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Dec. 2006, Volume 3, No.12 (Serial No.

36) Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN1539-8072, USA

Integrating Skills for Teaching EFL


—Activity Design for the Communicative Classroom

WU Jing
(Foreign Language Department, China Youth University for Political Sciences, Beijing 100089, China)

Abstract: Integrative approach in a communicative classroom teaching is getting more attention in EFL. The
author makes use of this paper to demonstrate the using of the approach to design classroom activities and its
theoretical basis by analyzing a model of teaching plan. 1
Key words: English language teaching; communicative approach; integrating skills

1. Introduction

“Real success in English teaching and learning is when the learners can actually communicate in English
inside and outside the classroom” (Davies & Pearse, 2000: 99). Teachers have been studying the ways of enabling
learners to use English freely, effectively, and as far as possible accurately, in realistic communication, which has
become not only the major goal of all English language teaching, but also the students’ main concern when they
make their efforts to study English. For various reasons, traditional ELT tends to train the four language
skills—listening, speaking, reading and writing separately, and materials and activities designed usually focus on
one specific skill and others are ignored. Undoubtedly, a separate focus on individual skills can play a useful role
in accelerating students’ language learning if it is well taught. However, since integrated skills use coincides the
way we communicate in real life, and integrating the skills can bring plenty of benefits to English teaching, it is a
worthwhile experiment in a communicative classroom despite its higher demanding for teachers.
The following will take an actual lesson plan as an example to present how to adapt the textbook and design
activities for the integration of skills. It will also discuss the teaching idea of the lesson plan on the basis of the
related theoretical principles.

2. Literature Review

It has been widely accepted that integrating the four skills can develop communicative competence because it
focuses on the realistic communication, which is the main pursuit of teaching and learning in the modern society.
What follows gives brief literature review illuminating the theoretical basis and the benefit of the integration to
teaching and learning in a communicative classroom.
The translation of communicative competence in language teaching practice is to develop learners’ language
skills, namely, listening, speaking, reading and writing. The goal of communicative language teaching is to
develop students’ communicative competence, which includes both the knowledge about the language and the
knowledge about how to use the language appropriately in communicative situations. The ultimate goal of foreign
language teaching is to enable the students to use the foreign language in work or life when necessary. Thus an

WU Jing(1970- ), female, associate professor of Foreign Language Department, China Youth University for Political Sciences;
research field: English teaching methodology.

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Integrating Skills for Teaching EFL—Activity Design for the Communicative Classroom

English teacher theoretically should teach that part of the language in the way that is used in the real world.
However, this is not always the case in the present day foreign language teaching practice. One possible solution
to bridge the gap between classroom baggage teaching and real life language use is the adoption of
communicative language teaching.
Listening, speaking, reading and writing are means of communication and among them, listening and reading
are considered as receptive skills that help students get information as the input of language, whereas speaking
and writing are both treated as productive skills that make language output possible and require sufficient
language input as their basis. There are many situations in which we use more than one language skills to
communicate in our everyday life. Integrating the four skills emphasizes the focus on realistic language and can
therefore lead to the students’ all-round development of communicative competence in English. Moreover, there
are other reasons why integration can benefit a communicative classroom. Firstly, integrating the skills allows a
teacher to build in more variety into the lesson because the range of activities will be wider (WANG, 2000: 147).
Successful integrative approach may help a teacher to make the lessons dynamic, involving the learners in varied
activities and interactions, which can create plenty of opportunities for students to participate in class and raise
their motivation to learn English. Secondly, integration of skills satisfies students’ different learning styles in that
the extroverts may speak a lot, the introverts prefer to listen or read, and the analytically or visually oriented
learners like to see how words are written and sentences constructed. Integrating skills helps the students to learn
English willingly and comfortably. As a matter of fact, a vivid and effective communicative class is supposed to
be the integration of the four language skills training, in which the teacher needs to establish a positive
atmosphere, plan appropriate activities, encourage learners and deal with problems sensitively (Davies & Pearse,
2002: 99).

