(Since a few of you requested them, below are my notes that I had in front of me when I presented my paper at the ETS and SBL Annual Meetings on how to take first steps in Communicative Language Teaching.)

What is CLT (Communicative Language Teaching)?

Teaching the target language in the target language:

  1. Using the target language to communicate meaning to the students.
  2. Getting the students to use the language in order to learn the language.

 Why CLT?

  1. It fits multiple learning styles,
  2. It is more fun for the students.
  3. It results in longer retention of the language.
  4. It builds a foundation that will allow the student to go BOTH faster and further in learning the language in the long run.

Three ways to start – from easiest to hardest.

  1. Add CLT homework into the curriculum, even if you don’t change anything else.
  2. ‘Class commands’ components of teacher-student interface.
  3. Run a Total Physical Response (TPR) based class.

(Note that since I teach biblical Hebrew, the following will be illustrated with biblical Hebrew examples, though many of the principles apply to Koine Greek just as well.)


1. Include CLT homework

 What is CLT homework?

It is any kind of homework that, as per the definition of CLT, seeks to communicate meaning to the student in the target language, without using translation.

  1. Beginners CLT homework does not need to be adapted to a particular curriculum, and as such can be used in all classes regardless of curriculum.
  2. It can be used with at both the beginners and intermediate levels.
  3. It can be assigned at various levels of intensity.

Unfortunately, there are precious few resources out there: to my knowledge, Biblical Language Center’s “Living Biblical Languages” self-study material is the only one being marketed right now. It can be used alongside any beginners or intermediate level courses.

 Value of CLT Homework

  1. Students find it fun. It can be a great break from otherwise dreaded vocab lists and paradigm learning.
  2. Focuses on meaning, not analyzing form: communicates to the student that it is possible to get 100% meaning from language even if one cannot analyze it perfectly.
  3. Engages a different part of the brain in the learning process, and as such reinforces and strengthens the learning process.
  4. Demonstrates that language is a ‘tool’ of communication, not an ‘object of study’.


2. Use “Class Commands”

 What do I mean by “Class Commands”?

  • All “teacher – student” interaction in the class room, whatever the teacher does to conduct class.
  • Examples: “Open your books”, “Look at the board”, “Read example #1”, etc.

 Value of “Class Commands”

  1. As with CLT homework, use of Class Commands demonstrates that language is a ‘tool’ of communication, not an ‘object of study’.
  2. In addition, it models communication in a non-artificial, “real-world” context. Gives it a sense of being a real bona fide language.
  3. Focuses is on meaning, not analysis of language. It is important for students to realize that language can be used (and enjoyed) without the analytical processes we typically require of our students to “access the meaning”.

For example, if I use פתחו את ספריכם (open your books), I don’t have to point out what characteristics of the command make it a 3mp for my students to be able to access its meaning and obey the command.

 Challenge: nomenclature of modern items

How does one call a “pen, pencil” in BH? Or the white board? Not to mention a power point projector.  Two options:

 1) Use modern Hebrew.
  • There is no problem adding vocabulary terms to a language. It does not do violence to a language. Languages do it all the time.
  • In addition, all of the morphology of modern Hebrew transfers back into biblical Hebrew, so that one should not be fearful that incorporating the occasional “modernism” will hinder or interfere with the learning of biblical Hebrew.
  • One caution: vocabulary can change over time.

For example, in modern Hebrew, one says תודה for “thank you”, while in the Bible this is the proper name for a type of sacrifice, and we have no record of it being used as a way of saying thank you. אני מודה לך is better Biblical Hebrew.

 2) Find biblical terms that are close.
  • Restrict oneself to that.
  • Helps students enter into the world of the Bible.

Example: a ‘writing utensil’ can be the stylus or עט that was the tool used by scribes to write or engrave.

==> for those of you teaching Koine Greek, your corpus of the language is so much larger that you do not face the same vocabulary restrictions as in BH. You may, however, face the difficult task of finding what was the word used, as there is no English to Koine Greek dictionaries.


3. TPR (Total Physical Response)

  •  Undoubtedly the best way to get started is to experience it for oneself.
  • In the absence of such, here are some guidelines.

 Basic principles of CLT from SLA

Main conclusion of Second Language Acquisition is that we learn and internalize our 2nd, 3rd, etc, language best by mimicking the way one has learned one’s mother tongue:

  1. Listening before any production or reading of the language.
  2. In order for them to listen, they will need lots of live “comprehensible input”.
  3. Physical movement is key to the learning process.

The solution for incorporating these three principles is Total Physical Response (TPR), “discovered” by the psychologist James Asher from San Jose State University about half century ago.

 What is TPR?

Giving commands to which students respond with actions.

  1. It bypasses the need for students to production.
  2. It quickly builds up the recognition of a significant amount of vocabulary, and
  3. It begins the process of internalizing verbal forms and other grammar of the language.

Note: lest anyone think that CLT is only about TPR, TPR is only the beginning stage of CLT, good for a few weeks at most on its own, though one should continue to use it in conjunction with other teaching methods.

 Challenges of TPR

While on the surface TPR seems really easy, it is actually quite challenging.  Two of the biggest challenges are:

  1. Keeping it lively and flowing, without awkward pauses.
  2. Keeping tabs of your where each of your students is at.

This means that in your effort to do these two things, otherwise simple Hebrew will become more challenging, because in order to do it well, you have to be able to do it in your subconscious. Few instructors can speak biblical Hebrew “subconsciously”.

