What are the four
teaching covers four macro-skills needed for communicating –
listening, speaking, reading and writing. Good language teachers
plan lessons, and sequences of lessons, which include a mixture of
all the macro-skills, rather than focusing on developing only one
macro-skill at a time.
Listening and speaking are oral skills. Reading and
writing are literacy skills. Each week teachers should
include some activities which focus on developing the students’
oral skills (e.g. pair and group interactions and games) and some
activities which focus on literacy skills (e.g. reading and
analysing texts and then students write their own).
The four skills can also be grouped another way. Listening and
reading are receptive
skills since learners need to process and understand
language being communicated to them in spoken or written form.
Speaking and writing are known as productive skills since
learners need to produce language to communicate their ideas in
either speech or text.
It is common for language learners to have stronger receptive than
productive skills, that is they can understand more than they can
produce. Teachers often link activities
for developing students’ receptive and productive skills.
the connection between receptive and productive skills?
important for teaching activities to be designed so that learners
receive input and modelled language (through listening and reading
activities) before they are expected to produce those modelled
structures (in their own speaking and writing). Listening and
reading activities prepare students to be able to speak and write
their own texts.
To take an example of a speaking activity, to enable students to
talk about their family, a teacher might ask each student to
prepare a profile of their family for an oral presentation to the
family lives in Tumut. Our house is big. Dad cuts the grass. I
have three brothers. Their names are Asher, Barren and Kennedy.
We have a dog called Miri. Nana lives with us too. My auntie
comes for dinner every night.
the learners for this speaking activity (demonstrating their
productive skills in the language) it’s important that they first
have many opportunities to listen to and/or read models of family
profiles (developing their receptive skills in the language). The
models could be: an audio or video recording of people introducing
their family; the teacher speaking to the class, introducing their
family using photos; family profiles written by students in
previous years. Before presenting to the class, the students could
work in pairs to practise introducing their family.
To take an example of a writing activity, to enable students to
write about what they did in the holidays or on the weekend, a
teacher might set an activity in which each student writes a
recount of an event. Here is an example written by a Yuwaalaraay
student, featured on the Board of Studies NSW (2003) Aboriginal
languages K-10 assessment for learning in a standards referenced
framework CD ROM:
students for this writing activity (demonstrating their productive
skills in the language) it’s important that they first have many
opportunities to listen to and/or read model recounts (developing
their receptive skills in the language). The models could be
written or told in language by the teacher and/or examples of
recounts written by other students in previous years. The students
read those models and answer questions about them. The teacher
uses those models to help the students understand the meaning of
the texts and analyse the language structures.
ngaya, bubaa-biyaay, garruu-biyaay yanaanhi maniilay-gu
bibirrgaa-gu. Wilbaa-ya yanaanhi ngiyani. Madhay ngay-bula
yanaanhi. Burrulbidi bibirrgaa ngaraay ngiyani. “Bayamaili
ngiyani bibirrga nhama” guwaay ngaya. Giirr maadhaayu ngay
nhama bibirrgaa bamba gawaanhi. Girr bibirrgaagu maadhaay ngay
bumay. Banaganhi ngaya maadhaay-gu. Bayn dharra ngay ginyi.
Bubaa-gu nganha dhiyamay. Gundhi-gu ngiyani yanaanhi.
I went pig
hunting with my dad and uncle. We went in the truck. My dog came
too. We saw a great big pig. “We will catch that pig” I said. My
dog chased the pig. The pig killed my dog. I ran to the dog. My
leg is sore. Dad picked me up. We went home.
How do you teach
Both listening and reading
are receptive skills. For a teacher to be sure that learners have
understood a spoken or written text,
they need to demonstrate their understanding through a response.
The response may be:
skills involve bottom-up and top-down processing.
From the bottom up, teachers ensure that students know the sounds
and spelling system, word roots and suffixes, and build up to
phrases, sentences and paragraphs. If students understand and can
analyse smaller components of language, they can build up to
understanding longer texts in the language.
verbal response, e.g. answering questions orally when the
teacher asks students one-by-one around the class,
physical response, e.g. an action in a Total Physical
creative response or visual representation, e.g. listening to
a talk about local places and drawing a map of them; reading a
description of a person and drawing them,
written response, e.g. listening to or reading a text and
writing answers to multiple choice, true/false, short answer
comprehension questions, sentence completion activities,
completing a cloze passage.
At the same time, it is important to present students with
opportunities to process spoken and written texts from the top
down. The texts will contain a mixture of vocabulary and language
structures which are already familiar to the students, together
with vocabulary and structures which are not familiar. This
challenges and develops students’ ability to work out the meaning,
fill in gaps, and develop skills in finding out about aspects of
the language which are new to them.
