How can we keep our learners engaged in receptive skills lessons? #ELTchat Summary 21/09/11

A PLN for ELT Professionals

How can we keep our learners engaged in receptive skills lessons? #ELTchat Summary 21/09/11

Summary contributed by Antonia Clare – @antoniaclare on Twitter – Many thanks from all #ELTchat followers!


Having established first of all that receptive skills = listening and reading, the first issue debated was whether it is really appropriate to bunch the two skills together (as they actually require different approaches).  However, it was decided that the two are similar in that:

  • they are both harder to teach than you might think
  • they share common ground, e.g. setting a clear task
  • there are many (pesky) subskills involved
  • tasks set by teachers (and coursebooks) often focus on testing comprehension, following a ‘tried and tested formula that only goes so far’ and often fails to genuinely engage and motivate students

The following suggestions were offered in order to deal with the problem.




  • Personalisation is KEY
  • Self-esteem, investment, a reason to read / listen/ view has to be there first as a starting point
  • Accessibility is a problem many don’t consider much – dyslexia, hearing problems, poor eyesight all should be considered
  • Students need to know why they’re reading/listening – preferably have a personal investment in the topic
  • Get sts reading for pleasure. Don’t ask them to read what they wouldn’t in their L1. Read easier texts than the level
  • Give sts a clear task to complete,  reasons to re-read /listen again intensively, a chance to access/share their personal response to the text
  • Engagement comes from the content of the texts (so, ask the students to bring in texts or links themselves (from internet / newspapers / magazines etc, or find / choose content which you think will genuinely interest them (would they be interested to read in L1?)
  • To get sts engaged, it’s important to do more than just answer comp qns, ask them for their input, opinion, experience
  • Negotiating content is best way to engage sts
  • Designing tasks that make it fun to take the text apart and then put it back together is part of the challenge
  • Make reading and listening feeling like puzzles or games or problem solving tasks
  • If pre tasks are fun the predictive element makes the task  itself interesting
  • Personalise, ask them to find related texts, do it as a jigsaw, make them curious
  • Even”boring/dry” texts can be mined for useful language learning experiences too – engagement in the task not the text
  • If the text is good enough, sts don’t need an exciting task, but if the text is dry, we need to jazz up the task
  • Need to allow students opportunities to voice their personal response
  • Personalise wherever and whenever you can – not just pre / post reading (Ask qns like ‘What about here in your country?’ Etc.)
  • Localise as well – draw in comparisons / parallels with the students’ contexts
  • And globalise, don’t stop, so many opportunities for extending language, drawing comparisons
  • Think about integrating skills (reading leads on to speaking or writing etc.) – helps to reinforce vocab etc. too
  • Give sts tasks that will get them talking about the text (then you can see how much they understood)
  • If you need to cover lots of material (school requires you to use the coursebook), need to think of adapting rather than supplementing (change the qns or task in the book to personalise etc.)
  • If a passage motivates Ss (authentic motivation) probably should be left alone. If not, you can create artificial motivation with different tasks.

There were lots of suggestions for practical activities:


  • SS answer Q’s about PICTURES, not texts, so that they can focus on what kind of answer is required for each type of Q
  • Use wordle for text prediction activities, have learners create course book type texts and listenings for receptive practice
  • Don’t forget, receptive skills practice can be LISTENING to each other and READING what they have written
  • Let the sts talk to each other during the listening (so they help each other with bits they missed)
  • Ask sts to draw the information in the text
  • Or get THEM to ask the comprehension questions (see link below on Advance organisers)
  • Ask them what they want to find out and they check to see whether it was mentioned
  • The Internet provides great opportunity to find texts from different sources on same topic, e.g. Brit & US newspapers on hurricane
  • Look for YouTube clip related to the topic, or an eltpic 😉
  • Get sts to read in order to then discuss, or retell, reformulate, mine the text for interesting language
  • Use word clouds of the text and ask sts to predict, or use it at the end – sts summarise, or retell
  • Ask sts if they would share what they learned from reading with someone outside of class. Why/why not? If yes, who?
  • Show a picture(s) related to the topic and brainstorm language/ideas
  • Retelling, revisiting, recasting – at end of lesson or in next lesson all important activities too
  • Ask for ss texts on the same topic (spoken or written) – and then compare – give the ss’ text priority
  • Use different pics for describe & find differences, then read to see which selection best represents concepts in text
  • Ask sts to ‘interview’ someone from the text, ‘how do they feel about…?’
  • Post-reading: ss choose a sentence, write the words at random, ask classmates to unjumble and identify where it came from in text
  • Get sts to change a few sentences from the text, and see what effect it has (change the story or the ending)
  • Show 8-12 words and get sts to predict the story
  • Imagine the reading as a blog post. What tags would you add?
  • Read in role – as if you were a ….. lawyer, priest. alien, psychoanalyst….
  • Show title/subtitle and ask groups to predict and make a list of bullet points then ask them to read and tick them off their list.
  • Draw a picture or map of the reading text / listening text
  • Put different texts (or parts of texts) up on wall, play music, sts wander round and read to find out …
  • write “competitive summaries” of  texts ie in 30 words – then cut down to 20 – then cut down to 10 – shortest summary wins
  • Mini sagas are great source. A story in 50 words, no more no less. Good for quick reading, dictogloss, synonym finding activities
  • If reading/listening text is a story, ask sts to create a script and act it out.
  • Next lesson do a dictogloss of part of the text ( I always try to come back to the text somehow or other)
  • They listen for info and remove the section from the board (combining listening / reading)
  • Speed reading (like we do during eltchat!) gr8 skill to work on with sts (perhaps try to get sts using Twitter in class).  Set time limits to encourage reading for gist – prevents them from reading by translating word for word. And also a focus Q beforehand.
  • Let sts choose a chat on twitter and try to follow it during class. Maybe.
  • In next class give the ss the answers to the questions from the class before and ask them to remember the questions – just for fun
  • Get sts to turn a text into complete nonsense (My favourite ;))
  • Find similar texts e.g. from diff papers, get ss to pick best bits for own rewrite
  • I saw a text where scattered words were replaced with nonsense words. Students had to decide which word form belonged
  • Ask ss to pare text down to basics – e.g. deleting all unnecessary words
  • Get sts to change facts and tell lies


During the discussion various issues / themes were also touched upon:


Extensive vs Intensive


  • Whilst we are trying to find engaging procedures for inside the classroom, we also need to consider ways to help sts outside class too.
  • If we can encourage extensive reading (for pleasure) outside class, this will help develop reading fluency, and the rest may be just a matter of fine tuning (See Richard Day link below)
  • Motivation is key (both outside the classroom, and inside micro-engagement)
  • For out of class activities it is useful to give clear instructions for tasks with feedback / help built in
  • If we give students strategies in class it should spill over to outside.

ESOL learners and subskills


There was some debate about whether a subskills approach to reading really works, especially for ESOL students (Philida Schellekens).  Apparently  research shows that you need to understand 90+% of a text before being able to transfer reading strategy skills.  However, many teachers suggested that subskills work was useful for their students (ESOL sts were able to deal with gist, but not specific meaning / My pupils learn to answer reading comp. Q about text where they know 30% of vocab using a dictionary).  Some teachers do quite a lot of work on subskills (adults and higher levels or can also touch on sub skills at lower levels, raise awareness, relate to real world).  Others feel that it isn’t so necessary as sts can transfer the skills from one language to the other.


A few ideas for dealing with poor readers (in L1)


  • Get them to read below the level (good for confidence and reading speed)
  • Focus on getting them to read around difficult vocab (subskill) – and NOT depend on dictionary
  • Focus on reading from left to right (if they don’t do this in L1)
  • A lot of working out the sounds of words as you read – often sts can say the words but not spell them


Top Down vs Bottom Up


  • top down – from the expected meaning (context, etc.) you guess what the text is about
  • bottom-up: from small segments of the language you put the puzzle of meaning together

Learner as individual


Each learner is so unique in terms of perception, their subskills, the proportion of top-down and bottom-up approaches are individual

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part (moderators and chatters and lurkers) for all their creative ideas, comments and support.   Everybody agreed that it was an enjoyable chat, and there was simply loads of food for thought.  I’m looking forward to next week already.


Useful links / references:



The ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. 

Malcolm X 1964

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” 



by Antonia Clare




One Response

  1. Nour Negm says:

    It is great help.

Comments are closed.