The key is preparation.


Preparing for TPR

Unless you feel completely fluent in speaking the language, it is important to work through exactly what you will do during the class period, both in terms of content and your own preparedness.

• The goal of a TPR session is to teach a new set of vocabulary.
• You can aim at about 20 vocal words per hour session
• The goals of what you choose to teach can vary

  1. Teach vocabulary in order of frequency in the biblical text
  2. Teach the vocabulary according to the need of your curriculum or text(s) that you would like the students to read
  3. Teach the core vocabulary of the language – that which gets used most often in normal speech. If a student becomes competent in the core of the language (in the same way that a child naturally does in their mother tongue), it is easier to continue building on it in the future.

 1. Compile a list of all the vocab you intend to use

  • Think of all the vocab you want to teach for a specific class. This will include the action verbs as well as the nouns you would like to teach
  • You can aim at 20 new words per class time
  • For action verbs, it is often good to teach vocabulary that relates. Examples include
  1. Open and close
  2. Stand and sit
  3. Go and come
  4. Etc
  • Think which combinations of these can flow well together. These create “mini scenarios” that can build on each other.
  1. For example, opening and closing a door may go well with going out and coming in.
  2. Similarly, opening and closing a white board marker may go well with write and erase.
  3. By making such combinations, you are teaching the same vocab (open and close) in different contexts. Interacting with a term in a multiplicity of contexts is particularly effective for internalization a language.
  • An example of a longer scenario may include walking, sitting, standing, opening and closing doors, touching things, pointing to things, going in and out of a room.
  • For vocabulary words, you want a combination of that which is common in the language or texts you eventually want to study AND that which is practical to interact with. If I happen to find a nice stuffed animal – for example I’ve found a nice Dori fish (from Finding Nemo) – I will use it by default, rather than talk about a lion for which I do not have a prop.
  • Remember you can be very creative: Lego blocks can build a city, or a tower, or a house, etc. A blue cloth can be a sea, a chair covered in a brown cloth can be a mountain, etc. Masking tape on the floor can be a road, or a map, etc.
  • PROPs are very important to the learning process; never assume you can achieve the same results without props.
  • Examples of prop usage:
    • To teach give-take: have actual objects that are given and taken
    • To teach על endings: have objects to place on people and ask “on whom is the fish?”, etc.
  • A useful verb to teach more vocabulary is “point to” (…הורה ל)

2. Double check all the forms

  • For nouns, make sure you have masculine and feminine forms of the plural down
  • חרב is feminine, even if it does not have a ה or ת ending.
  • The plural of שולחן is שולחנות, not שולחנים, even though it is masculine
  • For verbs, make sure you know the forms of the imperatives, especially those rarely used feminine plural
  • Depending at what stage you are at, you may also want to compile the forms for the present and the past, so that can describe what you or the student is doing, as well as what you or the student did.
  • Beware of the following possible errors
  1. Sometimes the correct form is not what the paradigm would predict. “It was heavy” is not “haDavar kaved” as many paradigm charts suggest, but “haDavar kavad”. Similarly, the pi’el verb “he paid” is not “hu shilem” as in modern Hebrew, but “hu shilam”.
  2. Make sure you have the proper prepositions that collocate with the verb. For example, a couple summers ago, someone shared with me the popular “the boy who cried wolf” story that had been published in simple biblical Hebrew, but the title actually meant “the boy who convened (or invited) a wolf”
  • Note that while it is good to know all the forms (or have access to them on a “Cheat Sheet” – see below), one should not aim at teaching all the forms of a verb or tense at the same time. Rather, one may want to teach only a single form, two or three at most, and do so in a context that requires “real communication”. Rattling of forms is not what we do when we want to communicate with someone. Asking “What did John/Sue/they do?” after John and Sue (students in the class, or characters on a drawing or video clip) have done something is already closer to a real communicative situation.

 3. Make a scenario

  • Probably the biggest challenge is coming up with the scenarios that most effectively allow the student to deduce meaning.
  • This is not so much a challenge at the beginning stages with very simple words.
  • At later stages, however, it can make or break your teaching session.
  • To teach a new word/concept, the scenario needs to be completely comprehensible to the students, and must make the new word/concept as simple and obvious as possible.
  • Unfortunately, this can only be learned with practice, so I can’t offer any practical advice.

 4. Make a “cheat sheet”

  • Write it in such a way that it can be used as a quick reference, in case you draw a blank while teaching, and need to refresh your memory about a certain word or verb form.
  • Write out the entire scenario – in a worse case situation, you can just read it to conduct your class.

 5. Practice

With practice, the language becomes more and more second nature, making the process easier and easier.



A most useful tool – the Even Shoshan concordance

A most practical tool, the only one that gives you all of the following in a “single glance” (not even the electronic Bibles can do all of the following in a single glance).

  1. How many attestations of the word/root
  2. All the different forms found in the Bible
  3. If the forms are pausal or not
  4. If the forms are early or late biblical Hebrew (assuming one knows which texts are early or late)
  5. Gives a list of the different collocations the word may have, be it with other nouns, verbs, prepositions
  6. Other words in the basic same semantic domain
  7. Divides the attestations into groups according to the different definitions the word may have (definitions are given in biblical and/or modern Hebrew)