Mediation skills in the English language classroom
“If teachers are teaching real-life communication skills in the classroom, they’re probably already covering mediation skills”
We all have to take information, understand it, and then explain it to others. Although it may be second nature to many, it takes a unique set of skills to pull this off successfully.
Perhaps you’re at university and your lecturer has asked you to look at an English research paper and summarise it to your study group in your home language. Or maybe you’re at work and you have taken a detailed safety brief that you have to relay back to colleagues. Other common examples that require these skills include explaining a timetable to a new class or just passing on the latest gossip!
A key skill for language learners
Taking information, summarising it, and passing it on is an example of what linguists call mediation, and it is a key skill for language learners at all levels. It’s the subject of the latest Cambridge Paper in ELT, Mediation: What it is, how to teach it and how to assess it. The research paper looks at some of the best strategies teachers can use to teach and assess mediation skills and have a lot of fun in the process.
One of my colleagues Delia Kidd, Insight Application Manager at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, was part of the team that worked on the paper. She sums this up nicely:
“Mediation is a fundamental skill that we use in our everyday lives and it’s essential for students who want to learn English for the real world.
“We see great examples in the workplace where employees are asked to take some complex information and then explain it to colleagues who are not experts. Another example could be young children taking on mediation roles when they’re on holiday by translating for their parents in restaurants.”
The research paper follows a trend which is seeing the approach to teaching languages going beyond the traditional four skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening to that of four modes of communication: reception, production, interaction, and mediation. The recognition of mediation as a key skill for learning languages was given a further boost in 2020 when the Council of Europe published the Companion Volume for the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR is the international standard of language ability, and the Companion Volume included a greater focus on mediation skills for teaching and learning.
How to develop mediation strategies in the classroom
The good news for teachers is if they’re teaching real-life communication skills in the classroom, they’re probably already covering mediation skills. However we’d recommend teachers can take this one step further by developing effective strategies for the classroom. And how can teachers develop these strategies? A good starting point is to look at what mediation activities actually are. The CEFR describes them as:
- mediating a text such as relaying specific information
- mediating concepts such as communicating in a group
- mediating communication such as acting as an intermediary in informal situations.
These can give teachers some great ideas for practical classroom activities. For example, students can watch English-speaking news and films and then summarise the important points in English or their own language to the rest of the class.
Mediation and Cambridge English
At Cambridge our courses already contain tasks aimed at teaching and developing mediation skills in the English language classroom. This is because we believe that practising mediation skills can really help to boost a learner’s confidence, as they are practising the English skills they will need for real-life communicative contexts in further education or work.
The paper also gives guidelines for assessing mediation skills in the classroom. It advises teachers use relevant mediation scales and descriptors found in the 2020 Companion Volume of the CEFR for their learners’ contexts. This will help teachers to decide which areas they should focus on when developing a checklist for classroom assessment.
Want to learn more? The Cambridge Paper in ELT Mediation: what it is, how to teach it and how to assess it is published by Cambridge University Press & Assessment. Read more here.
About the author: Graham Seed is a Senior Research Manager at Cambridge University Press and Assessment, as well as the Secretariat Manager of ALTE (Association of Language Testers in Europe). He holds a Master’s degree in Language Testing from Lancaster University. His current research interests include the operationalisation of the CEFR in language assessment, including mediation and cross-linguistic mediation.