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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Skills for Teaching Skills Lessons

Teaching classes can involve a wide variety of different language points and skills. A teacher has to set a schedule, or determine the needs when preparing lessons based on different language topics. Knowing what to prepare when preparing these lessons can mean the difference between an outstanding success, and a spectacular flop.

Teaching the four skills, Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing, provides certain challenges that can be overcome by the right tactic and get easier over time.

The first thing you have to do is establish with the students that it is a skills lesson, rather than a grammar, vocabulary or any other type of lesson. By letting students know they are going to be practicing speaking skills, it allows them to relax and attempt more natural speech (over correct speech). Almost all students feel like they need to practice listening skills, and so focusing on listening is always a welcome task. Reading can be difficult, but it is an excellent skill to practice as it passively helps raise a number of sub-skills. It can also be broken down into specific tasks which help students to get the most out of a reading text as possible. And while writing may be the most difficult to get students interested in, it can be the most rewarding from a language standpoint.

In listening class, it is a good idea to begin the class by discussing the difficulties of listening to another language, or even just to someone who we have trouble understanding. This will raise the awareness of all listening done throughout the lesson and allow students to offer feedback on listening material. They can ask the teacher to slow down, speak louder, or speak clearer. As a receptive skill, you can ask students to produce what they hear, either by repeating it back, or by taking notes or dictation. You can also ask them to complete worksheets, or answer more audible questions to help keep the focus on listening rather than on changing skill focus. Don’t forget that when students listen to each other, they are still practicing the skills of listening and so group practice tasks are encouraged.

In a speaking class, it is a pretty simple task to get students to practice. The problem lies with keeping them focused and practicing the target language. There can be a number of sub-skills you can work on in a speaking skills class. Pronunciation is one such sub-skill, but it is better to practice this across all lessons, than dedicate an entire lesson to. There may be some times when an entire pronunciation lesson is necessary, and in these situations you want to avoid single word repetition. Put the words into natural phrases and allow students hear how the target language sounds in natural speech. Choose an interesting topic to keep students focused and give them a context for the language they are practicing.

In a reading class, it is important to highlight the sub-skills of skimming, scanning, and critical awareness, and practice them in this order, as this is the natural way we practice them in real life. Skimming must be practiced first as it relies on students having never read the material before. It also needs to be done quickly as it relies on determining meaning from only a glimpse at the whole text. Students can complain if they feel like they don’t have enough time to read, but this task is specifically designed to practice that. It directly translates to real life as we often need to make choices based on limited written information. Scanning requires students to identify and break down the target language. You do not want to get into a big discussion at this stage, but simply focus on finding the important words and understanding what they mean. The critical awareness stage is when you want to have a natural discussion about the merits of the work. Students must fully understand the text for this to be possible, so this practice must come last. A good discussion at the end of the lesson is the perfect way to wrap up a reading heavy lesson.

Writing can be the hardest skill for students to develop. It can seem boring compared with speaking and listening, and the difficulty in achieving written accuracy can put some students off. This means it is the most important to practice in a positive way. Remember to vary genre when looking at writing and getting students to produce writing. In a writing class, the teacher is never passive, sitting idly at the front of the class waiting for students to finish. The teacher should constantly be monitoring students’ work, moving around the room. When looking at writing, be sure to highlight all of the areas students are succeeding as well as the areas they could improve. Also, getting students to hold on to old copies of their writing can help them see the evolution of their skill.

These simple tips can make a massive difference when presenting a skills based lesson. Do you have any other tips for specific skills classes?

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