Creating a Balanced Lesson Plan

The Four Strands of Language Learning is a framework designed by Paul Nation. It involves a balanced lesson or curriculum consisting of four main areas (Nation & Newton, 2009). This kind of lesson planning is beneficial in that it compliments technical language study with practical use, treating language as a language and not just a subject.

image-18Meaning-focused input 

Meaning-focused input primarily involves extensive reading and listening, including radio, movies and reading books. Students take in as much language from the source in the form of comprehensible input as possible. Increased input leads to more familiarity and higher levels of retention, as well as naturally allowing the meaning of unfamiliar words to become apparent.

Practical ideas for application:

  • Extensive reading and listening activities with low levels of unfamiliar words (about 2-5%)
  • Summarising speeches or discussions
  • Book reports that focus on the meaning of the text
  • Reading Wikipedia’s Simple English pages
  • Research about familiar topics
  • Dictation activities 
  • Skim reading
  • Listening or reading for meaning and then following it up with meaning-focused output based activities

Meaning-focused output

Meaning-focused output primarily involves speaking and writing. The goal is to use language practically to convey a specific message or point. This takes the emphasis off isolated language, and encourages students to use language for communication.

Using language in a meaning-focused way forces students to use the language they already know and to find their own ways to communicate their message. Through this, they can use trial and error to find what works and where they have gaps, become more motivated to continue and to build confidence in using English practically. Noticing when they struggle to get their point across will also help learners to figure out what areas they need to improve on.

Practical ideas for application:

  • Speeches
  • Letters
  • Debate and discussion  (for example: The New Heart Waiting List)
  • Diary, blog, English chat groups and forums
  • Writing articles or essays
  • Roleplays

Language focused learning

Language focused learning involves the mechanics of language, such as grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. This is where a lot of the traditional language learning takes place, and it is important for understanding the building blocks that make up language.

Practical ideas for application:

  • Traditional teaching techniques that involve introducing new vocabulary and grammar, reinforced with practice.
  • Grammar explanation and drills
  • Looking at and understanding mouth movements for pronunciation
  • Pronunciation drills (for example: The Eraser Race)
  • Looking at roots, prefixes and suffixes. 
  • Looking at examples to discover rules and meaning
  • Information gap activities where students have different sets of incomplete information and must help each other complete the text

Fluency development 

Fluency development activities are based on learning to use current language well, as opposed to learning new language. This can involve repetition and re-telling stories, listening or reading familiar materials and increasing speed.

Practical ideas for application

  •  Speed writing activities that involve writing as many words about a particular topic multiple times
  • Writing or talking about the same topic multiple times, sometimes with decreasing time limits
  • Retelling a story
  • Listening to or reading a text multiple times
  • Practicing and performing roleplays
  • Recording a speech or dialogue, listening back to it and finding ways to improve comprehensibility, speed, linking, pronunciation etc
  • Speed interviews

     

The four strands outlined above have a strong focus on relating language to knowledge. By applying strategies that involve an emphasis on meaning, we are moving away from looking at language in isolation, and moving towards language for communication. In favour of learner strategies O’Malley, J. M., and Chamot, A. U. said that “Mentally active learners are better learners. Students who organize new information and consciously relate it to existing knowledge should have more cognitive linkages to assist comprehension and recall than do students who approach each task as something to be memorized by rote learning” (1990, pp. 196).

What do you think about these ideas? What works for you? We’re really interested to know about people’s thoughts on this, so we can help put together tighter classes that hit all the right spots. If you’re interested in some activities that might help you to add more balance to your classes, while cutting down on preparation time, please consider look at our book, Take it Easy Teaching.

Bibliography

Nation, I. S. P & Newton, J. (2009). Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking. UK: Routledge.

O’Malley, J. M., and Chamot, A. U. (1990). Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition in Cambridge Applied Linguistics series. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

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