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Creating Language-Building Activities to Increase CALP and BICS

written by: Molly Chandy • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 2/8/2012

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) can be defined as the language skill needed for social situations. Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) was distinguished by Dr. Jim Cummins as early as 1979, as the language of education in classrooms, textbooks and literary works.

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    Understanding BICS and CALP

    Learning English as a second language is quite difficult for students from other cultures. Most ESL students want to acquire basic communication skills. Some learners aim at academic proficiency. BICS and CALP are acronyms for Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, which were introduced by Dr. Jim Cummins of the University of Toronto. The language needed for BICS is not specialized. Language-building activities to increase BICS and CALP should be introduced to facilitate life-long learning. The difference between BICS and CALP was distinguished by Dr. Jim Cummins as early as 1979, as the language of education in classrooms, textbooks and literary works.

    As scholars would unanimously agree, learning is a process that grows well if it is cultivated well. Therefore, the importance of language-building activities to increase BICS and CALP in classrooms cannot be overlooked for its quality and content.

    Make classroom sessions fascinating and exciting. As John F. Fanslow suggested, "For goodness sake, do something different next Monday morning."

    The greatest stumbling block to learning Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills is the fear of making a mistake. The lack of knowledge of grammar and structure obstructs fluency of new learners. Without understanding basic grammar and structure, basic communication and forming questions become difficult. In the initial stages of learning, students just have to verbalize their thoughts. Even though it will be full of errors, praise them for their contribution to the topic being discussed. Corrections can be done gradually without publicly correcting one person's mistakes. Teachers can present the same thoughts in good grammar by explaining how words and sentences come together to make perfect sense. If teachers correct mistakes of a single person, they should do so subtly for the whole class to learn from it.

    Let the students walk around in pairs having a discussion on a given topic. Give ample time for them to think, discuss and present their opinions. Encourage them to come back and tell the class what their thoughts are about the given subject. Activities should be fun-filled and innovative. As the Van Restoff Effect proves, we are likely to remember something better when it is surprising and extraordinary. Some recommended activities are:

    • Asking and giving directions
    • Making reservations
    • Answering calls
    • Making an appointment for a haircut
    • Thanking others
    • Introducing someone
    • Listening to audio tapes

    Learning self-introduction is one of the most challenging lessons with which students struggle in the beginning stages of learning a second language. The teacher has to gauge the wavelength of the learners who are unfamiliar with the contexts in which self-introduction is required. It is imperative to teach them the occasions that call for introductions. They should be aware how sentences can change with contexts. In many cultures, self-introduction is not a norm. The whole concept of English customs is unfamiliar to them. Language-building activities to increase BICS and CALP should incorporate etiquette lessons into the lesson plans.

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    Language Building

    It is quite fascinating to see the language-building process of students of English as second language. Non-native speakers of English find English grammar and vocabulary building extremely difficult. Initially their language-building activities will reflect a very strong mother tongue influence. When speaking about family and home, most students have the same phrases as, “In my house, I have a father and a mother." They string together words in the structure of their mother tongue. The teacher will have to instruct them not to translate English words directly from regional languages. It makes their speech awkward. The most important thing students need is a clear understanding of the distinctiveness of English language. Teach them a brief evolution of English language. Show them the difference that loan words have made, and are making on this language that originated from the Indo-Germanic plains.

    The goals of teaching BICS are to enable the learner to communicate in simple language and to understand wholly the exact meanings of what was said. Asking questions and answering them takes a lot of practice. Students actually learn better in collaborative learning cultures. Role-playing, interviews and games make the language-building activities of BICS and CALP amusing and fascinating. Discussing current events will have the whole classroom involving in conversations in an informal way.

    CALP is required for formal academic learning, giving stress to reading, writing, listening and speaking. Learning becomes most effective when you use the Library for CALP. Individual, group and cluster presentations of a theme can make academic learning more effective.

    Some activities include:

    • Writing story innovations

    • Holding book reviews

    • Enacting plays

    • Discussing what you have read

    • Collecting words

    • Conducting debates

    • Selecting role-plays

    • Presenting thematic view points

    • Being a teacher for a session

    • Discussing drawings and captions

    • Entering writing contests

    • Organizing seminars and meetings