Walk and Talk – An activity to lower communication apprehension
Language learning anxiety
For many of my learners, language learning anxiety in the classroom is a big issue. More specifically, many of my students suffer with communication apprehension. This certainly impacts on their behaviour in class. I teach quite a few speaking classes and it can be a real challenge getting the learners to relax and actively participate in class. I always try to make the atmosphere of the class good, and I work hard to implement motivational strategies to help with this, but there is always a degree of apprehension amongst many of the students.
I am perhaps more aware of this because of one of my own experiences learning Japanese. I have never been a particularly confident language learner, and one experience I had a number of years back will stay with me for the rest of my years. I had been out of Japan for a couple of years and on return wanted to continue my studies. I therefore joined a Japanese class. I spoke to the teacher prior to the class and she said I would be at a lower level than the others, but she was willing to let me have a go. She told me that they would be learning from chapter 15 of the textbook and I should bring it along to the class. I was quite nervous and I wanted to be prepared, so I spent about five hours going through the chapter before the class met. Unfortunately, my preparations were fruitless as the teacher had made a mistake and they were actually covering chapter 16. That was one of the longest and most agonizing hours of my life. In that one hour, I fully learned what language learning anxiety and communication apprehension was. It was horrible.
What I learned
I try to keep that memory close to the front of my mind when planning lessons and developing activities. That is why the following activity is one of my favorites. It is a great activity that can be applied to almost any class and really helps minimalize anxiety and gives the learner the confidence to express themselves at the level they are capable of. Furthermore, it requires no preparation and is very easy to set up. I have seen two excellent teachers put slightly different versions of this into practice, so the instructions you see below are my take on the best of what I saw from these teachers.
Walk and talk activity
I have called the activity “Walk and Talk” because that is exactly what happens! It really is that simple. The students walk around, or outside the classroom, and talk with a partner. Here is how I set it up.
Number each student either one or two.
Ask all the students who were given the number one to stand up and make a line at the side of the classroom.
Ask all the remaining seated students to go and find a partner.
Give the class a topic to talk about. For a lower level class this can be something as simple as a couple questions, but really anything is okay.
Demonstrate to the class that you want them to walk in laps around the outside of the classroom and talk with their chosen partner. They will form a long line of pairs and all follow the same path. I also like to play loud music while they walk. I do this to help remove the apprehension that another couple, or me the teacher, can listen in on their conversation.
After a minute or two, I ask the students to stop walking and ask all the people assigned as a number one to move forward to the next partner. They then continue walking and talking.
I repeat this several times until they have walked and talked with five or six different partners. In my classes, this has worked especially well as a warm up activity. The students really seem to enjoy the freedom to wander around the perimeter of the class and chat with their friends.
I presented this activity at a conference a couple of years ago and I was asked how I assess this activity. The simple answer is I don’t! I back off and trust the students to speak in English. I make sure there is no way I can listen in on their conversation. I think this in particular really helps to reduce their anxiety and communication apprehension. What do you think? Have you done anything similar? I would love to hear any other activities you do to help minimalize anxiety.