When it comes to learning a new language there are four main skills that need to be covered: Reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These four skills are further divided into two areas: Productive skills (writing and speaking) and receptive skills (reading and listening). In any ESL classroom all four skills need to be fully covered to ensure each student has a rounded English ability. It is great if all your students can speak English clearly and confidently, but if they struggle to read or write in English then they will have real problems later on when they need these skills in the workplace, for further study, or when traveling, etc.
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When learning our native language we first learn to listen to all the language going on around us. For ESL students listening is a vital skill as it allows them to hear how native speakers use the language, how certain letters are dropped or highlighted, etc. The textbook you use in your classroom as an ESL teacher will contain plenty of materials aimed at improving listening skills. However, in the real world there is also an endless supply of potential material which can be adapted for use in the classroom. Song lyrics, movies, TV shows, and English radio are all commonly used for listening activities, but there are plenty of other great options out there if you like to think outside the box.
The second language skill we master when learning our native language is speaking. For many ESL students this can be the hardest to learn as it often requires practicing in front of your peers, which can be a scary prospect whatever language you are using. In the ESL classroom you will need to provide plenty of encouragement and ensure that you create a safe space where students feel confident enough to speak out without any fear of making mistakes. To really master this skill your students need to take every opportunity available to practice with each other and ideally with native English speakers. A quick online search will reveal several options involving conversation partners. Another option is English language groups that meet in the local area.
Reading is typically the third skill we learn in our native language after listening and speaking. Once again, classroom textbooks will have plenty of reading exercises you can use, but there are many other potentially better options out there if you are willing to make the effort when planning your lessons. At lower levels and lower age groups you can start off with picture books and then move onto comic books which are usually very popular with students. Once past the basic level you will have a huge array of options to utilize such as online newspapers and journals, etc. Online blogs are a particularly good option as you can match these with the interests of your class. You might also want to encourage students to carry a notebook for jotting down any unknown words or phrases they come across, as well as a dictionary for quick translations.
The fourth main skill when learning a new language is writing. This can be particularly difficult for students whose native language is not based on Latin script (mostly countries in North Africa and Asia). When it comes to learning this particular skill the main point to realize is that it requires practice, practice, and more practice. As well as the many useful exercises and activities you will find in the class textbook, you can add additional activities for inside and outside of the class. Letter writing can be a very useful exercise as it doesnât have to follow any particular template and the results do not even need to be read by the intended target. Encourage your students to write to their parents, friends, classmates, or even their pets, it really doesnât matter as long as they are practicing.