Insufficient language : Perhaps the most common reason for interaction in English breaking down, or indeed not starting in the first place, is that the students don't have the language they need to interact and, therefore, complete the task successfully.
How we can promote an increase in student interaction : This section will suggest some solutions to the problems outlined above.
Teaching process language : This is similar to classroom language but refers to the language that students need to interact. Examples could include: "What do you have for number 2?", "Do you want to start?", and "Sorry, can you say that again, please?". I introduce and/or revise before starting tasks and leave them on the board so the learners can refer to them while speaking. My learners copy them into the vocab record books too, of course.
Pre-teaching task language : I try to analyse tasks before using them in order to predict what language is critical to task achievement. If I think some of this language may be unfamiliar I pre-teach it before the students do the task. If there is too much language for pre-teaching, I find a more suitable task.
Providing support : As well as providing language for tasks, where appropriate I try to provide ideas too. These can be brainstormed before the task and put on the board so that the learners have plenty of things to talk about.
Giving preparation time : I have often found that interaction breaks down because the learners haven't had time to think about what they want to say and how to say it. I plan to give some thinking time before starting a task during which the students can ask me or each other for support.
Providing a supportive atmosphere : I try to raise confidence by giving lots of praise and giving feedback on task achievement as well as language use. When monitoring I try to do so as unobtrusively as possible so the students don't feel that I'm necessarily listening to them personally. On the other hand in feedback I try to make it clear to the class that I have been listening to them and through feedback show them that there is a point to interaction and thereby overcome student resistance.
Varying the interaction and repeating tasks : When teaching large classes I plan to move students around so that they are not always talking to the same partner. A good way to do this I have found is by asking the learners to perform the same task a number of times but each time with a different partner. As well as providing variety of interaction, this approach also maximises practice of the language being worked on.
Having different levels of task : With mixed ability classes I prepare an easy, medium, and difficult version of the same task so students of different levels can interact together at a level appropriate to the language level. For example, after some listening practice students with different tasks can tell each other what they have found out.
Providing a reason to interact : I use tasks that actively provide the learners with a reason to speak and listen. Information gap activities are a good example of these (and these can be used repetitively if designed carefully) and students generally enjoy doing them. Using project work is another good example of a motivating and collaborative approach that promotes both realistic language use and interaction.
Conclusion : Interaction helps learners develop language learning and social skills and so maximising interaction in the classroom is an important part of the teacher's role. Interaction will not necessarily happen spontaneously, however, and in my view it has to be considered before teaching. The approaches suggested above all have this in common - they require forethought and are, therefore, a part of the lesson planning process.