment

In pedagogical terms

many
researchers hold that significantlearning will only
take place with the student

s full involvement

the student

s participation in classroom
interaction

Rogers 1969

Allwright 1984

Tsui
1995

In psychological terms

the teacher needs


to develop a close rapport with his

her students
and create a supportive atmosphere to encourage
students

participation

and in addition

the
students

com municative and cooperative
experience in the classroo m will develop their
0 6
Enhancing Interaction in Our EFL Classroo m

Xu Mingzhi
ability in social com munication and thus narrow
the gap between classroom learning and the needs
of

the real world

Then how can we have an interactive English


classroom

There is no doubt

the question

and

answer pattern of interactions is easiest to handle


in EFL classrooms

This method is effective in


both small

and large

size classes

Other
techniques that can facilitate student

student
interaction in the form of group work are
recom mended below

1

Jigsaw task
Jigsaw task is a cooperative learning
technique

in which the teacher divides an article


or the content to be discussed into several parts
and delegates only one part of the task to each
group

After group discussion



the group speaker
presents their remarks on the issue in turn

In
doing a Jigsaw task

the students have to negotiate


for meaning because of the information gap

and
the genuine com munication takes place

For
flexible ways of Jigsaw task

see Aronson

Blaney

Spikes

Snapp 1978

Previdi 1999

Johnson 1995

Group report on a number of questions


The procedure of another technique is as
follows

The students are asked to form groups


with three or four students

Four or five questions


relevantto the subject of the class are handed out
to each group

The questions for each group can


be the same or different asin doing a Jigsaw task

Then give the students ten minutes

m ore or less
depending on the difficulty of the questions

to
discuss the questions

When time is up

ask one
member of each group to report the group
discussion result of one question to the whole class

The advantages of this technique are many

For
example

firstly

group members are usually active


in their discussion because of the existence of
com petition am ong groups

secondly

the ideas or
language means contributed by his

her partners
can make the speaker of the group feel easier to
acco mplish the task

thirdly

the technique can be


used flexibly

when time is plenty

every member
of the group can get a chance to speak

When itis
not

each group may only have one representative


to talk about one question

leaving other questions


to other groups

The group work was done


successfully with this technique in the class that I
observed and taught

The student workshop or presentation


The student workshop or presentation

I
think

is m ost worth recom mending at the college


and university level

Itis a highly learnerinitiative


activity

in which students are required to


demonstrate the principles and techniques they
have learned after each major unit of the course

Previdi 1999

and play exactly the role of the


teacher

They need to have a good digestion ofthe


topic that they deal with and take charge of the
whole working process

from writing handouts

designing tasks

organizing classroo m activities

answering the students



and

sometimes

the
teacher

s questions and sum marizing the
principles

Student presentation can be a


collaborating project undertaken by a small group

The oral presentation before the whole classis the


final product of the cooperative work

The
preparation stage and the final show are both
significant in terms of learning and competence
develop ment

Em pirically

I add a few more points here

First

if the student workshop is taken as part of


the syllabus

the timetable for each topic should be


arranged at the beginning of the term and let the
students decide which topic to choose

The
students with the sameinterest may naturally form
a group

Second

although presentation is the


students

work

the teacher should be ready to


provide help

for exam ple

listening to the
students

ideas about the topic

looking at the
students

proposalor plan

reco m mending readings


and giving advice to ensure that the students
present their best work to the whole class

While
the students play the leading role in teaching

the
teacher should be an active participant in class
activities

Third

as students have to devote much


time and effort to give the presentation

this part
of work should be assessed and reflected in their
academic report

which may further encourage the


students to take the work more seriously

Conclusion
In view of the increasing com municative
needs on the EFL users

thisstudy makes a special


effort to find and recom mend practical ways that
can im prove classroom com m unication and
conduce effective learning

Suggestions have been


made on language input

teacher talk as well as


student talk

including

Increasing the use of authentic materialsto


narrow the gap between classroom learning
to real world needs and stimulating
students

interestin English learning

1 6
CELEA Journal

60
Improving the quality of teacher talk by
taking care that the initiate questions

whether they are display or referential


ones

are appropriate and can stimulate


students

involvement and making sure that
the teacher

s feedback helps learning and

at the same time

also foster students



enthusiasm for participation

Introducing different types of interactive


activities with the help of so me techniques
that enable the cooperative learning to
take place even in a relatively big class

Student presentation

which can bring the


students

potential into full play

is
strongly recom mended here

However

this study is not advocating casual

drifting chatter in the classroom

van Lier 1988

It stresses the im portance of classroom oral


interaction based on the belief that the EFL
classroom should provide learners

with maximum
exposure to the target language to enhance their
learning and develop their com municative
com petence

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D

K

Bailey

1991

Focus on the
Language Classroom

Cambridge

Cam bridge
University Press

Allwright

1984

The importance of interaction


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Applied
Lingustics 5

156

171

Aronson

Blaney

Spikes

P

Snapp

1978

The Jigsaw Classroom

Beverly Hills

CA

Sage

Cullen

1998

Teacher talk and the classroom


context

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179

187

D rnyei

2001

Motivational Strategies in the


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Cam bridge
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D rnyei

Z

S

Thurrell

1994

Teaching
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Course content
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1

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49

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1995

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Nunan

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Voices
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M

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J

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2 6
Enhancing Interaction in Our EFL Classroo m

Xu Mingzhi