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Classroom Interactional Competence to Promote L2 Interactions in Online L2 Classrooms

by Esra Yatağanbaba | 07 Apr 2021
Resource Description: This teaching tip is provided for describing a concept, which is Classroom Interactional Competence, and its relevant principles to recommend it as a means to promote L2 interactions in online L2 classrooms. It is hoped that L2 teachers will benefit from this teaching tip and improve their teaching.  
Audience: Adult, Elementary, Secondary, Teacher Training, University
Audience Language Proficiency: Advanced
Teaching Tip:

Classroom interaction is the starting point of teacher development (Van Lier, 1996, p.5). Therefore, teachers’ understanding classroom interaction and being aware of its potentials is one of the most important curricular sources, perhaps the most crucial one. In this connection, Classroom Interactional Competence (CIC henceforth) is defined as “teacher’s and learner’s ability to use interaction as a tool for mediating and assisting learning” (Walsh, 2011, p. 165). CIC is related to teachers’ and learners’ interactional decisions to facilitate learning and benefit from learning opportunities. Interaction is at the hub of all teaching and learning opportunities and therefore, learners could improve their language learning and teachers can create teaching opportunities by focusing on their CIC and making pedagogically relevant and conscious interactive decisions for their learners. Hence, language teachers could construct or obstruct learning opportunities if they are conscious of CIC practices (ibid).

There are five principles of CIC which could be considered ways to promote L2 interactions between teacher-students and student-students (Walsh, 2011). These are as follows:

-using goal-convergent language, which basically means that teacher’s pedagogical goal and action of the moment should coincide with each other, and interactional awareness

-maximizing interactional practice by means of increased wait time, allowing planning time, invitation for learner participation etc.

-shaping learner contributions by seeking clarifications, scaffolding, and repairing

-effective use of eliciting via teacher questions

-instructional idiolect

These interactional principles are conducive to keeping the flow of the L2 discourse and are vital for promoting L2 classroom interaction. The teacher’s role is essential in managing the interaction, and the concept holds the L2 teacher largely responsible for managing interaction by maximizing learning opportunities and shaping learner contributions by affording space, for example, lessening teacher echo, providing extended wait time, asking for clarification, requesting confirmation, scaffolding and so on. However, we should bear in mind that abovementioned pedagogical practices are described for traditional, in other words, face-to-face L2 classrooms, but are they congruent with online L2 classrooms? Or how do these pedagogical skills translate into online L2 classrooms?

When interaction and meaning is concerned, it would be useful to mention Sociocultural Theory of learning which underlines the importance of collaboration and construction of the knowledge in classroom (Vygotsky, 1978). This contribution to learning has indicated some factors to bear in mind: teachers and peers, setting, language and technology (Lantolf, 2000 as cited in Hampel 2009). Taking the integration of technological tools to language teaching into consideration, there are several tools used by the teachers to increase collaboration and interaction among learners.  These tools are as follows:

-audio and video conferencing



-discussion forums

-breakout rooms for pair or group work

-chat boxes or bulletin boards

These tools and mediums are used to create a sense of shared purpose and improve interaction among learners as well, but do these tools or contexts suffice for L2 learners to interact and learn a language? How do L2 teachers manage interactions via these mediums? The matter could be approached by moving away from the perspective of technology integration for the efficiency of interaction to language teaching and learning contexts to the role of L2 teacher in managing interaction. Considering the constraints of distant learning and teaching and technology in terms of interacting with language learners in online L2 classroom settings, i.e., not being able to use mimes and gestures effectively, not receiving response due to lack of understanding or connection issues, privacy of learners to name a few, L2 teacher’s central role in constructing and shaping learning is indispensable.  Therefore, CIC stands as quite a useful concept which aids promotion and enhancement of L2 interactions both in face-to-face and online L2 contexts.


Hampel, Regine (2009). Training teachers for the multimedia age: developing teacher expertise to enhance online learner interaction and collaboration. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 3(1) pp. 35–50.

Van Lier, L. (1996). Interaction in the language classroom: Awareness, autonomy and authenticity. Harlow: Longman.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Walsh, S. (2011). Exploring Classroom Discourse: Language in Action. Taylor & Francis.


TESOL Interest Section: Adult Education, Applied Linguistics, English as a Foreign Language, Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL, Teacher Education