From the top down, students hear or read a whole text. At first
they may just pick up the gist of the text, e.g. they take note of
the setting, identify the characters, understand the general
meaning of the text. They use their understanding of the gist of
the text to begin to work out more of the details, e.g. they make
informed guesses about unfamiliar words and phrases in the text.
For students to develop their top-down processing skills, they
often need to hear or read the text a few times. Each time they
will process and understand more of the text. So don’t worry if
they don’t understand the whole text the first time they hear/read
it. Rather than immediately translating it into English for them,
it’s better to let them listen to or read the text again and
Top-down listening activities often involve a pre-listening
exercise before the students hear the text for the first time.
Here is an example from a Gamilaraay-Yuwaalaraay program on p. 27
of the Board of Studies New South Wales. (2003). Aboriginal
Languages: advice on programming and assessment for stages 4 and
The students have already learned family terms. They have
completed various exercises with those vocabulary items, e.g.
picture card games and word-picture matching exercises. The
teacher has made his/her own audio recording of a character
called Harry introducing his family.
learners’ listening and reading skills, teachers can be a model.
That is, teachers can speak to their students and write example
sentences on the board. But individual words, phrases and
sentences are not enough. Teachers can provide their students with
much more input, if they provide them with opportunities to hear
and read whole texts (such as the one about Harry’s family).
Sometimes those spoken and written texts already exist in the
resources available to the teacher but sometimes they need to be
created, developed and recorded.
pre-listening stage of the activity, the teacher tells the
students that they are about to hear a recording of a boy called
Harry who will introduce his family. As a class or in small
groups, the students are asked to predict the kinds of things
Harry will say in the recording. The students brainstorm and
guess some of the vocabulary and structures they will hear in
the target language.
second stage of the activity, the teacher plays the recording to
the students. As they listen, they draw Harry’s family tree.
Their diagrams should show as many of the details as possible
which they have heard in the recording, e.g. relationships
between people, their names, what they look like. The students
listen to the recording a few times in order to be able to add
more detail to their diagrams. The teacher might have a
worksheet for the students to complete – it might contain
multiple choice, short answer, true/false questions about the
recording, e.g. Where does Harry’s family live? How many people
in Harry’s family? How many sisters does Harry have? What’s
Harry’s Dad’s name? Does Harry’s family have a pet?
listening activity the students to share the details they heard
in the recording. The teacher reviews the content of the text
the students have heard and may focus the discussion on any
details that the students had trouble understanding.
What is Total
Physical Response (TPR)?
Physical Response (TPR) is a method developed by James Asher in
the 1970s. It has been used by teachers of many languages. It is
based on the well-known principle that learners’ receptive skills
(listening and reading) are generally a step ahead of their
productive skills (speaking and writing); it is usually much
easier for learners to understand something than to say something
in the target language.
In TPR activities, the teacher usually does the speaking. They
both give and demonstrate sequences of instructions such as stand
up, walk straight ahead, run over there, skip to the window, turn
around, sit down on the chair, stand up again, return here, throw
the ball to me, catch it. It is also possible for learners to
start speaking the language by giving instructions to each other.
TPR is helpful for beginner learners. Through TPR learners watch
the teacher’s non-verbal communication, and quickly learn skills
to comprehend and respond to verbal commands. It has been popular
because it focuses on oral rather than literacy skills. Learners
are actively engaged in listening to the language.
TPR is one of many strategies teachers use. There is a lot of
information on the internet about it, including a short article
about using TPR in Native
American Indian languages.
You can read about a Wayilwan
language lesson which combines three verbs with four pronouns
from the NSW Board of Studies website.
What is a cloze activity?
activity is a text with words (or parts of words) removed.
Students are asked to fill in the gaps. Teachers may (or may not)
give students a set of words to choose from:
Today Dad went to the supermarket and bought some ________ ,
_______ and ______ . He gave ______ to the shopkeeper and
carried the food to the ________ . He pulled his keys out of his
_____ and drove home in the _______ .
passages are used for developing and/or assessing listening and reading
skills in the target language. If students understand the
context and can work out the meaning, they will be able to
complete the passage. Teachers may delete words systematically
(every 8th word) or selectively (e.g. all of the nouns, or all of
the verb suffixes).
Below is an example in Yuwaalaraay, adapted from the Board of
Studies NSW (2003) Support material
for Aboriginal languages Stage 4-5 Programming and assessment in a
standards-referenced framework CD ROM. The students
have already learned vocabulary items such as family terms,
numbers, and pronouns such as I and my. They have learned
structures for introducing themselves and their family, e.g. I am
________ , My name is ________ , I live ________ . They have
listened to an audio recording of a boy called Harry introducing
himself and his family. They now complete a reading cloze
activity. The teacher deletes some key words and asks the students
to work with a partner to work out which words belong in which
________! Gayrr ngay Kennedy. Ngaya milan banay bularr.
Buligaa ngay galduman. Ganugu gayrr _______ , Sam, Nicholas,
Barren. Maa ngay buwadhaa: Tenitia, Christine, Sharnie,
Sharnie’s buwadhaa, Sarah. Guni _____ nhalay. _______ nguungu
Maria. Bularr ngay ________ Bob, Jeff. Ngiyani wilay-la-nha
Walgett-ga. ______ ngay wambanhiya. Milan wilay-la-nha
Sydney-ga, milan wilay-la-nha ______-ga, milan __________
ngiyami-ngu gunhi-dja Walgett-ga.
