How to Teach Receptive Skills in The Classroom
The four basic language skills are divided into two categories; the receptive (“passive”) skills — reading and listening, and the productive (“active”) skills — speaking and writing. All are invaluable skills to learn when becoming proficient in a new foreign language and teachers should try to incorporate them into their lessons whenever possible. However, this summative task will be solely focused on receptive skills and how to teach them in the classroom. Students may need to read/listen for a purpose — for example, reading an extract of a book as part of their homework assignment, or they may want to read/listen for entertainment — for example, listening to their favorite audiobook. These skills are also important to learn for a mixture of both motives — for example, reading a guide for the city you are planning to visit for the holidays. In many cases, reading and listening are the first skills learners understand and comprehend when mastering a new language, which they do by observing and absorbing the information they see or hear.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Jessica H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Avoid Teaching Grammar and Lexical Points
Presumably, we read and listen with our eyes and ears, but we also process language and understand its context using our ‘pre-existent knowledge’. The primary objective of a receptive skills lesson is not to introduce new grammar or vocabulary, but rather to implement useful techniques so that students can improve their ability to understand and interpret a text or dialogue. Several specialist skills can be taught to help students read and listen more effectively, such as scanning a text or dialogue for specific information or skimming for the general idea or ‘gist’ of the content. Other strategies include predicting the content from a headline or introduction, deducing the meaning of individual words or phrases from the context, and reading or listening for detailed information (such as reading detailed IKEA instructions on how to assemble a wardrobe).
Anticipated Problems and Possible Solutions
It is also vital for us as teachers to consider the potential problems that may arise when teaching a receptive skills lesson and how to properly address them. Students may encounter problems with difficult language or unfamiliar words — more so with listening, as with reading the text is ‘captured’ and therefore students can re-read it as many times as they like. One way of counteracting this issue is by pre-teaching complex vocabulary or structures, which are necessary to the understanding of the activity before commencing it. Although, teachers must create some sort of balance and let students access unknown language on their own, as well. When the teacher is aware of the activity, he/she must also carefully select authentic material, which are texts that are not designed for language students but are rather texts which students may encounter in their daily lives and therefore demonstrate ‘real’ language. If the teacher selects a text which is too difficult it can be extremely demotivating for the students as they will have trouble understanding it. The teacher should also be mindful when choosing topics for his/her lessons because if the students are not interested or are not familiar with the topic, they will be less likely to engage fully with the activity. Naturally, it is impossible to cater to each student’s interests — for this reason, you will need to include a variety of topics across a series of lessons.
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Motivation and Engagement Level
Once a topic is chosen, teachers must create interest to increase motivation and engagement within the students. This usually takes place during the ‘engage’ phase of the lesson and can be done in several ways — for example, by showing a picture to get students talking about the topic or by getting students to predict the text with only the headline. Another key feature in the teaching of receptive skills concerns the choice of comprehension tasks. Teachers should provide tasks that promote understanding, as opposed to just checking it. We must try to encourage students to improve their reading and listening skills, and testing them is not an appropriate way of accomplishing this. The best kind of tasks are those which are realistically achievable, but also raise students’ expectations and help them tease out meanings. These usually take place during the ‘study’ phase of the lesson and may include activities such as jigsaw reading, where students are placed in pairs and each reads part of the text, and jumbled texts, where the paragraphs of a text are jumbled up and students have to re-order it.
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In conclusion, receptive skills are how people extract meaning from the discourse they see or hear. To successfully teach receptive skills to students, it is vital that teachers choose a material that interests and/or motivates the students, build interest before reading or listening, pre-teach complex vocabulary if necessary, vary the type of material being taught and use realistic comprehension tasks that aid understanding. A lesson can be solely focused on teaching receptive skills, but this is not to say that receptive skills development cannot be combined with language input in the same lesson. Although, the teacher must be wary not to focus too much attention on the language component and as a result cancel out the skills one.
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