Analysis of oral communication-oriented activities in junior high school textbooks: Focusing on task criteria proposed by second language research

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In the field of language teaching research, the importance of meaningful interactions and oral communication activities have been pointed out repeatedly. In English language teaching in Japan, this importance has also been recognized by some teachers, although gradually. In this study we analyzed 3 textbooks used in Japanese junior high schools, referring to task criteria (e.g., Ellis, 2003; Ellis & Shintani, 2014) that were developed for the purpose of promoting authentic meaningful communication. There were 4 task criteria: (a) the focus is on meaning, (b) there is a gap, (c) the learners rely on their own linguistic or nonlinguistic resources, and (d) learners’ language use is not used to assess achievement. We examined whether or not the oral-communication-oriented activities in the textbooks met these criteria. The textbook analysis indicated that the majority of the activities presented did not meet the task criteria. Among the four criteria, (c)—the learners rely on their own resources—was met the least. In most of the cases, linguistic resources such as conversation examples and lexical items were provided for the students, and the only thing the students needed to do was to use those resources. On the other hand, almost half of the activities met (b)—there is a gap—and this was the most easily satisfied criterion. We gave careful consideration to what kind of learner language proficiency development can be expected if classroom teachers use these communication-oriented activities as they appear in the textbook. In doing so, we considered the results obtained from previous SLA research. The fact that most of the activities in the textbooks did not meet the task criteria means that, if they are not modified appropriately, they would prevent language learners from engaging in voluntary grammatical encoding and negotiation of meaning. For example, as most of the activities did not meet criteria (c), the students can hardly experience grammatical encoding because they do not need to think about what linguistic form they should use to convey the meaning. Also, the fact that the focus of the task was not on meaning would result in a serious lack of meaningful negotiation, and therefore the students would miss precious opportunities to get comprehensible input through negotiation of meaning. In sum, the activities presented in the textbooks we analyzed were not enough to guarantee that the students would participate in negotiation of meaning and experience necessary cognitive processing during speaking, both of which are the essence of SLA. We do not propose that the activities should not be used or that they are useless. Rather, we believe that it is worthwhile to think of the communication-oriented activities with task criteria in mind in order to ensure the development of learners’ language proficiency. In addition, teachers should modify the activities to enable the students to focus on meaning and to communicate using their own resources. The results of this study provide useful insights for teachers who want to make their classes more communicative and to have the students engage in meaningful conversation.

Fukuta, J., Tamura, Y., Kurita, A. (2017). Analysis of oral communication-oriented activities in junior high school textbooks: Focusing on task criteria proposed by second language research. JALT Journal, 36, 165182

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