When it comes to the different language skills (i.e. speaking, reading, listening, writing) the speaking skill is known to be the most difficult skill to learn and master. It can also be daunting for non-native speakers as one rarely gets second chances when communicating with others.
It is therefore crucial that English teachers aim to get their students speaking as much as possible during lessons (unless the objective of the lesson requires otherwise), as this prepares and challenges students in a learning format that has the most payoff. They may find it challenging to speak out loud in front of their classmates, especially if they are required to speak spontaneously. However, when out in public, the case is the same and one has even fewer chances as the public is less forgiving than those inside a language learning classroom!
Communicative activities are activities that require students to get speaking out loud, regardless of whether the accuracy of their speech is completely correct or not (whether grammatical structures, pronunciation, vocabulary, etc). The main aim is to simply get students speaking as much as possible (within reason) as this is where effective learning will take place.
Because of this, communicative activities don’t need to be complicated at all, although the complexity of an activity can be adjusted depending on the level of the students. You may find with many communicative activities, the activity itself is rather straightforward, but how a teacher presents the activity makes all the difference in how students receive and enjoy the activity.
A straightforward example of a communicative activity could be a simple classroom survey or mingle, where students are given worksheets with various questions thereon, and they are required to walk around and collect the relevant answers from their peers. This “forces” students to practice their speaking skills as well as their question formations. Should a teacher have a larger class on their hand (e.g. 30 students), they will not be able to listen to each and every student at the same time. They can however go around monitoring what they hear and correct any common mistakes after the survey/mingle. Although students may be making mistakes while they are speaking to their peers, this is a crucial aspect of learning as once again this is similar to how native English speakers learn the language.
Students also have the opportunity to practice their listening and reading skills as a by-product of this activity, so communicative activities often allow for skill development with other language skills.
The reason communicative activities are so important for English students is due to the fact that speaking is the skill that is most in-demand in the professional world (within reason). In general, non-native English speakers can acquire better and higher-paying jobs due to their ability to speak English fluently. Speaking English (sometimes even to a semi-fluent level) can therefore make a stark difference in someone’s quality of lifestyle. This is why so much emphasis is placed on speaking skill within the ESL industry and community.
Communicative activities are also important as they encourage students to throw their skills out there and not overthink what they are going to say. This is similar to how people at large interact in the real world. One cannot always prepare what they are going to say as unexpected encounters happen frequently on a day-to-day basis, assuming a person is living a typical lifestyle. Communicative activities allow students to practice spontaneous conversing, which causes them to sharpen their skills quickly and automatically due to being “forced” to communicate.
In conclusion, students learn to speak most authentically when learning to do so in an everyday manner, as this is how native speakers learn their language. Communicative activities help students break out of their shells either through confidence or through practicing the most difficult language skill to master – speaking!