3. Practice

Using integrative approach in a communicative classroom requires a teacher to make more effort in choosing
materials and designing activities in comparison with the traditional English teaching. What follows is an actual
teaching plan that will be used as an example to demonstrate how the integration of the skills can be designed and
its theoretical basis.
A lesson plan:
E-mail and Letter-writing
Time: 90 minutes
Objectives: the students will (a) discuss the advantages and disadvantages of e-mail and letter-writing;
(b) write a composition within the time limit about these two means of communication.
Procedures:
Step I: Lead-in questions (2 min)
Q: a. When you want to send a message to or contact with someone, which means of communication do you
prefer, e-mail or letter-writing? Why?
b. Is there anybody in this class who merely uses e-mail/ letter-writing to send messages or information?
c. When did you last write or receive your letter?
Step II: Warm-up (8 min)
(1) Show the students the prepared list of the advantages of e-mail and letter-writing to activate students’

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Integrating Skills for Teaching EFL—Activity Design for the Communicative Classroom

common knowledge and generate related words and expressions.


(2) Students discuss the following questions:
a. Are there more advantages of e-mail can be added to the list? Add at least two points to the above list.
b. What are the disadvantages of e-mail? Please make a list. Find out at least four disadvantages.
c. Are there more advantages of letter-writing can be added to the list? Add at least two more points to the
above list.
d. What are the disadvantages of letter-writing? Please make a list. Find out at least four disadvantages.
Step III (5 min):
Reread the listed points about the advantages of e-mail and letter-writing; students practice keywords-seeking
technique by demonstrate simultaneously how to find out key words. Students are demanded to take down these
words. The notes taken down will be the reminder of the mentioned points to avoid forgetting or repeating in their
own practice.
Step IV (10 min):
(1) Students try to find out disadvantages of e-mail and letter-writing in groups of four or five and make lists.
(2) Each group will have a representative to speak out those disadvantages in class. Students are not allowed
to repeat other groups’ ideas. Students do the discussion.
Step V (15 min):
Choose two students as secretaries to the board to note down the main points (key words) of the
representatives’ talked opinions and the rest of the students practice note-taking individually and monitor the two
secretaries’ proper understanding and correct spelling. Students are encouraged to provide help whenever
necessary. The two secretaries will be changed momentarily to let more students have the chance to practice.
A Ten-minute Break
Step VI (5 min):
Give instructions for writing:
(1) Review the listed points on the board.
(2) Give students the writing task.
Writing:
E-mail or Letter-writing
(1) More and more people prefer e-mail to letter-writing as means of communication.
(2) There are still some people enjoy writing letters.
(3) Your own attitude to e-mail and letter-writing. Which means of communication do you prefer? Why?
Step VII (30 min):
(1) Brainstorm individually or with their partners to choose the points they want to use on the board. (Any
point listed on the blackboard is tangible and available to them that what they need to do is just to make the best
choice.) (3 min)
(2) Make an outline and discuss with their partners. (2min)
(3) The students are given 25 minutes to finish the composition.
(4) Hand in the final draft with their brainstorming notes and outline.
Step VIII (5 min):
Give a summary of this class.
The whole class is completed.

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Integrating Skills for Teaching EFL—Activity Design for the Communicative Classroom

