27th April 2016

Integrating skills in English language classes

By Bryan Holmes

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English language teaching can be separated into systems, skills, and phonology. Systems refer to grammar, whereas skills denote reading, writing and listening, and speaking. Phonology incorporates elements of pronunciation, such as intonation, connected speech, and isolating difficult phonemes which focus on manner (position of the mouth), place (position of the tongue), and voice (voiced or unvoiced).

In reality, our students rarely use English skills in isolation: they rarely ever read an email without replying, nor do they listen to a friend’s story without reacting in shock, bemusement, or telling their own.  Therefore when planning or teaching a lesson, it's important to provide opportunities for use a number of different skills in order to:

  • Allow students to engage and experiment with the language they see in a more realistic way;
  • Help students to improve their English more broadly for key English exams, such as Trinity ISE (Integrated skills in English) which focus specifically on students’ ability to draw on all their knowledge of using English;
  • Maximise opportunities for practice and personalisation of the language and topics in your classes.

Integrated skills in your lesson planning

As there is a main aim of each lesson you teach it is necessary to provide at least one sub aim. This can either be a skill, system, or, pronunciation aim.  Also, remember that certain aims fit very well together.  For example, let’s take a speaking lesson and we will add a pronunciation sub aim.

A great way to integrate the pronunciation aim is in the free production stage; whilst the learners are speaking, introduce a feature of connected speech (e.g. weak forms), or intonation practice e.g. rising/ falling intonation.  This is also an occasion to single out a difficult phoneme to focus on the correct manner, place, and voice of articulation. 

Also keep in mind, prioritizing errors. The best way to do this is to choose errors which impede communication, or if teaching a multilingual class try to identify a common pronunciation error.

Integrated skills by exploiting a task

Now let’s look at adding a written aim to a reading lesson.  The obvious aims of a reading lesson are to understand the text and to exploit it for vocabulary.  So how do you integrate a writing task into a lesson that is focused on receptive skills? Well let’s have a look.  For example, after completing a reading text (e.g. an advice column) instead of writing responses to the column, give the learners an example response and then get them to write the problem. This is more effective as it requires a bit more thinking, or deeper processing, and is slightly more challenging. This addresses tense/aspects which are used, vocabulary, and style informal/formal, and structure. 

Another writing task from any type of reading lesson is to summarize the text in a set amount of words. This enables the learner to articulate wording and paraphrase accordingly.  After finishing the summary, incorporate a peer correction stage by providing a short criteria sheet for learners to assess their partners.

What about listening and writing aims for a speaking task? In the production stage, try implementing a quiz or a survey. The students generate their own questions using the target language/structures taught, and then have them ask and answer while recording their partner’s answers.  Learners are then focusing on questions forms, rising and falling intonation, and note taking skills while speaking (throw in some phrases for clarification) and listening to each other (e.g. back channeling signals  ‘oh’ ‘huh’ or ‘really’). 

As you can see, the survey has additionally integrated a system’s aim (questions forms) pronunciation (rising /falling intonation), and writing (note-taking skills).

So next time, ask yourself:

What skills can I exploit from this activity? How can I integrate additional skills, and how can I encourage more engagement from it?