Teaching Listening and Speaking:
From Theory to Practice
Jack C. Richards
Courses in listening and speaking skills have a prominent place in language
programs around the world today. Ever-growing needs for fluency in English
around the world as a consequence of the role of English as the world’s
international language have given priority to finding more effective ways to teach
English and it is therefore timely to review what our current assumptions and
practices are concerning the teaching of these crucial language skills. Our
understanding of the nature of listening and speaking have undergone
considerable changes in recent years however, and in this paper I will explore
what some of those changes are and what their implications are for classroom
teaching and materials design.
The teaching of listening has attracted a greater level of interest in recent years
than it did in the past. University entrance exams, school leaving and other
examinations now often include a listening component, acknowledging that
listening skills are a core component of second language proficiency, and also
reflecting the assumption that if listening isn’t tested, teachers won’t teach it.
Earlier views of listening saw it as the mastery of discrete skills or microskills,
such as recognizing reduced forms of words, recognizing cohesive devices in
texts, and identifying key words in a text, and that these skills should form the
focus of teaching. Later views of listening drew on the filed of cognitive
psychology, which introduced the notions of bottom-up and top-down processing
and to the role of prior knowledge and schema in comprehension. Listening came
to be seen as an interpretive process. At the same time the field of discourse
analysis and conversational analysis revealed a great deal about the nature and
organization of spoken discourse and lead to a realization that written texts read
aloud could not provide a suitable basis for developing the abilities needed to
process real-time authentic discourse. Current views of listening hence emphasize
the role of the listener, who is seen an active participant in listening, employing
strategies to facilitate, monitor, and evaluate his or her listening.
Listening has also been considered from a further perspective in recent years
when it is examined in relation not only to comprehension, but also to language
learning. Since listening can provide much of the input and data learners receive
in language learning, an important question is, how can attention to the language
the listener hears, facilitate second language learning? This raises the issue of the
role “noticing” and conscious awareness of language form, and how noticing can
be part of the process by which learners can incorporate new words forms, and
structures into their developing communicative competence. This role for listening
will also be examined here.
Approaches to the teaching of speaking in EFL/ESL have been more strongly
influenced by fads and fashions than the teaching of listening. “Speaking” in
traditional methodologies usually meant repeating after the teacher, memorizing
a dialog, or responding to drills, reflecting the sentence-based view of proficiency
prevailing in the audiolingual and other drill-based or repetition-based
methodologies of the 1970s. The emergence of communicative language
teaching in the 1980s lead to changed views of syllabuses and methodology,
which are continuing to shape approaches to teaching speaking skills today.
Grammar-based syllabuses were replaced by communicative syllabuses built
around notion, functions, skills, tasks or other non-grammatical units of
organization. Fluency became a goal for speaking courses and this could be
developed through the use of information-gap and other tasks that required
learners to attempt real communication despite limited proficiency in English. In
so doing they would develop communication strategies and engage in negotiation
of meaning, both of which were considered essential to the development of oral
The notion of English as an international language has also prompted a revision
of the notion of communicative competence to include the notion of intercultural
competence. This shifts the focus to learning how to communicate in cross-
cultural settings, where native-speaker norms of communication may not be a
priority. At the same time it is now accepted that models for oral interaction in
classroom materials cannot be simply based on the intuitions of textbook writers
but should be informed by the findings of conversational analysis and the analysis
of real speech.
Approaches to the teaching of listening and speaking will be explored here in the
light of the kinds of issues discussed above. My goal is to examine what applied
linguistics research and theory says about the nature of listening and speaking
skills, and then to explore what the implications are for classroom teaching. We
will begin with examining the teaching of listening
1: The Teaching of Listening
I wish to consider listening from two different perspectives, which I refer to as
listening as comprehension, and the second, listening as acquisition.
Listening As Comprehension
Listening as comprehension is the traditional way of thinking about the nature of
listening. Indeed, in most methodology manuals listening, and listening
comprehension are synonymous. This view of listening is based on the
assumption that the main function of listening in second language learning is to
facilitate understanding of spoken discourse. We will examine this view of
listening in some detail before considering a complementary view of listening –
listening as acquisition. This latter view of listening considers how listening can
provide input which triggers the further development of second language
Characteristics of spoken discourse
In order to understand the nature of listening processes, we need to consider
some of the characteristics of spoken discourse and the special problems it poses
for listeners. Spoken discourse has very different characteristics from written
discourse and these differences can add a number of dimensions to our
understanding of how we process speech. For example spoken discourse is
usually instantaneous. The listener must process it “on-line” and there is often no
chance to listen to it again. Spoken discourse also often strikes the second
language listener as being very fast, although speech rates vary considerably.
