Unit 1: Communicating Effectively


Very often our understanding of grammar is limited to the rules of sentence formation, which are taught through classroom exercises involving the transformation of isolated (and unrelated) sentences from one grammatical category to another. For example, we are all familiar with exercises that require the students to changes sentences from active to passive voice and vice versa. Exercises such as these at best make students remember the rule, but do not give any practice in using that grammatical form meaningfully for real communication. As language teachers, our objective is not to teach the content found in grammar books (i.e., the rules), but to enable students to use appropriate vocabulary and structures in meaningful communicative contexts. This unit will focus on familiarising you with communicative grammar and activities that deal with developing grammatical competence.

Unit outcomes

By the end of this unit, you should be able to:



  • help your students engage in informal conversational English for real-life communicative purposes,

  • involve your students in activities that encourage them to speak about themselves, their daily routines and their future plans, and

  • help your students perform certain language functions using appropriate grammar and vocabulary.


Communicative grammar:

This is the grammar of utterances — that is, words that we actually use in communicative situations, rather than the sentence grammar that discusses the rules of correct use. Communicative grammar teaches students to use the language appropriately in meaningful situations to perform functions such as accepting or rejecting an invitation, or providing and getting information, and is built around topics rather than grammar rules.

Communicative strategies:

These are the skills that speakers use to communicate their feelings effectively so that the attention of the listener is drawn to the meaning the speaker wishes to convey through the utterances, rather than the grammatical form. Communicative strategies also include the ability of people to respond appropriately in conversation, whether the situation is formal (classrooms, meetings, ceremonies) or informal (parties, family events, festivals).

Slow colloquial:

This is a deliberate and simplified form of English used with non-native speakers to help them understand what is being said.

Teacher support information

As English teachers, we need to engage students in using English for meaningful activities where they have an opportunity to communicate for a real purpose. These are similar to the purposes for which they use their home language, except that the situations in which they need to use English may be different. In other words, students should be involved in situations where they need to speak or write in English to fulfil a communicative need such as getting information, seeking clarification, asking for permission, requesting a classmate to lend a pen and so on. In engaging students in communicative tasks, however, remember that second-language learners of English almost always have problems with certain grammatical structures, depending on both their home languages and their school backgrounds. If you can identify these problems as you engage your students in classroom activities, you can design remedial exercises to help them address their errors.

Lack of confidence and fear of committing errors in front of others are other issues that you may have to cope with. If you create a relaxed atmosphere and group the students appropriately, even the shy ones will begin to speak.

In the initial stage, with slower learners, you may have to deliberately go slow colloquial to ensure that even the weakest students can follow what you are saying. It also helps if you group students in such a way as to let them learn from one another.

Case study

Case study

Miss Monica Smith, a JSS teacher in Nepal, found that when a famous mountaineer visited the school and asked her 14-year-old students about their future plans, they avoided looking at the guest and kept quiet. Later she asked them why they had behaved like that, especially because only the previous week they had had a similar conversation in their activities class. Very shyly, one student told her that they did not feel confident about conversing with such famous people in English. Another added that they did not know how to begin or respond in a conversation.

Monica discussed this problem with her colleague Mr Thapa from the Counselling office. They decided to hold proficiency sessions for an hour every day after school, for about a month. With the children sitting comfortably in a circle around them, Monica and Mr Thapa conducted a conversation on a particular profession every day. The students were asked to listen carefully and then do some written exercises based on the conversation. In the first week, the students were asked only to listen and complete the worksheets so that they began to understand English spoken at normal conversational speed, and also to pick up words related to various professions.

In the second week, Monica handed around worksheets containing conversations about professions, which the students, sitting in groups of four, had to fill in. Each group then had to select two members to do a role play on the script. After every presentation, the teachers and other students would comment on how it could be improved. By the third week, Monica and Mr Thapa were including students in their own conversation. They would call out names randomly, and the student would have to join the conversation at that point.

After a month of such intense practice, Monica called in another guest and had her students interact with her. This time, the students were warm and confident, and had many things to discuss with the guest, who was very impressed. The principal decided to include such proficiency classes in the curriculum from that academic session onwards. What was interesting was that Monica and Mr Thapa did not use any grammatical terminology in their class — they simply familiarised the students with the appropriate structures through practice.

Points to ponder

  1. Do your students face similar problems in interacting with people in English?

  2. What strategies do you use with your students to encourage them to converse in English?


Activity 1: Asking for and giving information: Talking about professions

Activity 1

This activity should familiarise your students with the grammatical structures used to ask for and give information in authentic (real-life) situations. One such situation is talking about professions and jobs. For this activity, follow the steps below. Remember to share with the students the explanations given (e.g., the definition of regular activities) at each point. Ask them to note down two sentences about their parents’ professions. (For example: My father is an engineer with the Public Works department./My mother works as a doctor in Fortis hospital.) Each student should then share the information with a partner. Ask them to use the following pattern (you can write this sample structure on the board):

  1. What does your father/mother do?

  2. My father/mother is a teacher. He/she works at Nairobi High School.

Ask the students, working in pairs, to make a list of three professions that interest them. Have the pairs team up into groups of four then ask each other about their chosen professions. The students should use the following structures when they talk (this dialogue cue can be written either on the board or on paper handouts):

  1. What would you like to do/be when you finish your studies?

  2. I’d like to be a __________, because _______________.

Have your students listen to the audio recording in Resource 1: Exchanging information and answer these questions:

  1. What is Nicholas planning to do when he finishes college?

  2. What are the two reasons why Maria has decided not to become a doctor?

  3. Working with a partner, write down two things you could suggest to Maria to make her want to study medicine in your country.

