Traditionally, we refer to the four language skills: reading and listening (receptive) and speaking and writing (productive). The communicative approach to teaching focussed on developing rather than testing the skills and also encouraged strategies for integrating the four skills rather than testing them separately.
The ideal activity in class for developing and integrating language skills requires a minimum of preparation and provides a maximum payoff in language practice, receptive and productive. The techniques that follow illustrate just a few of my favourite activities for developing skills when I have had little time to prepare the class – one is sometimes called in to teach someone else’s class or one has simply been too busy to produce a complete lesson based on the textbook. These activities can stand alone or supplement a textbook and are ideal for emergencies.
By Dr Luke Prodromou
The first example demonstrates strategies for integrating the traditional four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing in the context of a pseudo-psychological puzzle.
Level Elementary +
Aims To provide practise in listening, speaking, reading and writing
Duration 30 minutes
Materials Pen and paper
Language Narrative tenses; adjectives:
Listening and Writing
Tell students that you want them to imagine that they’re walking down a path, any path, anywhere. Ask them to describe their path (in writing); they should use these questions to guide them:
-Is the path straight or winding?
-Is it narrow or wide?
-Is it rocky, sandy, grassy, well trodden?
-Is it in a forest? mountain? beach? city?
-What’s the weather like?
-Is it day or night?
-Are there any animals birds or people?
Next, tell the students that, as they are walking along the path, they find a stick. Ask them to describe the stick: the size; age; the colour; weight
Ask students to write down what they do with the stick:
-do they pick it up?
-throw it away?
-use it to help them walk?
-take it home and carve something on it?
Next, the students come across a fallen tree – ask students to describe the tree.
-the size; the age; the colour
-do you jump over the tree?
-do you go round the tree?
-do you kick the tree?
-do you play on the tree?
-do you jump up and down on it?
-do you sit on it?
Next, the students see a bear on the path – describe the bear.
-What do you do when you see the bear?
-After this, the students come to a river: describe the river and what you do.
Finally, you come to a wall. The wall is too high to climb, too long to walk around and you cannot dig under it.
- What do you do?
Ask students to go over their text and proof-read it, correcting and improving the language: grammar, vocabulary, punctuation.
Homework: They can take their notes home and write them up as a continuous narrative, using the simple past.
In class: Next lesson, students swap their texts with each other, read what their partner has written and ‘analyse’ it according to the following key:
The path represents your interpretation of life in general
The stick represents life’s small problems and how you deal with them.
The tree represents life’s big problems and how you deal with them.
The bear represents the opposite sex.
The river represents marriage
The wall represents death.
They turn to their partner and, tongue-in-cheek and with lots of humour, they tell each other the true meaning of what they have written.
The next example, which I owe to my mentor, Mario Rinvolucri, also integrates the skills•
I remember ...
Aims Develop listening, writing and speaking.
Duration 30 minutes
Materials Pen and paper
Language Remember + ing.
Ask students to copy the following chart from the board:
Tell them you’re going to dictate things that happen to us at various ages for example growing and losing teeth. .
Listening and writing
Ask them to write the information, as they hear it, under the appropriate column, depending on how old they were when they remember having this experience.
losing teeth falling in love riding my bike feeling cold taking exams leaving home feeling angry feeling sad needing money feeling anxious thinking about my hair worrying about my appearance
I remember losing a tooth … I remember falling in love …
The class write the information in the appropriate box. For example, I remember losing a tooth between the ages of 6-10. I remember falling in love between the ages of 13-16 and so on.
When the dictation is over, pupils turn to their partner and use the completed chart to talk to each other about their memories. They say things like:
‘I remember feeling anxious when I was sixteen years old; I had to take an important exam...’
When they’ve finished chatting with one person, they should turn to another pupil.
Students write a brief report on what they have learnt about their fellow students.
Students are often tongue-tied: they do badly at speaking tests because they have nothing to say on the topics they are asked to discuss. The next exercise aims to loosen students’ tongues by getting them to write the questions they would like to answer, in an interview, in the real world, social media or even in an examination with an oral component. Students are often left ‘speechless’ by questions which others ask them and which do not engage their interest or draw on their experience and background knowledge. The following technique is learner-centred and because the students choose their own questions the possibility that they will have something to say is increased. •
Aims To practice speaking and writing skillsg.
Duration 30 minutes
Ask the class to jot down on a slip of paper the topics they would ideally like to talk about in class or if they were being interviewed on TV. For example, they might write about:
1 The ideal partner: who do you think would be your ideal partner? What kind of person would you like to live with? Marry? 2 The best way to deal with economic crisis: what would you do to get Greece out of the financial crisis? 3 My ideal house: can you describe where you live now? Can you tell us what your ideal home looks like? 4 My ideal/my worst holiday…can you describe a holiday that went badly wrong?
Collect in the slips of paper.
Tell the class they’re going to prepare a talk on the one of the following topics (read out a selection of the topics they have contributed to the pool).
-Who do you think would be your ideal partner?
-What kind of person would you like to live with? Etc
They should choose one topic.
Speaking and writing
Give students time to work in pairs or groups to brainstorm ideas on the topic they have chosen.
Divide the class into large groups, A and B (eg draw an invisible line right down the middle of the class).
Nominate a student (at random) from one half of the class, group A, to start to talk about the topic.
After half a minute or so, stop the student and then call out another name at random from the other half of the class, group B. That student then continues exactly from where the previous student stopped off.
After half a minute, call out the name of a student from group A, who continues exactly from where the previous student left off.
Continue till one of the groups becomes tongue-tied.
Repeat the process with another topic chosen from the student-generated list.•
Dr. Luke Prodromou graduated from Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds and Nottingham Universities. He was for many years a teacher and teacher-trainer with the British Council. He has also worked for ESADE, Barcelona, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Thessaloniki, Pilgrims Canterbury, NILE, Bell Schools et al. He currently teaches, part-time, ELT Methodology on the MA TESOL University of Sheffield International Faculty, City College, Thessaloniki. He gives talks on English literature and he also runs an international teachers’ and students’ English Language Theatre: Luke’n’Friends, which has performed at conferences in Greece, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, Argentina, Mexico, Georgia, and the UK.