Radio monologs may contain 160 words per minute, while conversation can
consist of up to 220 words per minute. The impression of faster or slower speech
generally results from the amount of intra clausal pausing that speakers make
use of. Unlike written discourse, spoken discourse is usually unplanned and often
reflects the processes of construction such as hesitations, reduced forms, fillers,
and repeats. Spoken discourse has also been described as having a linear
structure, compared to a hierarchical structure for written discourse. Whereas the
unit of organization of written discourse is the sentence, spoken language is
usually delivered one clause at a time and longer utterances in conversation
generally consist of several clauses co-ordinated. Most of the clauses used are
simple conjuncts or adjuncts. Spoken texts too are often context dependent and
personal, often assuming shared background knowledge. Lastly, spoke texts may
be spoken with many different accents, from standard to non-standard, to
regional, non-native, and so on.
Understanding spoken discourse: bottom-up and top-down processing
Two different kinds of processes are involved in understanding spoken discourse.
These are often referred to as bottom-up and top-down processing. Bottom-up
processing refers to using the incoming input as the basis for understanding the
message. Comprehension begins with the data that has been received which is
analysed as successive levels of organization – sounds, words, clauses,
sentences, texts – until meaning is arrived at. Comprehension is viewed as a
process of decoding.
The listener’s lexical and grammatical competence in a language provides the
basis for bottom-up processing. The input is scanned for familiar words, and
grammatical knowledge is used to work out the relationship between elements of
sentences. Clark and Clark (1977:49) summarize this view of listening in the
1. They [listeners] take in raw speech and hold a phonological representation of it
in working memory.
2. They immediately attempt to organize the phonological representation into
constituents, identifying their content and function.
3. They identify each constituent and then construct underlying propositions,
building continually onto a hierarchical representation of propositions.
4. Once they have identified the propositions for a constituent, they retain them
in working memory and at some point purge memory of the phonological
representation. In doing this, they forget the exact wording and retain the
We can illustrate this with an example. Imagine I said the following to you:
“The guy I sat next to on the bus this morning on the way to work was telling me
he runs a Thai restaurant in Chinatown. Apparently it’s very popular at the
In order to understand this utterance using bottom-up processing, we have to
mentally break the utterance down into its components. This is referred to as
“chunking” and here are the chunks that guide us to the underlying core meaning
of the utterances.
I sat next to on the bus
was telling me
he runs a Thai restaurant in Chinatown
apparently it’s very popular
at the moment
The chunks help us identify the underlying propositions the utterances expresses,
I was on the bus.
There was a guy next to me.
He said he runs a Thai restaurant.
It’s in Chinatown.
It’s very popular now.
It is these units of meaning which we remember, and not the form in which we
initially heard them. Our knowledge of grammar helps us find the appropriate
chunks, and the speaker also assists us in this process through intonation and
Teaching bottom-up processing
Learners need a large vocabulary and a good working knowledge of sentence
structure to be able to process texts bottom-up. Exercises that develop bottom-
up processing help the learner to do such things as the following:
Retain input while it is being processes
Recognize word and clause divisions
Recognize key words
Recognize key transitions in a discourse
Recognize grammatical relations between key elements in sentences
Use stress and intonation to identify word and sentence functions
Many traditional classroom listening activities focus primary on bottom-up
processing, exercises such as dictation, cloze listening, the use of multiple choice
questions after a text and similar activities which require close and detailed
recognition and processing of the input and
which assume that everything the listener needs to understand is contained in
In classroom materials examples of the kinds of kinds of tasks that develop these
bottom-up listening skills would those that require listeners to do the following
kinds of things:
Identifying the referents of pronouns in an utterance
Recognize the time reference of an utterance
Distinguish between positive and negative statements
Recognize the order in words occurred in an utterance
Identify sequence markers
Identify key words that occurred in a spoken text
Identify which modal verbs occurred in a spoken text
Here are some examples of listening tasks that develop bottom-up processing:
a) Students listen to positive and negative statements and choose an appropriate
form of agreement.
Students hear: Students choose the correct response
That’s a nice camera. Yes No
That’s not a very good one. Yes No
This coffee isn’t hot. Yes No
This meal is really tasty. Yes No
b) The following exercise practices listening for word stress as a marker of the
information focus of a sentence. Students listen to questions that have two
possible information focuses and use stress to identify the appropriate focus.
(Words in italic are stressed).
Students hear Students check information focus
The bank’s downtown branch Where When
is closed today.
Is the city office open on Sunday? Where When
I’m going to the museum today. Where When
c) The following activity helps students develop the ability to identify key words.
My hometown is a nice place to visit because it is close to a beach and there are
lots of interesting walks you can do in the surrounding countryside.
