The CLT approach to teaching, which I learned in my pre-service teacher training, focuses on learners’ participation in meaningful interaction in (often simulated) communicative scenarios. Discussions, information-gap activities, games and unscripted contextual role-plays are some of the prominent features of the approach. 

The keyword above, for me, is ‘meaningful’. In a language learning context, what constitutes ‘meaning’?

According to Earl Stevick (1976: 47), meaningrefers to what difference participation in a given activity … makes to an individual, relative to his or her entire range of drives and needs.’  

If what we do has meaning and is relevant to our goals and needs, this will lead us to make a greater effort.’ (2013: 1) 

When I began teaching, I could claim my activities to be ‘meaningful’ as long as they were fun, and/or were done in a context, and/or clarified meaning or form or pronunciation of the target language, and/or scaffolded language and, most importantly, displayed evidence that my learners are in the process or have achieved the lesson objectives, set in stone by me before the lesson. 

Unfortunately, it took me a few years to come across Williams’ (1994: 77), ‘Language belongs to a person’s whole social being; it is part of one’s identity and is used to convey this identity to other people. The learning of a foreign language involves far more than simply learning skills, or a system of rules, or a grammar; it involves an alteration in self-image.’

In other words, lesson aims/objectives which are restricted to linguistic analyses lack depth. We should vie for deeper aims, ‘which can lead to learning experiences that have the potential to change lives and lead to truly enjoyable learning’ Murphey (1998).

If focusing on enhancing fluency and/or accuracy in the specified target language of the lesson isn’t ‘meaningful‘ enough then on what grounds shall I justify my activities as ‘meaningful‘? Well, thanks to Raths’ criteria (1971), Nunan’s hypotheses (2013) and the members of my community of practice, especially James Chamberlain who initiated this idea, I have been able to come up with a subjective list. 


Below are a couple of sample activities I had asked my learner from a one-on-one course to complete. This learner is planning to take the IELTS in the next few months to apply for Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree (EMJMD) programme. Apart from IELTS, one of her goals, she shared during the visualisation activity, is to be able to communicate with New Yorkers (she plans to go there at the end of this year) confidently; without searching for words. She religiously follows Moya Mawhinney and a couple of other YouTubers. Photography is one of her favourite pastimes. She has over 60k followers on Twitter, i.e., 60K more than I. 

Activity 1: Create a vlog of your upcoming weekend plan to explore Chinatown


Activity 2: Tweet your experience at the photobook workshop you are attending this weekend 


Here is an activity from a course I am facilitating for six young Thai Paralympians, who are scheduled to travel to the USA (for the first time in their lives) to participate in a training camp. Three of them can’t read English, so you could say they are almost absolute beginners. 

Activity 3: Introduce your role model 



Of course, I won’t be able to tick all ‘Yeses’ for all my activities but the list serves as a guide in planning ‘meaningful‘ activities. 

These justifications reflect my teaching methodology and personal value system. In other words, each of us could create our own checklist. What would you include in yours? 


Stevick, E.W. (1976) Memory, Meaning and Method: Some Psychological Perspectives on Language Learning, Boston: Heinle & Heinle 

Arnold. J. and Murphey, T. (2013) Meaningful Action: Earl Stevick’s influence on language teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 

Williams, M. (1994) ‘Motivation in foreign and second language learning: an interactive perspective’, Educational and Child Psychology, 11: 77-84

Murphey, T. (1998) Language Hungry, Tokyo: MacMillan LanguageHouse. New end (2006) Innsbruck: Helbling Languages

Raths, J. (1971) ‘Teaching without specific objectives’, Educational Leadership, 28:7, pp. 714-720 

Nunan, D. (2013) ‘Chapter 7: Listening to and learning from our learners’, Meaningful Action: Earl Stevick’s influence on language teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


Girish M