  4. Between Nicholas and Maria, who is giving their information more clearly? Listen to the dialogue once again and fill in the blanks in the sentences below:

    1. Nicholas and Maria are meeting after _____ years.

    2. Nicholas will join _______________ after college.

    3. Maria always had a _______________ dream.

    4. A medical degree can be very _______________.

    5. As a girl, Maria is expected to stay __________ and __________ after marriage.

Activity 2: Building students’ exchanges around everyday events

Activity 2

Encouraging students to talk about familiar situations, such as events and interactions at school, at home and in society, is an effective way of developing their fluency and grammatical competence. Activity 2 gives you a set of steps you can use to build up a situation based on everyday activities. This activity will give your students practice in the use of the simple present tense and adverbs of frequency. For this activity, take the students through the steps described in Resource 2: Working with everyday events.

Activity 3: Describing a process

Activity 3

A common function of language is describing a process; that is, how something works. Process description is different from static description; the former means describing how something works, while the latter refers to describing an object, a person or an event.

When describing people, for example, we consider two things: their physical appearance and their personality. To describe how something works, however, we not only have to describe the appearance of the objects needed for the process to work, we also have to give a step-by-step account of how to make the thing work. For example, to describe the process of making a cup of tea, we need to list the ingredients needed, the tools required and the steps that will result in getting a hot cup of tea. As you are aware, process description uses particular kinds of sentence structure and specialised vocabulary. For example, we can use the following styles to describe the process of making a cup of tea:

  1. First we must boil a cup of water in a pot. While the water is boiling, we must take a teacup and add a spoonful of sugar to it. Then we must take…

  2. First boil a cup of water in a pot. While the water is boiling, take a teacup and add a spoonful of sugar to it. Then take…

In the first style, we use statements with modal verbs, while in the second we use directives. When we teach students to describe a process, we are giving them practice in using specific grammatical structures and vocabulary to communicate in a real-life situation. In short, we are teaching them communicative grammar.

For this activity, first have the students brainstorm on the kinds of things they can do by themselves — prepare food (an omelette, soup, a meal, etc.), practise origami (paper designs), mend (replace a burst tyre), or operate something (sending a text message on a mobile phone) and so on.

Ask one student to describe a process, and have the other students give feedback on the description: whether all the steps were mentioned, the ingredients or tools included, etc. Have a short discussion on how the description could have been improved.

Then give the students, working in groups, three sets of sample descriptions like those in Resource 3a. Ask them to select the best one, and to say what makes it good. During the feedback session, bring to their notice the merits of the best description.

To have them practise process description, give them a guided task to do in pairs, such as the one given in Resource 3b. Have them peer correct under your supervision. During the feedback session, alert them to the specific structures and vocabulary used.

Ask the students, working in groups, to describe a process from a list of choices (you can decide what your students will be capable of/interested in describing, and make your list). Have a group representative present their description in class, and edit the draft according to suggestions given by you and the other students.

Unit summary


In this unit we looked at how to teach communicative grammar effectively focusing on the functions and social contexts that students are likely to find themselves in. In authentic communication situations, people are less self-conscious, and so can focus more on expressing themselves meaningfully. In such situations, mastering grammar rules is not the objective, and hence the structures used are likely to become absorbed more quickly. The activities described above should inspire you to design your own communicative grammar exercises.



  • Do you think your students will enjoy doing the activities in this unit?

  • What other topics from real-life situations can you turn into suitable classroom activities?

  • Do you think it would be a good idea to ask students for such topics? What benefits and problems do you foresee?



  • The strategies used in this unit to practise grammar are not found in traditional grammar practice books. Which of these approaches are you and your students more comfortable with: learning grammar through rules, or practising grammar through classroom activities? Find out what your colleagues think about this.


Resource 1: Exchanging information

Resource 1


Schoolmates Nicholas and Maria meet by chance at a popular café in the city after several years.

Maria: Oh... hi! Aren’t you Nicholas?

Nicholas: Yeah. It’s Maria, isn’t it? My goodness, you’ve changed so much I wouldn’t have recognised you! It’s been... say... five years, right?

Maria: Mmm... So what are you doing these days?

Nicholas: Studying for my degree in architecture. I’m planning to join my father’s firm after college. What about you? Still following your doctor dream?

Maria: Oh no... I gave that up!

Nicholas: Really? But I remember you always announcing how you’d become a doctor and serve the poor...

Maria: Forget it... let’s go and have a drink... Come on, I’ll treat you to a large chocolate shake!

Nicholas: Maria, what’s wrong?

Maria: Nothing much... Dad lost his business and I lost my chance... a medical degree is so very expensive here... and that’s only the first reason...

