Helping students to notice their own use of communication strategies

Joseph Wood, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies


Quick guide

  • Key words: Communication strategies (CSs), recording, usage, noticing, self-monitoring
  • Learner English level: Intermediate to advanced
  • Learner maturity level: University students (all levels)
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 20-25 minutes
  • Materials: Blank white sheets of paper, lists of CSs, and digital audio recorders



Recording activities in class can be improved or refocused and geared specifically towards building a stronger strategic awareness among students. Many of my students were using communication strategies (CSs) in their conversations, but often did not realize it. By recording their conversations and then afterwards listening for CSs they had used, your students can begin to notice how and when they use CSs and determine just how useful they are.



Before the day of the class, make sure you have enough digital recorders and papers for the students. Students could also be given the option to record their conversations using their cell phones if the teacher sees fit or if getting enough digital recorders poses a problem.



Step 1: Explain to the students that they are going to do a no pressure practice recording and that they can even pick their own partner. After pairs are made, pass out a digital recorder to each pair. One goal of this recording activity is to not only give students recording practice, but to also let them have a fun and positive recording experience. The topic is at the discretion of the teacher.

Step 2: Distribute the recorders to the paired off students.

Step 3: Tell students they have to record a five-minute conversation with their partner on the decided topic. Do not tell the students to try and use CSs, but rather ask them just to keep the conversation going for 5 minutes. By not forcing students to use CSs, the students will end up with a more natural conversation.

Step 4: When students are done, ask them if they used many CSs. Many students may say no, but in reality used a lot not realizing it. Tell students that they now have a chance to listen to their conversation and to search for any CSs they may have used. Have students consult the list of CSs that you pass out. Only use CSs that have already been taught to students. For example: follow up questions, interjecting, asking for meaning, giving more information, etc.

Step 5: Write on the board the following symbols:

0= Suitable/Useful                   ?= I’m not sure                       X= Not suitable/Not useful

Step 6: Have the students listen to their conversation with their partners and write down on their paper some of the CSs that they used. After they write them down students can write one of the 3 symbols next to each strategy depending on how they felt that specific CS had worked in their conversation. Also it is helpful if students write the name of the strategy.

A few examples from my students are:

A: “I work at a restaurant.”

B: “What do you do there?” – (Follow up question =0)


A: “This week has been very very busy for me.”

B: “Very very busy.” – (Shadowing =?)

Step 7: Ask the students if they used more CSs than they originally thought they had. Many students will be surprised at how many strategies they used without being aware of it.

Step 8: Collect the papers and recorders. Ask students if they want a copy of their recording, in which case you can email it to them or have the student bring a digital storage device (USB drive, SD card, or the like).



While students are often taught CSs in their textbooks, they are sometimes not able to monitor their own usage of CSs. Noticing is a key part of learning and this activity promotes both monitoring and noticing. CSs, when used properly by students, can help them extend their talking time and overcome gaps in their L2 knowledge. My students had a lot of fun with this activity and many became more aware of how/when they use CSs. I hope it can have similar outcomes in your class.