Which of these words do you hear? Number them in the order you hear them.
beach shops walks hometown countryside schools nice
Top-down processing, on the other hand, refers to the use of background
knowledge in understanding the meaning of a message. Whereas bottom-up
processing goes from language to meaning, top-down processing goes from
meaning to language. Background knowledge may take several forms. It may be
previous knowledge about the topic of discourse, it may be situational or
contextual knowledge, or it may be knowledge in the form of “schemata” or
“scripts” – plans about the overall structure of events and the relationships
For example consider how we respond to the following utterance:
“I heard on the news there was a big earthquake in Los Angeles last night.”
On recognizing the word “earthquake” we generate a set of questions we want to
hear or obtain responses to:
Where exactly was the earthquake?
How big was it?
Did it cause a lot of damage?
Were many people killed or injured?
What rescue efforts are under way?
These questions guide us through the understanding of any subsequent discourse
that we hear and they focus our listening on what is said about the questions.
Or consider this example. Imagine I say the following to a colleague at my office
“I am going to the dentist this afternoon.”
This utterance activates a schema for “going to the dentist”. This schema can be
thought of as organized around the following dimensions:
A setting: (e.g. the dentist’s surgery)
Participants: (e.g. the dentist, the patient, the dentist’s assistant)
Goals: (e.g. to have a check up or to replace a filling)
Procedures: (e.g. injections, drilling, rinsing)
Outcomes: (e.g. fixing the problem, pain, discomfort)
When I return to my office the following exchange takes places between my
colleague and I:
“So how was it?”
“Fine. I didn’t feel a thing”.
Because speaker and hearer share understanding of the “going to the dentist
schema” the details of the visit need not be spelled out. A minimum amount of
information is given to enable the participants to understand what happened. This
is another example of the use of top-down processing.
Much of our knowledge of the world consists of knowledge about specific
situations, the people one might expect to encounter in such situations, what
their goals and purposes are, and how they typically accomplish them. Likewise
we have knowledge of thousands of topics and concepts and their associated
meanings and links to other topics and concepts. In applying this prior knowledge
about things, concepts, people and events to a particular utterance about a
specific topic or topic, comprehension can often proceed from the top down. The
actual discourse heard is used to confirm expectations and to fill out details.
Consider the meaning of the expression “Good luck!” and how it’s meaning would
differ if said as a response to the following statements:
a) I’m going to the casino.
b) I’m going to the dentist.
c) I’m going to a job interview.
The meaning of “good luck” differs according to the situation we mentally refer it
to, according to the background knowledge we bring to each situation when it is
If the listener is unable to make use of top-down processing, an utterance or
discourse may be incomprehensible. Bottom-up processing alone often provides
an insufficient basis for comprehension. Consider the following narrative, for
example, and read it carefully one or two times. What is the topic?
Sally first tried setting loose a team of gophers. The plan backfired when
a dog chased them away. She then entertained a group of teenagers and
was delighted when they brought their motorcycles. Unfortunately, she
failed to find a Peeping Tom listed in the Yellow Pages. Furthermore, her
stereo system was not loud enough. The crab grass might have worked
but she didn’t have a fan that was sufficiently powerful. The obscene
phone calls gave her hope until the number was changed. She thought
about calling a door to door salesman but decided to hang up a
clothesline instead. It was the installation of blinking neon lights across
the street that did the trick. She eventually framed the ad from the
Stein and Albridge 1978
At first the narrative is virtually incomprehensible. However once a schema is
provided to apply to the narrative – “Getting rid of a troublesome neighbor” – the
reader can make use of top-down processing and the elements of the story begin
to fit in place as the writer describes a series of actions she took to try to annoy
her neighbor and cause him to leave.
Teaching top-down processing
Exercises that require top-down processing develop the learner’s ability to do the
Use key words to construct the schema of a discourse
Infer the setting for a text
Infer the role of the participants and their goals
Infer causes or effects
Infer unstated details of a situation
Anticipate questions related to the topic or situation
The following activities develop top-down listening skills.
Students generate a set of questions they expect to hear about a topic and listen
to see if they are answered.
Students generate a list of things they already know about a topic and things
they would like to learn more about. Then listen and compare.
Students read one speaker’s part in a conversation, predict the other speaker’s
part, then listen and compare.
Students read a list of key points to be covered in a talk, then listen to see which
ones were mentioned.
Students listen to part of a story, complete the rest of it, then listen and compare
Students read news headlines, guess what happened, then listen to the news
items and compare.
Combining bottom-up and top-down listening in a listening lesson
In real world listening, both bottom-up and top-down processing generally occur
together, the extent to which one or the other dominates depending on the
listener’s familiarity with the topic and content of a text, the density of
information in a text, the text type, and the listener’s purpose in listening. An
experienced cook, for example, might listen to a radio chef describing a recipe for
cooking chicken and listen to compare the chef’s recipe with her own. She has a
precise schema to apply to the task and listens to register similar and differences.