Nicholas: What’s the second?

Maria: My family wants me to get married and not waste five years studying for a degree I won’t need.

Nicholas: That’s terrible! Come to my country... things are much better there... and you can still study medicine....


Resource files

See enclosed in the DVD a video recording of the activity:

  • Scripts\Module6\Unit1\Activity1\Resource1\Video\Exchanging_Information.mp4


If you have trouble playing the video, you can have your students listen to the audio recording (below) of the same conversation:

  • Scripts\Module6\Unit1\Activity1\Resource1\Audio\Exchanging_Information.mp3

Resource 2: Working with everyday events

Resource 2


  1. Look at these activities. Which of these do you do regularly?
    1. swim

    2. watch English movies

    3. eat Chinese food

    4. listen to music

    5. wake up at 6:00 a.m.

    6. take a bath with warm water

    7. wear Western outfits

    8. go for a walk

  2. Which of the above activities do you do?

    1. every day

    2. once a week

    3. every evening

    4. only at night

    5. sometimes

  3. Activities that are repeated very often are called regular activities. Share one of your regular activities with a partner. For example:

I wear Western outfits once a week for my salsa class.

  1. Now look at the table below. Complete the table with two things that your work partner does.

Column 1

Column 2

every morning


1. Make breakfast


twice a day




only on holidays




every year




very rarely




Grammar points:

  1. To talk about events that happen regularly, we use the simple present tense.

  2. We also use expressions like every morning, twice a week, sometimes and so on. These are called frequency expressions because they describe something that happens at regular intervals of time.

  1. Read the passage below. It describes how Reena spends her time every week. After you have read it, discuss it with a partner and write a similar paragraph using the information from the table above.

Reena wakes up at 5:30 every morning. She listens to her favourite hymns on CD for two hours every day, and prays two times a day. Every afternoon she jogs a kilometre in the park, and takes a hot shower. She swims once a week in the pool on the terrace. On Sundays she cooks a special dinner for her family. Reena attends parties on weekends, and dresses in Western outfits for these parties.

Resource 3a: Process description: How to send an email

Resource 3a

Description 1

To send an email, we must go to the main display page of the computer, which is called the Desktop. Then we must click on the Browser icon — the symbol that helps us connect to the Internet. When we are connected, we must type the address of the email service provider (Gmail/Rediffmail/Hotmail/In.com, etc.). Once the homepage of the email provider is displayed, we must type our username and password in the space provided, and click on the Login button. When our Inbox is displayed, we must select Compose Mail and click on it. This will take us to the page where we can type our email. On that page, we must type or select the email address of the recipient, write the Subject and then type our message in the space provided. The format of the email is like a letter, except that we do not have a place to sign. Once our email is ready, we must click on the Send button. Our email will immediately be sent to the receiver. This is how we send an email.

Description 2

To send an email, go to the main display page of the computer, which is called the Desktop. Then click on the Browser icon — the symbol that will help you connect to the Internet. When you are connected, type the address of the email service provider (Gmail/Rediffmail/Hotmail/In.com, etc.) When the homepage of the email provider is displayed, type your username and password in the space provided, and click on the Login button. When the Inbox is displayed, select Compose Mail and click on it. This will take you to the page where you can type your email. On that page, type or select the email address of the recipient, write the Subject, and then type your message in the space provided. The format of the email is like a letter, except that you do not have to sign it. Once your email is ready, click on the Send button. Your email will immediately be sent to the receiver. This is how you send an email.

Description 3

Sending an email is so easy! You can do it in a jiffy! All you need to do is connect to the Internet. Then get on to the homepage of your email service provider (Gmail/Rediffmail/Hotmail/In.com, etc.), and log in by keying in your username and password. This will take you straight to your Inbox. Click on Compose Mail and type or select the email address of the recipient. Write the subject and type in the email in the space provided. Write your mail the same way you’d write a normal letter, except that you don’t put your signature on an email. When it’s done, click on the Send button. Your email will be sent to the receiver right away! This is how you send an email.

Resource 3b: Process description: Wrapping a gift

Resource 3b


My friend Anita wants to learn how to wrap a gift. I want to help her. Complete my description of gift-wrapping process, filling in the blanks with the appropriate words.

To wrap a gift, we need __________. For the wrapping, first we must put the gift in a cardboard box and fix the lid tightly with sticky tape. Then we must take a sheet of __________ matching the size of the gift. Taking care to keep the paper straight, we must wrap it around __________, and fix it on the box with __________. Once the broad sides of the gift have been wrapped, we must start tucking in __________. When the wrapping is done, we can decorate it with __________. Then __________ fix a card on it to __________. Our wrapping is now __________.

Teacher question and answer


Question: How can I use a communicative approach to teach grammar, which is presented only as grammatical structures in the syllabus?

Answer: The current research shows some positive effects of the direct teaching of grammar. Communicative grammar approaches do not entirely abandon grammar; they only insist that it be taught in the context of meaningful communication. They also suggest that fluency should come before grammatical accuracy. In the classroom, you could get around this problem by using communicative methodology to teach the grammatical points.