THE PRINCIPLES OF INFORMATION GAP AND OPINION GAP TO SUITABLE TRADITIONAL EXERCISES
I want you to communicate. This means that I want you to understand others and to make yourself understandable to them. These sound like the obvious goals of every language learner, but I think these simple goals need to be emphasized, because learners too often get diverted from them and fall into more of a struggle with the mechanics of grammar and pronunciation that they should. Learners can become timid about using what they know for fear of making horrible mistakes with what they don’t know. All the attention paid to the mechanics of communication sometimes gets in the way of communication itself.
In the early lessons of many language courses, students are encouraged to concentrate heavily upon pronunciation and grammar, while vocabulary is introduced only very slowly. The idea seems to be that even if one has very little to say, that little bit should be said correctly. Students can worry a great deal about the machinery of language, but they worry rather little about real communicating much of anything. Under such circumstances, learners have to think about an awful lot of things in order to construct even a simple sentence. They are supposed to force their mouths to produce sounds that seem ridiculous. They have to grope desperately for words that they barely know. They have to perform mental gymnastic trying to remember bizarre grammatical rules. All these challenges are a fatal distraction from what skillful speakers worry about – the message that they want to convey. If early learners have to worry about getting everything correct, they cannot hope to day anything very interesting. They simply cannot do everything at once and emerge with any real sense of success.
À prime instance of this use is classroom discourse,
i.e. getting things done in the lesson. Sometimes real communicative situations develop spontaneously, as in exchanging comments on last night’ s TV programme or introduction someone’ s new haircut. The majority of ordinary language teaching situations before reaching an advanced level, however, are geared towards language-oriented communication or what Rivers calls ‘skill-getting’: they make use of the foreign language mainly in structural exercises and predetermined responses by the learners. Since foreign language teaching should help students achieve some kind of communicative skill in the foreign language, àll situations in which real communication occurs naturally have to be taken advantage of and many more suitable ones have to be created.
Two devices help the teacher in making up communicative activities: information gap and opinion gap. Information-gap exercises force the participants to exchange information in order to find a solution (e.g. reconstitute a text, solve a puzzle, write a summary). Problem-solving activities. Opinion gaps are created by exercise or program controversial texts or ideas, which require the participants to describe and perhaps defend their views on these ideas. Another type of opinion- gap activity can be organised by letting the participants share their feelings about an experience they have in common. Furthermore, learning a foreign language is not just a matter of memorising a simple set of names for the things around us; it is also an educational experience. Since our language is closely linked with our personality and culture, why not use the process of acquiring a new language to gain further insights into our personality and culture? This does not mean that students of a foreign language should submit to psychological exercises or probing interviews, but simply that, for example, learning to talk about their likes and dislikes and bring about a greater awareness of their values and aims in life. Many of the activities are concerned with the learners themselves. For learners who are studying English in a non-English-speaking setting it is very important to experience real communicative situation in which they learn to express their own views and attitudes, and in which they are taken seriously as people.
As applying the principles of information gap and opinion gap to suitable traditional exercises the teacher can change them into more challenging communicative situations. Thus the well-known procedure at beginner’s level of having students describe each other’s appearance is transformed into a communicative activity as soon as an element of guessing (information gap) is introduced. However, not all exercises can be spruced up like this. Manipulative drills that have no real topic have to remain as they are. Information and opinion-gap exercises have to hav some content worth talking about. Students do not want to discuss trivia; the interest which is aroused by the structure of the activity may be reduced or increased by the topic.
Many of the activities are concerned with the learners themselves. Their feelings and ideas are the focal point of these exercises, around which a lot of their foreign language activity revolves. For learners who are studying English in a non-English-speaking setting it is very important to experience real communicative situation in which they learn to express their own views and attitudes, and in which they are taken seriously as people. Traditional textbook exercises — however necessary and useful they may be for all- communicative grammar practice — do not as a rule forge a link between the learners and the foreign language in such a way that the learners identify with it. Meaningful activities on a personal level can be a step towards this identification, which improves performance and generates interest. And, of course, talking about something which affects them personally is eminently motivating for students.
А lot of the activities will run themselves as soon as they get under way. The teacher then has tо decide whether to join in the activity as an equal member (this may sometimes be unavoidable for pair work in classes with an odd number of students) or remain in the background to help and observe. The first alternative has а number of advantages: for example the psychological distance between teacher and students may bе reduced when students get tо know their teacher better. Of course, the teacher has to refrain from continually correcting the students or using her greater skill in the foreign language tо her advantage. If the teacher joins in the activity, she will then nо longer be able to judge independently and give advice and help to other groups, which is the teacher’s major role if she does not participate directly. А further advantage of non-participation is that the teacher may unobtrusively observe the performance of several students in the foreign language and note common mistakes for revision at а later stage. А few activities, mainly jigsaw tasks, require the teacher to withdraw completely from the scene.
Whatever method is chosen, the teacher should be careful not to correct students’ errors too frequently. Being interrupted and corrected makes the students hesitant and insecure in their speech when they should really be practising communication. It seems far better for the teacher to use the activities for observation and со help only when help is demanded bу the students themselves; even then they should be encouraged to overcome their difficulties by finding alternative ways of expressing what they want tо say. There is а list of speech acts which may bе needed for the activities and the relevant section may be duplicated and given as handouts to help the students.
The List of Used Literature
- Burt, M,K, and H. C. Dulay (eds.) (1975). New Directions in Second Language Learning, Teaching and Bilingual Education. Washington: TESOL.
- Chamberlin, A. And A. Wright (1974). What Do You Think? London: Longman
- Cole,P. (1970). “An adaption of group dynamic techniques to foreign language teaching.”TESOL Quaterly 4 No. 4, pp. 353 – 360
- Dobson, J.M. (1974). Effective Techniques for English Conversation Groups. Rowley, : Newbury House.
- Dubin, F and M. Margol (1977). It’s Time To Talk: Communication activities for learning English as a new language. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice – Hall.
- Green K. (1975). “Values clarification theory in ESL and bilingual education.” TESOL Quaterly 9 No. 2, pp. 155 – 164.