She makes more use of top-down processing. A novice cook listening to the same
program however, might listen with much greater attention trying to identify
each step in order to write down the recipe. Here, far more bottom-up processing
A typical lesson sequence in current teaching materials involves a three part
lesson sequence consisting of pre-listening, while listening and post-listening and
contains activities which link bottom-up and top-down listening (Field, 1998). The
pre-listening phase prepares the students for both top-down and bottom-up
processing through activities involving activating prior knowledge, making
predictions, and reviewing key vocabulary. The while-listening phase focuses on
comprehension through exercises which require selective listening, gist listening,
sequencing etc. The post-listening phase typically involves a response to
comprehension and may require students to give opinions about a topic. However
it can also include a bottom-up focus if the teacher and the listeners examine the
texts or parts of the text in detail, focussing on sections that students could not
follow. This may involve a micro-analysis of sections of the text to enable
students to recognize such feature as blends, reduced words, ellipsis etc and
other features of spoken discourse that they were unable to process.or recognize.
Successful listening can also be looked at in terms of the strategies the listener
makes use of when listening. Does the learner focus mainly on the content of a
text, or does he or she also consider how to listen? A focus on how to listen raises
the issues of listening strategies. Strategies can be thought of as the ways in
which a learner approaches and manages a task and listeners can be taught
effective ways of approaching and managing their listening. These activities seek
to involve listeners actively in the process of listening.
Buck (2001,104) identifies two kinds of strategies in listening:
Cognitive strategies: those mental activities related to comprehending
and storing input in working memory or long-term memory for later
• Comprehension processes: associated with the processing of linguistic and
• Storing and memory processes: associated with the storing of linguistic
and non-linguistic input in working memory or long-term memory
• Using and retrieval processes: associated with accessing memory, to be
readied for output
Metacognitive strategies: those conscious or unconscious mental
activities that perform an executive function in the management of cognitive
• Assessing the situation: taking stock of conditions surrounding a language
task by assessing one’s own knowledge, one’s available internal and
external resources and the constraints of the situation before engaging in
• Monitoring: determining the effectiveness of one’s own or another’s
performance while engaged in a task;
• Self-evaluating: determining the effectiveness of one’s own or another’s
performance after engaging in the activity;
• Self-testing: testing oneself to determine the effectiveness of one’s own
language use or the lack thereof
Goh (1997,1998) shows how the metacognitive activities of planning, monitoring,
and evaluating can be applied to the teaching of listening.
Metacognitive strategies for self-regulation in learner listening
Planning This is a strategy for determining learning objectives and deciding
the means by which the objectives can be achieved.
Identify learning objectives for listening development
Determine ways to achieve these objectives
Set realistic short-term and long-term goals
Seek opportunities for listening practice
Preview main ideas before listening
Rehearse language (e.g. pronunciation) necessary for the task
Decide in advance which aspects of the text to concentrate on
Monitoring This is a strategy for checking on the progress in the course of
learning or carrying out a learning task
Consider progress against a set of pre-determined criteria
Determine how close it is to achieving short-term or long-term goals
Check and see if the same mistakes are still being made
Check understanding during listening
Check the appropriateness and the accuracy of what is understood
and compare it with new information
Identify the source of difficulty
Evaluating This is a strategy for determining the success of the outcome of an
attempt to learn or complete a learning task.
Assess listening progress against a set of pre-determined criteria
Assess the effectiveness of learning and practice strategies
Assess the appropriateness of learning goals and objectives set
Check the appropriateness and the accuracy of what has been
Determine the effectiveness of strategies used the task
Assess overall comprehension of the text
Goh and Yusnita (2006) describe the effectiveness of strategy instruction among
a group of 11 and 12 year old ESL learners in Singapore.
Eight listening lessons which combined guided reflection and teacher-led
process-based discussions were conducted. At the end of the period of
metacognitive instruction, the children reported in their written diaries a
deeper understanding of the nature and the demands of listening, increased
confidence in completing listening tasks, and better strategic knowledge for
coping with comprehension difficulties. There was also an increase in the
scores in the listening examinations of the majority of the students,
particularly the weaker listeners, suggesting that metacognitive instruction
also had a direct impact on listening performance.
Another approach to the incorporating listening strategies in a listening lesson
involves a cycle of activities, as seen below.
Steps in guided metacognitive sequence in a listening lesson from Goh 2006
In pairs, students predict the possible words and phrases that they might hear.
They write down their predictions. They may
write some words in their first
As they are listening to the text, students underline or circle those words or
phrases (including first language equivalents) that they have predicted correctly.
They also write down new information they hear.
