Tips for teaching the four skills in every young learner lesson

In Part One of this blog post I look at getting organised in terms of focusing on the four skills in each lesson. Then I suggest some practical ideas for practising the skills through classroom routines. In Part Two I suggest ideas for adding skills practice into simple add-on activities, board activities and tasks with images. I sum up by offering a practical framework to make sure you aren’t neglecting any skill.


Where did this blog post idea come from?

Picture this: A Primary teacher is getting ready for the next class, a 50-minute lesson with a group of lively, inquisitive, ten-year-olds. Besides the obligatory content of the school’s curriculum, they want to integrate Values Education, to develop their learners’ 21st Century Skills and to encourage Extensive Reading. Then there is Revising and Reviewing of language and perhaps some Project Work. And what about some exam preparation, before or after homework correction?

It is hardly surprising that some teachers feel overwhelmed by everything they need to fit in to the time constraints of a single class and why they worry that they aren’t able to practise the four skills in every lesson. But with a bit of organisation and creative thinking it isn’t just possible. It’s easy.

Getting organised

Start with your class book and lesson plan. Highlight the explicit skills focus for each stage of the lesson. Either use color-coded sticky notes in your class book – a different colour for each skill so that you can see at a glance where extra practice is needed. Or add a column in your lesson plan and write R, (Reading), W (Writing), L (Listening) or S (Speaking).

Now look more closely for less obvious skills practice; a speaking activity on a reading spread or a short reading task before a writing activity. Add these into your lesson plan and you’ll start getting a clearer picture of how the skills practice is balanced. You’ll notice which skill is being neglected and will be able to add in an extra task. These tasks don’t need to be long and laborious. Short and simple activities work best.


Routines are essential for effective classroom management and organisation. They are also a great way of building in extra skills practice.

  1. Starter questions

Add a short speaking activity to the beginning of every lesson. Choose a question according to your learners’ age and abilities and write it on the board in a speech bubble.


Invite a learner to ask you the question. Provide an answer and write the response in a second speech bubble. Put brackets around any parts of the response that can be changed and personalised. For small groups, ask each learner in turn. For larger groups, learners ask and answer in pairs. The speech bubbles initially act as support but as the activity becomes a routine you won’t need them.

Exit tickets

An exit ticket is a technique for learners to show you what they have learnt at the end of a lesson. It is also a great way to add extra writing practice. Before leaving class learners hand you a ticket or note with an answer to a question or a response of some kind. This can be as simple as ‘Write a sentence to describe today’s lesson’. Write the task on the board and give learners a couple of minutes to write. Then collect their tickets as they leave the classroom.

Show and tell


‘Show and tell’ can be as free or controlled as you wish but everyone should take part. Depending on class size, invite one or more learners to speak for a couple of minutes in each lesson. The ‘audience’ should be encouraged to clap or ask questions as appropriate. Model the activity and offer support such as prompts on the board.


A photo of your street

This is a photo of my street.

The street is called …

This is a (café).

These are (my friends).


Ideas for ‘Show and tell’

A photo of someone in your family

Something you always bring to school

A favourite possession

Something old/new/blue


Building a journal routine into a lesson is an excellent way of including more writing practice while encouraging reflection and self-evaluation. Learners benefit from quiet time when they record their thoughts and observations. The amount of structure to include is up to you. Sentence beginnings are one way of adding focus.

Here are some new words from today’s lesson…

In today’s class, we learnt about …

I think my work today was …

I want to learn more about …

For homework, I’m going to …

It is important for learners to want to write in their journals. Encourage them to design personalised covers and to include illustrations as well as text. Have a discussion about journals before you start using them. This will generate ideas and excite learners at the prospect of keeping a record of their learning.


DEAR Time is a great routine for encouraging reading for pleasure. DEAR stands for ‘Drop Everything And Read’ and everybody in the class does exactly that – including the teacher. As with all routines, it is important to set things up carefully, making sure that everyone understands what they need to do.


Each learner selects something that they want to read. This can be anything at all as long as it is in English – a story book, an extended reading text in a class book, a blog post or a magazine article – anything! At the appointed time, the teacher announces ‘DEAR Time’ and everyone stops what they are doing and reads independently and quietly. This is obviously a reading activity but with a bit of thought can easily lead to opportunities for speaking and writing.


Over to you

Can you think of any classroom routines which provide learners an opportunity for extra practice in one of the four skills? Please share your ideas with us. We’d love to hear from you.

If you missed Katherine’s recent webinar, you can watch the recording here

Author: Katherine Bilsborough

Katherine has been creating ELT materials for 30 years, for her own students and for some of the top ELT Publishers. She has written more than 30 course books and many online courses. . Katherine also writes monthly lesson plans for the British Council/BBC website and blog posts for National Geographic Learning’s In Focus blog. She is the author of ‘How to write Primary materials’, a training course for ELT writers and is the Joint Events Coordinator for IATEFL’s MaWSIG (Materials Writers’ special interest group). Katherine is a co-author of Look, a seven-level primary series from National Geographic Learning.


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