4. Analysis of the Teaching Plan

4.1 A brief introduction of the textbook—New College English and the target students
The textbook used is New College English, which is compiled by the experts and the teachers of Zhejiang
University and issued by Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. The textbook is a well-designed
textbook contains four parts in one unit: (1) Preparation; (2) Listening-centered Activities; (3) Reading-centered
Activities; (4) Further Development. The fourth part Further Development is a summary of the activities
mentioned above and students’ general abilities of listening, speaking, reading, and writing are improved greatly.
Although the activities designed in the Further Development part tend to train language skills separately, some of
the activities can be flexibly rearranged and connected together in order to make the integration around one topic
more reasonable and coherent. The lesson plan is designed for sophomores of non-English majors in their second
semester aiming to provide the integration of four skills training in a communicative classroom.
4.2 Ideas for the rearrangement of activities
The integration of skills can be the basis for whole lesson plans. This is usually done by building the plan
around a theme or topic (Davies, 2002). Take Unit 9: Computer Technology in New College English (Book IV) as
an example. In its further development activities, there used to be two separate exercises (ex. 4 and ex. 10), one is
an oral discussion and the other is a writing task. These two exercises are about one topic—make a comparison
between e-mail and letter-writing. The combination of the two exercises may bring teaching a broader range of
language skill training in that the writing can be the more accurate production of speaking, and listening and
reading activities can reversely be the effective brainstorming for writing, that is, to be more precisely, “the
information that the students get from the reading is useful in the oral activity, while the writing activity is based
on information from the oral activity” (WANG, 2000: 150).
4.3 Integration should be task-oriented
Nunan considers a communicative task as a piece of classroom work which involves learners in
comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention is principally
focused on meaning rather than form (Nunan, 1989: 10). He also points out that the definition of a language
learning task requires specification of four components: the goals, the input, the activities derived from this input,
and finally the roles implied for teacher and learners (ibid: 47). Practically, talking about this lesson plan, an
analysis will be given from judging the inclusion of the four components.
(1) Goals: goals are one of the components of a task. Reevaluate the goals in designing the teaching plan,
goals are actually the “vague general intentions”, that is, the goal of the tasks is not explicitly stated because the
tasks may cover more than one goal. For example, the group discussion about advantages and disadvantages of
the two means of communication might relate to communicative and socio-cultural goals, while note-taking,
note-checking, and composition-writing practice might relate to learning-how-to-learn and language and cultural
awareness goals. There is rarely a simple one-to-one relationship between goals and tasks. In some cases a
complex task involving a range of activities might be simultaneously moving learners towards several goals
(Nunan, 1989: 49). Since the teaching is deeply concerned with communicative outcomes, the goals are generally
covering the areas as, firstly, to establish and maintain interpersonal relationships and through this to exchange
information, opinions, attitudes and feelings; secondly, to acquire information by peer studying and learn to using
this information somehow; thirdly, enjoy and respond to creative and imaginative uses of the target language.
(2) Input: Step I and II are the input that forms the point of departure for the entire task. Step I leads in the

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Integrating Skills for Teaching EFL—Activity Design for the Communicative Classroom

topic and arouses the students’ interests then activates their related knowledge on the theme. Step II provides
students with the listed points of advantages of E-mail and Letter-writing as elicitation for more information from
students and also as a reading material for students to base on to expand their thoughts so as to have a wider view
when they think about the topic.
(3) Activities: activities from Step III to Step VII are involving the integration of the four skills.
Step III—reading/writing activities
Step IV—(1) listening/speaking activities and writing activities
(2) listening/speaking activities
Step V—listening/reading/writing activities
Step VII—reading/writing activities

(4) Roles for teachers and students: In the activities, both teachers and students are participants and their
roles shifted accordingly. Teacher will ensure a reasonable students’ group size and each group has got a settled
person to be their representative so as to make the whole group to be more responsible to their final better
performance. Teacher watches students’ speaking process, setting their pace and providing help whenever needed.
The teacher in such a class can be organizer, guider, director, error corrector, and supervisor. Students are not
simply doers, they are given more responsibility to their own studying and the study is intentionally becoming
autonomous—they can be helper, monitor and assessor as well.

5. Conclusion

Using integrative approach can help a teacher create a relaxed atmosphere in his or her class that students’
all-round abilities are well improved. A combination of activities involving different skills enhances the focus on
realistic communication, which makes the students be more motivated and more involved and engaged
enthusiastically in classroom activities. Integration of the skills accustoms the learners to combining listening and
speaking in real time, in natural interaction. Students are given opportunities to do as many speaking activities as
possible in pairs and groups, so they may be less frightened of speaking in front of the rest of the class. And
students give better performance in writing after doing sufficient related activities. However, what is worth of
noting is that integration is also demanding of teachers. It may take teachers more time to find or design suitable
materials. Differences among students should also be taken into account, getting and keeping students’ attention
and their positive participation may be one of the teacher’s greatest challenges. Timing the activities precisely and
organizing the classroom flexibly is of considerable importance as well. Besides, the limited time and large class
size may be negative factors affecting the integrative teaching. Teachers may be also skillful at balancing the
integrating of the skills and focusing on individual language skill training. However, these challenges should not
prevent teacher from attempting the integration in English teaching because it can bring worthwhile result visible
both to the teacher and to the students.

References:
[1] Davies, P. & Pearse, E. (2002). Success in English Teaching. Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.
[2] Nunan, D. (1989). Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge University Press.
[3] Richards, J. & Rodgers, T. (1986). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press.
[4] WANG Qiang. (2000). A Course in English Language Teaching. Beijing: Higher Education Press.

(Edited by Flora, Doris and Wendy)