Pair process-based discussion
In pairs, students compare what they have understood so far and explain how they
arrive at the understanding. They identify the parts that cause confusion and
disagreement and make a note of the
parts of the text that require special
attention in the second listen.
Students listen to those parts that have caused confusion or disagreement areas
and make notes of any new information they hear.
Step 5 Whole-class process-based discussion
The teacher leads a discussion to confirm comprehension before discussing with
students the strategies that they reported using.
Listening As Acquisition
Our discussion so far has dealt with one perspective on listening, namely listening
as comprehension. Everything we have discussed has been based on the
assumption that the role of listening in a language program is to help develop
learners’ abilities to understand things they listen to.
This approach to teaching of listening has been based on the following
• Listening serves the goal of extracting meaning from messages
• In order to do this learners have to be taught how to use both bottom up
and top down processes in arriving at an understanding of messages
• The language of utterances, i.e. the precise words, syntax, expressions
used by speakers are temporary carriers of meaning. Once meaning has
been identified there is no further need to attend to the form of messages
unless problems in understanding occurred.
• Teaching listening strategies can help make learners more effective
Tasks employed in classroom materials seek to enable listeners to recognize and
act on the general, specific or implied meaning of utterances, and these include
sequencing tasks, true-false comprehension tasks, picture identification tasks,
summary tasks, dicto comp as well as activities designed to develop effective
listening strategies. Although what is sometimes called “discriminative
listening”(Wolvin and Coakely 1996) is sometimes employed (i.e.listening to
distinguish auditory stimuli), it is generally taught as an initial stage in the
listening process, the ultimate goal of which is comprehension. Activities that are
typically not employed when comprehension is the focus of listening are those
which require accurate recognition and recall of words, syntax and expressions
that occurred in the input. Such activities would include dictation, cloze exercises,
identifying differences between a spoken and written text. Activities such as these
are discouraged because they focus on listening for words rather than listening
for meaning, i.e. they give too much emphasis to bottom-up listening processes
rather than top down ones.
Few would question the approach to the teaching of listening described above
when the focus is listening as comprehension. But another crucial role has been
proposed for listening in a language program, namely its role in facilitating
second language acquisition. Schmidt (1990) has drawn attention to the role of
consciousness in language learning, and in particular to the role of noticing in
learning. His argument is that we won’t learn anything from input we hear and
understand unless we notice something about the input. Consciousness of
features of the input can serve as a trigger which activates the first stage in the
process of incorporating new linguistic features into ones language competence.
As Slobin (1985:1164) remarked of L1 learning:
The only linguistic materials that can figure in language-making are
stretches of speech that attract the child’s attention to a sufficient degree
to be noticed and held in memory.
Schmidt (1990,139) further clarifies this point in distinguishing between input
(what the learner hears) and intake (that part of the input that the learner
notices). Only intake can serve as the basis for language development. In his own
study of his acquisition of Portuguese (Schmidt and Frota 1986), Schmidt found
that there was a close connection between noticing features of the input, and
their later emergence in his own speech.
In order for language development to take place, however, more appears to be
required that simply noticing features of the input. The learner has to try to
incorporate new linguistic items into his or her language repertoire. That is, they
need to be used in oral production. This involves process that have been variously
referred to as restructuring, complexification and producing stretched output. Van
Patten (1993, 436) suggests that restructuring refers to
… those [processes] that mediate the incorporation of intake into the
developing system. Since the internalization of intake is not mere
accumulation of discrete bits of data, date have to “fit in” in some way and
sometimes the accommodation of a particular set of data causes changes
in the rest of the system.
Complexification and stretching of output occurs in contexts
…where the learner needs to produce output which the current
interlanguage system cannot handle …[and so] … pushes the limits of the
interlanguage system to handle that output.
Tarone and Liu 1995, 120-121
In other words, learners need to take part in activities which require them to try
out and experiment in using newly noticed language forms in order for new
learning items to become incorporated into their linguistic repertoire.
What are the implications of this view of the role of listening in language learning,
to the teaching of listening? I would suggest that we can firstly distinguish
between situations where comprehension only is an appropriate instructional goal
and those where comprehension plus acquisition is a relevant focus. Examples of
the former would be situations where listening to extract information is the
primary focus of listening, such as listening to lectures, listening to
announcements, listening to sales presentations etc, and situations where
listening serves primarily a transactional function, such as service encounters. In
other cases, however, a listening course may be part of a general English course
or linked to a speaking course, and in these situations both listening as
comprehension and listening as acquisition should be the focus. Listening texts
and materials can then be exploited, first as the basis for comprehension, and
second as the basis for acquisition. What classroom strategies are appropriate in
I would propose a two-part cycle of teaching activities as the basis for the
listening as acquisition phase of a lesson, namely:
a) noticing activities
b) restructuring activities
Noticing activities involve returning to the listening texts that served as the basis
for comprehension activities and using them as the basis for language awareness.
