I always start the school year introducing or revising communication strategies that students can use to overcome the problems they may face in communicating a message:
Communication strategies are potentially conscious plans for solving what to an individual presents itself as a problem in reaching a particular communicative goal.
— Færch & Kasper (1983)
Asking for help, explaining the word or idea and using similar words are just a few of the strategies the students can identify, and putting them into practice is what the following activitiy is all about:
1. Tell the students they have five minutes to finish the picture (see below). They should not be able to see each other’s pictures or write their names.
2. Collect the pictures, shuffle them, and show one of them to the rest of the class.
3. Explain that they are going to take turns describing each picture which may allow for multiple interpretations and for which we may lack vocabulary. Compare it with everyday communication and the problems we usually face both as native and non-native speakers. Emphasise that if students give up or use their first language, they are missing an important opportunity to acquire new language.
4. Elicit paraphrasing structures: “It’s a kind/type of…”, “It’s like…”, “It’s used for…”, “It looks….”, “It seems…”, “It’s the shape of…”, “It’s made of…”, “It’s the size of…”, “It’s similar to…”, and so on.
5. Students take turns describing the pictures orally. Notice that some pictures will be abstract or contain elements for which we lack vocabulary in any language.
6. Reshuffle the pictures, give a few to each team, and have them create a story based on them.