As TEFL teachers, we are usually told by our employers that the focus of our lessons should be on speaking. That’s what adult students are often the most interested in and that’s what many parents strive for with their children. They want their children to speak just like a native speaker. However, language doesn’t really work that way.
Different language skills are connected and, although it’s possible to focus on just one area, the best way to learn a language is by integrating all the different skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Read on for an explanation of the natural links between different skills and ways to connect them in your classroom.
If you’re looking for some classroom activities that integrate skills, you can gain access to some communicative reading activities by clicking on the link below. As you may have guessed, these are activities that link reading and speaking in a fun and engaging way. You don’t have to download it now. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you again at the end of this post.
Natural Links Between Different Skills
Studies have shown that there is a natural link between certain skills and that by integrating them, second language learners tend to have a higher success rate. Think about it, how often do you find yourself speaking without anyone listening. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen to you often. Even worse, how often do you find yourself listening to someone who doesn’t let you get a word in edgewise?
In most real life situations, it is easy to see how listening and speaking are closely related. Speaking skills require the language user to respond in real-time. Have you ever had high level students who sound like they are rehearsing a speech whenever they talk to you, but struggle to respond to a simple question that they weren’t expecting? That’s the type of negative effect that results from focusing too much on one skill and not integrating skills.
The other natural link between skills is considered reading and writing. At first, it might not seem like these skills are as closely linked together as speaking and listening, but the more you consider it, the easier it is to see the connections. One way that they are connected is that they both involve text that is a permanent record. I don’t necessary mean that the text will last forever, rather that when reading, you have the ability to go back and read again. Similarly, when writing, you have the ability to read and edit your work before anyone sees it.
Another way that these two skills are connected is to consider how developing one of these skills develops the other. The more you read, the better your vocabulary and exposure to good writing models to use when writing. The more you write, the more connected to the written word you become, and the more easily you can turn the written word into meaning. In university, I once had a professor who stated that good reading is the same as good writing. What he was referring to was the ability to read something and either create detailed imagery in your mind or come to understand a concept or idea. That concept has always stayed with me, and I definitely see it evolving with my students as they develop these two skills.
Are there other links?
Of course, there are alternative connections. Let’s say, for instance, that you are listening to a lecture or watching a movie. You are listening, but there isn’t a listening and speaking connection. In fact, it might be a listening and reading link if the viewer is reading subtitles. The same might be true of a university lecture. The student will read material to become familiar with it, then attend a lecture that discusses it. Usually though, this would also lead to a discussion or study group where speaking would be the focus.
Also, there are links between reading and speaking. Students in most literature classes are asked to read something and then respond to it verbally. In natural situations as well, people often discuss what they read about in the news or on the internet.
Then How Should I Link Them?
The important thing to remember when integrating skills in a lesson isn’t necessarily that certain skills need to be combined. What’s important is to try to make the integration as natural as possible. Think of real life situations and try to mimic them. Authentic, or near authentic scenarios will motivate your students and prepare them for using English in the real world.
Another important thing to consider is that the activities that you create are interesting and engaging for the students. As discussed often in this blog, it is important to find out what topics your students are interested in. If they are interested in a topic, they will be eager to try to utilize any of the skills, and they will always have things to talk about.
Similarly, find out what real life situations they are likely to use English in and come up with activities that mimic that. If a student writes a lot of emails in English, an appropriate skills lesson might be:
- Reading an email from a client. (reading)
- Responding to the email and making an appointment for a meeting. (writing)
- Roleplaying a meeting. (speaking and listening)
One language center that I worked for insisted that in order for a lesson to be considered successful, a teacher needed to integrate all four skills into every lesson. While I don’t completely agree that a teacher necessarily needs to use all skills in every lesson, I do see the value in this ideology. It is important for language learning that students learn language in a blended way and not keep different skills in separate compartments. After all, that’s how the real world works.
If you’re looking for some classroom activities that integrate skills, you can gain access to some communicative reading activities by clicking on the link below. As you may have guessed, these are activities that link reading and speaking in a fun and engaging way.