For example students can listen again to a recording in order to:
• identify differences between what they hear and a printed version of the
• complete a cloze version of the text
• complete sentences stems taken from the text
• check off from a list, expressions that occurred in the text
Restructuring activities are oral or written tasks that involve productive use of
selected items from the listening text. Such activities could include:
• in the case of conversational texts, pair reading of the tape scripts
• written sentence- completion tasks requiring use of expressions and other
linguistic items that occurred in the texts
• dialog practice based on dialogs that incorporate items from the text
• role plays in which students are required to use key language from the
For example here is the listening text from an activity in Interchange Level 2, 3
Mike has just returned from Brazil. Listen to him talk about Carnaval.
What did he enjoy most about it?
Mike: Isn’t that music fantastic? It’s from a samba CD that I got when I
was in Rio for Carnival. Wow! Carnival in Rio is really something! It’s a
party that lasts for four whole days. It’s held late in February or early
March, but you need to book a hotel room way in advance because hotels
fill up really quickly. Carnaval is celebrated all over Brazil, but the most
famous party is in Rio. The whole city is decorated with colored lights and
streamers. It’s really very beautiful. Everyone is very friendly – especially
to visitors from other countries. The best part about Carnaval is the big
parade. The costumes are unbelievable – people work on them for
months. It’s really fantastic to watch. Everyone dances the samba in the
streets. I’d really recommend you go to Rio for Carnaval if you ever have
The listening activities that accompany this text focus on listening for
comprehension and focus on understanding details from the passage. However
the text could also be used as the basis for a follow-up acquisition activity. For
example, students could be given the text above with some key lexical and
grammatical items deleted and the passage used as a cloze listening. Then the
students could be asked to work in pairs and rewrite the monolog as a question
and answer exchange between Mike and a friend. Once this was done the dialog
could be used for pair practice. In this way students would have the chance to
acquire for active use, some of the vocabulary and grammar used in the text.
I am hence advocating that in contexts where comprehension and acquisition are
the goals of a listening course, a two part strategy is appropriate in classroom
teaching and instructional materials, namely:
Phase 1: listening as comprehension
Use of the materials as discussed above
Phase 2: listening as acquisition
The listening texts used are now used as the basis for speaking activities,
making use of noticing activities and restructuring activities.
By linking listening tasks to speaking tasks in the way described above,
opportunities can be provided for students to notice how language is used in
different communicative contexts, and then practice using some of the language
that occurred in the listening texts.
2: The Teaching of Speaking
The mastery of speaking skills in English is a priority for many second or foreign
language learners. Learners consequently often evaluate their success in
language learning as well as the effectiveness of their English course on the basis
of how well they feel they have improved in their spoken language proficiency.
Oral skills have hardly been neglected in EFL/ESL courses (witness the huge
number of conversation and other speaking course books in the market) though
how best to approach the teaching of oral skills has long been the focus of
methodological debate. Teachers and textbooks make use of a variety of
approaches, ranging from direct approaches focusing on specific features of oral
interaction (e.g. turn-taking, topic management, questioning strategies ) to
indirect approaches which create conditions for oral interaction through group
work, task work and other strategies (Richards 1990).
Advances in discourse analysis, conversational analysis, and corpus analysis in
recent years have revealed a great deal about the nature of spoken discourse and
how it differs from written discourse (McCarthy and Carter 1997). These
differences reflect the different purposes for which spoken and written language
are used. Jones (1996,12) comments:
In speaking and listening we tend to be getting something done, exploring
ideas, working out some aspect of the world, or simply being together. In
writing we may be creating a record, committing events or moments to
Research has also thrown considerable light on the complexity of spoken
interaction in either a first or second language. Luoma (2004) for example, cites
some of the following features of spoken discourse:
• Composed of idea units (conjoined short phrases and clauses)
• May be planned (e.g. a lecture) or unplanned (e.g. a conversation)
• Employs more vague or generic words than written language
• Employs fixed phrases, fillers and hesitation markers
• Contains slips and errors reflecting on-line processing
• Involved reciprocity (i.e. interactions are jointly constructed)
• Shows variation (e.g. between formal and casual speech), reflecting
speaker roles, speaking purpose, and the context
Some of these features were discussed in the section on listening above.
A marked feature of conversational discourse is the use of fixed expressions or
“routines”, which often have specific functions in conversation and which give
conversational discourse the quality of naturalness. Wardhaugh (1985: 74 cited in
Richards 1990) observes:
There are routines to help people establish themselves in certain positions:
routines for taking off and hanging up coats; arrangements concerning
where one is to sit or stand at a party or in a meeting,; offers of hospitality,
and so on. There are routines for beginnings and endings of conversations,
for leading into topics, and for moving away from one topic t another. And
there are routines for breaking up conversations, for leaving a party, and
for dissolving a gathering … It is difficult to imagine how life could be lived
without some routines.
