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Creating Effective Four-Skills Lessons

Creating Effective Four-Skills Lessons

Not every lesson can be a home run and not every class can be a perfect experience. However, for instructors and students alike there are a few tricks and tips that can insure that a majority of your lessons accomplish your goals and theirs – even if they don’t actually know what those goals should be. Probably the most important accomplishment is motivating students to want to contribute and be involved in the classroom using a variety of the necessary language skills and thereby increasing their English ability over time.

For this to happen, four principles are necessary in my opinion:

1) Tie into students’ interests and experiences.

2) Make students the ‘experts’ on occasion so that everyone can learn from and value everyone else equally.

3) Always have a homework/follow up that takes the lessons learned one step further.

4) Use as many of the 4 skills as you can to build naturally on each other and foster better English skills.

Focusing on the 4+ skills:


Using the videos below and a site like Rewordify, you can create activities with the scripts. My preference is something like a cloze activity (remove every 5th word from the scripts or remove key words that you want the students to remember). Of course, listening to their classmates or teacher talking as the class and discussion progresses are also important chances for them to practice listening.


Discussion of topics with questions or situations provides opportunities for speaking the new language, as well as presenting their tips or ideas to their classmates. Debates structure speaking in a different way and develop critical thinking skills as well. One trick is to assign a reporter for each discussion group or have students decide this together before the speaking activity begins. Be sure that it is not always the ‘best’ student in each group, or the most fluent, so everyone gets a chance to speak in front of the class.


Real language for real practice is my approach here. While some readings may be too hard for some students (though sites like Rewordify, News in Levels, or Tiny Texts as well as Breaking News English make it easier to find materials at the right level of difficulty), I prefer letting them use a dictionary on their smartphone or asking a classmate or the teacher to help with words that are too hard. I try to use short texts (one page if possible) so they are not spending too much time or energy on reading as it is really only intended to make sure they have a common starting point for discussion or other activities.


Articles like this one click here have convinced me that handwriting notes and some assignments is important for students learning. Assigning a secretary for each group is another way to make sure that someone is taking handwritten notes. Reminding students to take handwritten notes for assignments and important information while requiring that homework be typed (see follow up sections) allow students to develop skills for both types of writing.


We should not ignore what I like to call the fifth skill – culture – which is a part of all three lesson ideas below. Dating culture, tips for school and life and what is considered to be ‘news’ are all issues that are raised by these lessons. They should be dealt with in a sensitive manner so that differing views serve as an educational moment rather than as a confrontation between students from other cultures or, worse, an issue of division between teacher and students. As you know your students best, you must judge what they can and cannot deal with in this regard. Do not ignore it completely as it is as important to their learning as the other 4 skills above.

Here are three lessons that illustrate the above tips (and which rarely fail) and a four skills+ approach. These lessons build on my students’ interest in gender differences and sharing their knowledge with their juniors/peers.

Lesson 1: Jenny:

1) Go to Youtube and look up ‘Jenny’ by the Conchords. Pick a version with subtitles or enable subtitles before watching.

2) Handout the lyrics for the ‘song’ (can be found on a site like before or after the video depending on the class level.

3) Have students discuss a few questions like those below with a partner:

What mistake(s) did the man make? The woman make?

Did the man or woman make a bigger mistake? Why?

What did the song show about how men and women fail in communicating with one another?

If you were in a similar situation, how would you react? Why?

4) Now, break them into groups and have then discuss a series of situations like those below and suggest their own solutions:

Lesson 2: Role Reversal

 The following situations illustrate misunderstandings or even conflicts between men and women. Form pairs or groups (preferably of both genders!) and discuss the situations below. Try to find a pair or group solution for each couple.

1) Paul comes home late from work almost every night without telling his wife, Mary, the reason. Mary thinks that he should at least phone her and tell her where he is. What do you think?

2) Albert is a slob. He never cleans up and doesn’t care if the house looks like a pigsty. Barbara, on the other hand, is a perfectionist. She expects her home to be spotlessly clean all the time. How can they solve this problem?

3) Mr. Couch Potato never talks to his wife anymore. As soon as he gets home from work, he sits down in front of the TV and expects Mrs. Couch Potato to take care of him like a maid?

4) Mrs. Nag is constantly complaining about her husband’s lack of ambition in his job and career. She feels that by now he should be vice-president of his company. She also complains that he doesn’t do enough work around the house.

5) James and Suzie are getting a divorce. Suzy says James once hit her and gave her a black eye. James says she deserved it. Is there any way to solve their problems?

6) Megan expects her husband to do everything for her. Stanley wants his wife to be independent and make some of her own decisions. What should they do?

7) Stephen and Cheryl have been married for less than a year and already Cheryl is looking around at other men. Stephen thinks his wife should get a job rather than staying home and watching soap operas all day. Cheryl’s mother-in-law thinks they should have a baby. What do you think?

8) Pat suspects her husband, John, is having an affair. Last night he came home with lipstick on his collar. John denies any wrongdoing. They have 2 children. Should Pat risk losing her husband by being suspicious?

9) Shortly after their honeymoon, David and Andrea realized that they didn’t get along. They are total opposites in character, views on money and goals for their lives. They don’t share a single hobby or area of interest. Do you think this marriage will survive?

10) Kevin has a terrible snoring habit. His wife, Peggy, can’t stand the noise and ends up sleeping on the couch with a pillow over her head. What should they do?

(From an unpublished activity book entitled “One Size Fits All”)

Rearrange groups or have a class discussion so they can hear other solutions and share ideas.

Follow up: Have them write a paragraph about a similar situation they or someone they know has experienced.

Lesson 3: Bill Gates’ advice to High School Graduates (NOT!)

1) Search for a copy of the 11 pieces of advice Bill Gates supposedly gave at a high school graduation ceremony.

2) Look up Bill Gates speech on and add that as item 11 (to remind them to not believe everything they read).

3) Present the list to the class or you can use this video as an alternative.

4) Have the students discuss the following in pairs/groups:

Do you agree with this advice? Disagree? Why?

What advice would you add, if any?

What advice would you give to the current Freshmen? Why?

5) Now, give students a poster sized paper and colored pencils or markers. Have them create a poster of their tips to present to the class.

6) Have them choose the best or worst ideas from other groups that they would add to or delete from their own list. Why did they like/dislike these ideas?

7) Follow up: Have them write a similar article to their juniors based on their final set of tips.

Bonus: How to create a good conversation/discussion based lesson in 5-10 minutes.

1) Go to Yahoo Odd News.

2) Pick a story or video about a strange occurrence or person.

3) Go to and create a lesson with vocabulary matching, etc.

4) Visit and pick the questions related to your topic.

5) Use a site like or for simple debate materials to take the discussion one step further.

6) If you need to review or teach debating first, try or this video: 

In the end, there are no guarantees when designing your lessons. Nevertheless, the above principles and sample lessons (combined with your unique knowledge of your students as individuals and as a whole class) will hopefully help inspire you in designing lessons that engage, inspire and teach with a minimum of effort and a maximum payoff in the classroom and beyond.

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