Teaching productive skills to Second Language Learners
The procedure of teaching productive skills involves different steps. The following article provides answers to the following questions:
- What is meant by productive skills?
- Why are they important in English language teaching?
- How to structure a productive skills lesson plan?
- What elements should be considered in teaching productive skills?
What are productive skills?
Productive skills refer to the skills that enable the learners to produce language in written or spoken forms (i.e. speaking and writing.)
The importance of productive skills in language teaching
Productive language skills, speaking, and writing, are important because they are the observable evidence of language acquisition. The more the speaker or the writer produces appropriate and coherent language the more we have proof of the progress in the learner’s language system.
Teaching productive skills is also important because written and spoken communication are basic life skills. In real life, people generally may need to inform, convince, or share ideas. They are also sometimes required to take notes, fill in forms, and write emails, letters, reports, or stories.
The productive skills lesson plan
Unlike the receptive skills lesson plan, in addition to understanding and interpreting the discourse, a productive skills lesson aims at helping learners produce appropriate and coherent messages either in spoken or written forms. It is true that making sense of, and being able to process, the input is important, but what is essentially involved in the productive skills is the ability to convey information, convince or share ideas and feelings.
The productive skills lesson plan should take into consideration the following points:
- The lesson aims at helping the learners communicate.
- It is unhelpful to provide a topic and ask the learners to speak or write.
- Some preparation is needed before setting the task.
- Generally, we cannot talk or write about something we know nothing about.
- The choice of the topic is important. The learners should be familiar with it.
- Before asking the learners to produce language, we have to equip them with techniques and strategies to facilitate their efforts to speak or write effectively.
- Communication breakdowns may happen.
- When difficulties arise, learners have to be able to use specific communication strategies.
Since the aim of teaching the productive skills is to produce language that makes sense to the listener or reader, the lesson should be designed systematically to include stages that prepare the learners for the main activity (i.e. speaking or writing), activities that help them to actually produce appropriate messages and finally some sort of feedback that is either peer or teacher regulated.
Ideally, teaching a productive skill procedure involves the following steps:
- Providing a model text
- Comprehension and model analysis (e.g. studying the genre’s distinctive features).
- Working on the language needed to perform the task.
- Task setting
- Understanding the topic/situation (what is the desired outcome).
- Structuring the output
- Preparing for the spoken task.
- Going through the process of drafting, revising, and editing
- Self or peer-regulated feedback using a checklist or teacher-regulated.
Procedure to teach productive skills
Teaching productive skills involve the following steps:
- Provide a model of the target genre we want our students to produce.
- Work on the model; focus on the meaning and form. The teacher should guide the learners to analyze the text so that they can discover by themselves its linguistic and formal features.
- After isolating the different linguistic and formal features of the model text, the learners have to work on accuracy activities. The objective at this stage is to practice the form and use of the language that will help them produce accurate messages in terms of pronunciation, spelling, verb tense, sentence structure, and text layout, etc…
- After we feel that the learners can use the target language satisfactorily, they are introduced to a similar task where they have to personalize the language and produce effective messages.
- Some planning or preparation is needed before production.
- In the case of the writing skill, the learners have to go through a specific process that involves them in collecting ideas, planning, writing the first draft, revising it, and editing it.
- In the case of the speaking skill, the learners have to structure their discourse, individually, in pairs, or groups before actual production.
- Feedback can be given by the learners themselves or by the teacher.
- To give much more value to the learners’ productions, it is advisable to post the video recording of their conversations or their writing on social media such as YouTube, Facebook, or on the class blog if there is any.
What elements should be considered in teaching productive skills?
When teaching productive skills, the teacher should also take into consideration other essential communicative aspects. These can be categorized as follows:
It should be to the point and should include a purpose, the target audience, and information about the genre. Here is an example of inappropriate productive tasks:
What are the advantages and drawbacks of using smart mobile phones?
The above task can be assigned more appropriately as follows:
You have noticed that your school mates are addict to their mobile phones. Write an essay about the advantages and drawbacks of using smart mobile phones to be published in the school magazine.
The above task includes information about who is writing what to whom and why?
- Who? – You.
- What? – An essay about the advantages and drawbacks of mobile phones.
- To whom? – Your schoolmates.
- Why? – Because they are addicted to their mobile phones.
An important aspect of communicative competence is to be able to adjust our language according to the status, sex, and age of the audience. The way we communicate with a child is different from the way we communicate with adults. Responding to a formal letter is different from the way we respond to a personal letter. Moreover, we adapt our interaction according to the social status of the participants. Addressing a person with higher status – such as a judge during a trial – differs from addressing a friend. Language output may also be adjusted according to whether we are interacting with a male or a female participant. Consequently, in any type of communication, the elements that constitute the audience should be taken into account. Otherwise, the communication might not be appropriate and may even be flawed.
If the audience refers to the external variables (e.g. age, sex, social status) that contribute to the meaning of the discourse, the notion of genre is text-based. It focuses on the internal formal and linguistic elements that are socially agreed upon.
Genre theory has gained so much attention recently in the teaching of productive skills. It is grounded on the ‘view that texts can be classifiable and have understandable and predictable forms, structures, and purposes’ (Knapp 1997: 113. Cited in Adolphs, 2002). Different texts have different features and different purposes. An application letter, for example, has certain distinctive features both at the level of the language used and at the level of its form.
What is more, different genres have different purposes. An application letter aims at applying for a job. However, a personal letter may have other purposes such as informing, inviting, asking for help, etc. Knowing the conventions for producing different types of texts is important for effective production.
|Application letter||Applying for a job…|
|Essay||Arguing, explaining …|
|Casual conversation||Telling a joke/ an anecdote – recounting…|
|Job interview||Hiring the most suitable candidate for the job – getting an advertised job…|
Cohesion and coherence
Coherence and cohesion are closely related concepts
Coherence is a broad concept and is achieved when one feels that a text is semantically meaningful and the content follows a logical line of reasoning. The linguistic features that make a text coherent are classified under the concept of cohesion.
Cohesion is achieved through the links between sentences. These links hold a text together and give it meaning. There are two types of cohesion: lexical and grammatical.
- Grammatical cohesion occurs when the link between sentences is achieved through grammatical features such as conjunctions, reference, ellipsis, substitution.
- Lexical cohesion, however, differs from grammatical cohesion it is concerned with the semantic relations between the words of the text. That is, the link is achieved through meaning and not through grammatical features.
After the task is done, a stage where feedback is delivered is designed. This feedback can be self, peer, or group-regulated. The teacher might intervene at some point to help and guide the students in the accomplishment of the task.
The procedure can be summarized in the table below:
|Performing the task||Doing the task individually, in pairs, or groups.|
ADOLPHS, SVENJA. (2002). GENRE AND SPOKEN DISCOURSE: PROBABILITIES AND PREDICTIONS.
KNAPP, P. (1997) VIRTUAL GRAMMAR: WRITING AS AFFECT/EFFECT (UNPUBLISHED PH.D. THESIS). UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY: SYDNEY.