Consider the following routines. Where might they occur? What might there
function be within those situations?
This one’s on me.
I don’t believe a word of it.
I don’t get the point.
You look great today.
As I was saying ..
Nearly time. Got everything.
I’ll be making amove then,
I see what you mean.
Let me think about it.
Just looking thanks.
I’ll be with you in a minute.
It doesn’t matter.
Pawley and Syder (1983) suggest that native speakers have a repertoire of
thousands of routines like these, and their use in appropriate situations creates
conversational discourse that sounds natural and native-like, and that they have
to be learned and used as fixed expressions.
In designing speaking activities or instructional materials for second or foreign
language teaching it is also necessary to recognize the very different functions
speaking performs in daily communication and the different purposes for which
our students need speaking skills.
Styles of speaking
An important dimension of conversation is using a style of speaking that is
appropriate to the particular circumstances. Different styles of speaking reflect
the roles, age, sex, and status of participants in interactions and reflect the
expression of politeness. Consider the various ways in which it is possible to ask
someone the time, and the different social meanings that are communicated by
Got the time?
I guess it must be quite late now?
What’s the time?
Do you have the time?
Can I bother you for the time?
You wouldn’t have the time would you?
Lexical, phonological, and grammatical changes may be involved in producing a
suitable style of speaking, as the following alternatives illustrate;
Have you seen the boss? Have you seen the manager? (lexical)
Whachadoin? / What are you doing? (phonological)
Seen Joe lately?/ Have you seen Joe lately?
Different speech styles reflect perceptions of the social roles of the participants
in a speech event. If the speaker and hearer are judged to of more or less qual
status, a casual speech style is appropriate that stresses affiliation and solidarity.
If the participants are perceived as being of uneven power or status, a more
formal speech style is appropriate, one that marks the dominance of one speaker
over the other. Successful management of speech styles creates the sense of
politeness that is essential for harmonious social relations (Brown and Levinson,
Functions of speaking
Numerous attempts have been made to classify the functions of speaking in
human interaction. Brown and Yule (1983) made a useful distinction between the
interactional functions of speaking (in which it serves to establish and maintain
social relations), and the transactional functions (which focus on the exchange of
information). In workshops with teachers and in designing my own materials I
use an expanded three part version of Brown and Yule’s framework (after Jones
1996 and Burns 1998): talk as interaction: talk as transaction: talk as
performance. Each of these speech activities are quite distinct in terms of form
and function and require different teaching approaches.
Talk as interaction
This refers to what we normally mean by “conversation” and describes interaction
which serves a primarily social function. When people meet, they exchange
greetings, engage in small talk and chit chat, recount recent experiences and so
on because they wish to be friendly and to establish a comfortable zone of
interaction with others. The focus is more on the speakers and how they wish to
present themselves to each other than on the message. Such exchanges may be
either casual or more formal depending on the circumstances and their nature
has been well described by Brown and Yule (1983). The main features of talk as
interaction can be summarized as follows:
• Has a primarily social function
• Reflects role relationships
• Reflects speaker’s identity
• May be formal or casual
• Uses conversational conventions
• Reflects degrees of politeness
• Employs many generic words
• Uses conversational register
• Is jointly constructed
We can see some of these features illustrated in the following authentic example
of a segment of conversational discourse (from Thornbury and Slade 2007, 132-
133). Two women are asking a third woman about her husband and how they
Jessie: Right. Right., and so when did you – actually meet him?
Brenda: So we didn’t actually meet until that night.
Judy: Oh, hysterical. [Laughs]
Brenda: Well, I met him that night. We were all, we all went out to dinner. So
I had champagne and strawberries at the airport.
Jessie: And what was it like the when you first saw him? Were you really ----
Brenda: --- Well, I was hanging out of a window watching him in his card,
and I thought ‘oh God what about this!’ [laughs]
Brenda: And he’d combed his hair and shaved his eyebrows – and –
Jessie: had you seen a photo of him?
Brenda: Oh, yeah, I had photos of him, photos … and I’d spoken to him on
Jessie: Did you get on well straight away?
Brenda: Uh, well sort of. I’m a sort of nervy person when I first meet people,
so ti was sort of … you know… just nice to him.
The conversation is highly interactive and is in a collaborative conversational
style. The listeners give constant feedback including laughter, to prompt the
speaker to continue, and we see the examples of casual conversational register
with “nervy” and “hanging out of the window”.
