More activities for teaching the four skills in every young learner lesson

In my previous post,  Tips for teaching the four skills in every young learner lesson, I looked at getting organised in terms of focusing on the four skills in each lesson.  In Part Two, I suggest ideas for adding skills practice into simple add-on activities, board activities and activities with images. I sum up by offering a practical framework to make sure you aren’t neglecting any skill.


When an author writes a class book they are limited to a number of activities on a page and decisions are made about what to leave out. This means that teachers can easily add something on. An add-on is a quick and easy way to include practice in a neglected skill.

After a speaking activity

  • Retell with a new audience. After a pair work task, learners tell a new partner what their first partner said.
  • Learners write a summary of the dialogue/speech . This can be as simple a task as ‘Write three sentences you remember’.
  • Learners ask and answer questions about the dialogue/speech in pairs or small groups. This can be writing or speaking.

After a writing activity

  • Learners’ written work can become student-generated material and used in a number of ways. E.g. Read and write a short summary.
  • Learners read each other’s writing and then write 3 questions about it.
  • Provide a speaking opportunity after writing a story by getting learners to act out a scene or having a guided discussion in small groups.

After a Reading activity

  • Learners write a diary entry (as a character in a text they have read).
  • Give learners two or three discussion questions in small groups. Provide language models and support as appropriate.
  • Learners make a ‘Wanted!’ poster* about one of the people mentioned in the text. They include a drawing and a written description of the person and explain the ‘crime’. *Thanks to Cheryl Palin for this idea.

After a Listening activity

Class book audios are a great resource to revisit and use in new ways. In this section I suggest new ways of including more listening practice using old recordings.

  • Select 5 or 6 words from the audio and write or draw them on the board in a jumbled order. Learners listen and order the words.
  • Select 12-15 words from an audio (some from the beginning, the middle and the end). Write them on the board. Learners choose 4-8 to write into a Bingo grid. Play the audio and play the game.
  • For dialogues, select some words that each speaker mentions. Write them in a list on the board (or dictate them). Play the audio. Learners write the name of the speaker next to each word.  Make sure only one speaker says each of the chosen words.


Teachers don’t need to go far to find images. They are everywhere: in class books, flashcards, posters and story books and in a million places online. Here are a few ideas of how to use images to build in more skills practice with the minimum of preparation.

Alternative personas*.

Choose a photo with a number of people doing something. Learners choose a person ‘to be’ and write simple texts. Provide support as necessary.

This is me! I’m wearing …

My name is …

In this photo I’m with …

We are …

*This is also a great activity for developing children’s empathy.


Answers first!

Show learners an image and write three ‘answers’ on the board. Learners work alone or in pairs to write questions for the answers. There will be multiple correct ‘questions’, depending on learners’ interpretation of the questions. This is also a fun way to practice question forms

Memory game

Show learners an image for a couple of minutes and tell them to pay attention. Remove the image and ask them a few questions about it. This can be done as a writing or a listening/speaking activity.

Board activities *

All children like drawing on the board and collaborative drawings are a great way to get children working together and sharing ideas and experiences.

*Thank you to Anna Pires for these ideas.


Draw your answer!

Write a question on the board. E.g. ‘How are you feeling today?’ Learners draw pictures on the board to illustrate their answers. Then they sit in a circle, facing the board and talk about their picture. This activity encourages sharing and caring.

Draw a story

Learners draw elements of a story on the board. They draw their own ideas independently, building up a collaborative picture. Then they sit in a circle as in the previous activity and take turns to ‘tell’ the story, using their imagination and creativity.

Our street

Draw a street on the board and draw your own house on it. Add your name to indicate it’s your house and any other features. Learners then come up to the board and draw their own houses along the same street, adding their names and other details. Learners sit and talk about the picture afterwards, saying who lives next to who and describing different houses. This is a great activity for community building and can lead to a simple writing activity in which they describe their street.

Summing up

Most of us teach integrated skills these days but it is easy to neglect one skill or another. Use a simple framework or a graphic organiser to help you keep track of skills work over a couple of weeks until you are sure that you are practising the four skills in every young learner lesson.

A simple framework

  1. Add a ‘skills’ section to your lesson plan.
  2. Notice and highlight all examples of explicit skills focus in the class book.
  3. Look for less obvious examples of skills focus in the class book.
  4. Make a note of any skill being neglected.
  5. Think about where you can easily add in some practice.

Staying organised and skills-focused feedback

Use a simple color-coded bar chart or circular graph to keep a record each time you practise a skill or skills in a lesson. A visual record will help you see at a glance where one skill dominates or, more importantly, is lacking. Sometimes learners are more aware that they are practising a skill than the teacher. At the beginning of a lesson appoint a ‘skill recorder’ for each of the four skills and explain that each time they find themselves speaking (for example), they make a note of it, either by drawing a tick or by making a note of the activity.

Over to you

Can you think of any add-ons, image or board activities 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.

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.

One comment

  1. Very interesting and useful ideas/activities.. Actually, activities proven to be successful for teaching the four skills not only in every young learner lesson but also in my high school students as well as my senior classes. Many thanks 🙂

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