6th March 2018

Integrating reading and listening skills for IELTS & ISE exams

By Bryan Holmes

Reading and listening requirements for IELTS & ISE exams are vital for ESL students to study abroad at English speaking universities. These skills are especially important as they’ll need to attend lectures and interact with various materials throughout their studies. Additionally, they may be living in an English environment where they will need to develop these skills for everyday communication.

Reading and listening skills requires a lot of practice. However improvement is not always evident for either the learners or teacher in that it’s difficult to monitor or test progress. To be honest there really isn’t a big secret other than exposure and integrating both skills into lessons. Doing so passively offers learners an opportunity to practice and develop these essential skills.

In Hong Kong I often see learners retake exams, such as an IELTS or FCE. Learners have mentioned they only see minimal if any improvement. Unfortunately this leaves them perplexed as well as demotivated. This usually results from only being taught exam strategies rather than developing the necessary skills.

As an instructor it’s your responsibility not only raise awareness of exam strategies but also to develop the needed skills which may increase the learner’s chance of success. Many teachers who work in public schools are often under pressure to ensure learners achieve high exam results. Realistically this is impossible since many factors attribute to exam success e.g. motivation, cognitive ability (meaning is the learner ready to process the information), age, and overall academic ability are additional aspects to consider.

Being an ESL instructor turned trainer I’ve had my share of battles trying to improve exam results. This week’s blog will look at some ways to integrate added skills into your lessons and how to adapt plans to better suit the needs of the learner.   

The Purpose of Integrating Skills

Integrating skills gives learners an opportunity to utilize multiple skills (e.g. receptive and productive) thus challenging learners to interact with the language in a range of different ways.

Furthermore, learners can develop a better insight into the complexity of English and its usage. Doing so encourages learners to see it by examining different spoken and written forms of the target language. Seeing language in a strong context in addition to having well-designed tasks is more useful than merely simply teaching exams strategies. It also allows teachers to follow the learner’s progression in multiple ways, such as using a continuous or peer-assessment.

It’s important not to take materials such as course books at face value. Remember these may need adapting to integrate greater skill work. For example, avoid only using course books for discussion questions. Instead, you can cut up discussion questions and set it as a word scramble activity. Learners can then use the questions to move around the classroom to interview their classmates. Whilst listening, ask them to record their partner’s information and then present their findings. This way the learners are practicing word order, speaking and listening, and note taking, which are skills needed when sitting in a lecture and working with groups. Alternatively, you could include a speaking strategy (e.g. interrupting politely or turn taking) when setting discussion questions. Look at the example below, and notice how the material is exploited and the different skills are integrated:

As shown, it isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel, but by making the material or course book more flexible it easy to integrate skills and provide some useful practice.

To support your development in integrating skills into your lessons more, consider the following actions:

• Researching more about the various ways to integrate language skills in the classroom (e.g., content-based, task-based, or a combination), also reading for writing, listening for writing, and listening for speaking. This can be as simple as sharing ideas with your teaching team or checking out the relevant chapters in your TESOL resource library.
• Reflect on approaches you currently use and evaluate the extent to which the skills are exploited.
• Choose instructional materials, textbooks, and technologies that promote the integration of listening, reading, speaking, and writing, as well as the associated skills.
• Even if a given course is labelled according to just one skill, remember that it is possible to integrate the other language skills through appropriate tasks as extra support providing subsidiary aims/objectives.
• Teach language learning strategies and emphasize that a given strategy can often enhance performance in multiple skills.

Adapted from: Integrated Skills in the ESL/EFL Classroom REBECCA OXFORD, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND, EDO-FL-01-05 • SEPTEMBER 2001

So, are you ready! Can you come up with ways to not only sharpen exam skills, but build some needed skills?

If you'd like more about professional development opportunities, check out our training calendar for upcoming English language teacher training workshops in Hong Kong.

Bryan Holmes is teacher trainer and the part time course director for the Trinity CertTESOL English for Asia. His qualifications include the Trinity CertTESOL , MATESOL, and Cambridge DELTA. He has a special interest in phonetics and phonology and has been teaching for 10 years.