Here are the missing words to choose from:
students have completed the reading activity individually or in
pairs, the class discusses the missing words, and talks about the
meaning of the paragraph and any grammatical features.
How do you teach
Both speaking and writing
are productive skills. To enable learners to produce language,
teachers select the vocabulary and structures, and the spoken or written text types which
will be the focus of a lesson or unit of work.
As summarised in the diagram and example activity below, firstly
the selected language is presented to the learners through
listening and/or reading activities. That is, the teacher provides
input and models the vocabulary and structures that the students
are expected to produce. Secondly, students are given
opportunities for controlled practice of that language. Ultimately
this supports them to use that language to produce new spoken and
language may be provided by:
students have listened to and/or read various models, teachers
provide controlled practice activities so that the students can
begin to rehearse the set vocabulary and structures in their own
speaking or writing. Controlled practice may be in the form
sentence substitution activities – the students take the model and
substitute similar word types into each part of a sentence frame.
teacher speaking to the class,
audio or audio-visual recording which the teacher has made
teacher presenting text on the (interactive) white board,
- a text
for the students to listen to and/or read and analyse,
- in a
textbook, workbook or on a teacher-made worksheet.
Example/model: Kangaroos lie in the shade.
A series of
additional sentence frames could model for the students how to
describe what the animal looks like, how it moves, what it eats,
its habitat and so on. In this way students build up a lot of
relevant vocabulary and grammar for this topic. Controlled
practice may also involve the whole class or small groups of
students working together to jointly construct a text. After that,
each student chooses an animal and independently writes a factual
text, for example:
frame: animal name + animal action + place
practice: The sentence frame allows for many possibilities (e.g.
Fish swim in the river. The dog eats outside the house. Birds
fly in the sky. Brolgas stand in the water. Pipis burrow in the
sand). The list of animal names can be long. The actions can be
past, present or future tense. The place can be a number of
different locations. The action and place parts of the sentence
frame are an opportunity to teach and rehearse various verb and
Emus are large birds. Their necks and legs are long. They have
feathers and small wings. They don’t fly. They walk and run
fast. They live in flat country and near trees. They eat plants,
insects and stones. They see and hear well. They live in pairs
practice supports the students to manipulate the learned
vocabulary and structures in new ways. They create series of
linked sentences in their own original spoken or written text.
They use the newly introduced language but also incorporate
language they have learned in previous lessons, units of work,
school terms and years. They draw on recently learned language as
well as the language skills and knowledge they have developed over
a number of months or years. They can also use resources such as
Here is an example of a speaking activity in Gumbaynggirr, adapted
from a unit of work about country featured in the Board of Studies NSW
languages K-10 assessment for learning in a standards referenced
framework CD ROM. At this point in the unit, students
have learned vocabulary related to coastal animals, place and
activities. They have been introduced to nouns with ergative (doer
to), locative (in, at, on) and purposive (for) suffixes. They have
copied example sentences containing those suffixes, listened to
sentences containing the suffixes and drawn pictures to indicate
their understanding, and used the suffixes in controlled practice
In the speaking activity, students are given a picture of a beach
scene. They draw their own additional figures into the picture,
e.g. people spending time on the shore.
Students then use the modelled and rehearsed vocabulary and
structures, to take turns in talking with each other (in pairs or
small groups) about what is happening in each of their scenes.
Barramalin warriida gaagala.
Yanggidam ngayinggi giduuda.
Yanggidam birrmading gaagalgu wurruugigu.
Gawbalambu maanay garraany barramalingu.
Junuybindu garraany yiilay.
gaguugu biyambay garraany.
Giibarrin bawging julgaagu.
Nyamiganambu maanay yaalgirr barramailingu.
Yanggidam banging gaaba.
is down at the beach.
sitting on the sand.
children become hot.
running to the sea to swim.
collects pipis for the family.
children cook the pipis.
and grandpa eat the pipis.
are swimming to the island.
catch flathead for the family.
birds in the sky.
flying to the west.
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about good teaching for reviving Australian languages is one of
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This page was first
published on November 22, 2013 and was last updated on
December 22, 2016. All material is copyright to the
individual authors unless indicated otherwise.
If you have any suggestions
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contact the author, Susan