Examples of these kinds of talk are:
Chatting to an adjacent passenger during a plane flight (polite conversation that
does not seek to develop the basis for future social contact)
Chatting to a school friend over coffee (casual conversation that serves to mark
an ongoing friendship)
A student chatting to his or her professor while waiting for an elevator (polite
conversation that reflects unequal power between the two participants)
Telling a friend about an amusing weekend experience, and hearing her or him
recount a similar experience he or she once had (sharing personal recounts)
Some of the skills involved in using talk as interaction involve knowing how to do
the following things:
• Opening and closing conversations
• Choosing topics
• Making small-talk
• Recounting personal incidents and experiences
• Using adjacency-pairs
• Reacting to others
• Using an appropriate style of speaking
Mastering the art of talk as interaction is difficult and may not be a priority for all
learners. However students who do need such skills and find them lacking report
that they sometimes feel awkward and at a loss for words when they find
themselves in situation that requires talk for interaction. They feel difficulty in
presenting a good image of themselves and sometimes avoid situations which call
for this kind of talk. This can be a disadvantage for some learners where the
ability to use talk for conversation can be important. Hatch (1978) emphasizes
that second language learners need a wide range of topics at their disposal in
order to manage talk as interaction. Initially, learners may depend on familiar
topics to get by. However they also need practice in introducing new topics into
conversation to move beyond this stage.
They should practice nominating topics about which they are prepared to
speak. They should do lots of listening comprehension for topic nominations
of native speakers. They should practice predicting questions for a large
number of topics … They should be taught elicitation devices... to get topic
clarification. That is, they should practice saying “huh”, “pardon me”, “excuse
me, I didn’t understand” etc and echoing parts of sentences they do not
understand in order to get it recycled again. Nothing stops the opportunity to
carry on a conversation quicker than silence or the use of “yes” and head
nodding when the learner does not understand.
Talk as transaction
This type of talk refers to situations where the focus is on what is said or done.
The message is the central focus here and making oneself understood clearly and
accurately, rather than the participants and how they interact socially with each
other. In transactions,
…. talk is associated with other activities. For example, students may be
engaged in hand-on activities [e.g. in a science lesson] to explore concepts
associated with floating and sinking. In this type of spoken language
students and teachers usually focus on meaning or on talking their way to
Jones 1996, 14
The following example from a literature lesson illustrates this kind of talk in a
classroom setting: [T = Teacher S = Student]
T: The other day we were talking about figures of speech. And we have already in
the past talked about three kinds of figures of speech. Does anybody remember
those three types? Mary?
S: Personification, simile, and metaphor.
T: Good. Let me write those on the board. __ Now can anybody tell me what
personification is all about again? Juan?
S: Making a non-living thing act like a person.
T: Yes. OK. Good enough. Now what about simile? …. OK. – Cecelia?
S: Comparing two things by making use of the words “like” or “as”.
T: OK. Good. I’ll write that on the board. The other one – metaphor. Paul?
S: It’s when we make a comparison between two things, but we compare them
without using the words “like” or “as”.
T: All right. Good. So it’s more direct than simile. Now we had a poem a few
weeks ago about personification. Do you remember? Can you recall one line from
that poem where a non-living things acts like a human person?
S: “The moon walks the night”.
T: Good. “The moon walks he night.” Does the moon have feet to walk?
T: No. So this is a figure of speech. All right. Now our lesson today has something
to do with metaphor. Now we’re going to see what they have in common …
[Richards and Lockhart 1994. 116-117]
Examples of these kinds of talk are:
Classroom group discussions and problem solving activities.
A class activity during which students design a poster.
Discussing needed repairs to a computer with a technician
Discussing sightseeing plans with a hotel clerk or tour guide
Making a telephone call to obtain flight information .
Asking someone for directions on the street.
Buying something in a shop
Ordering food from a menu in a restaurant.
Burns distinguishes between two different types of talk as transaction. One is
situations where the focus is on giving and receiving information and where the
participants focus primarily on what is said or achieved (e.g. asking someone for
directions). Accuracy may not be a priority as long as information is successfully
communicated or understood.
The second type are transactions which focus on obtaining goods or services,
such as checking into a hotel or ordering food in a restaurant. For example the
following exchange was observed in a café:
Wait person: Hi, what”ll it be today?
Client: Just a cappuccino please. Low fat decaf if you have it.
Wait person: Sure. Nothing to eat today?
Client: No thanks.
Wait person: Not a problem.
The main features of talk as transaction are:
• It has a primarily information focus
• The main focus is the message and not the participants
• Participants employ communication strategies to make themselves
• There may be frequent questions, repetitions, and comprehension checks
as in the example from the classroom lesson above
• There may be negotiation and digression
• Linguistic accuracy is not always important
Some of the skills involved in using talk for transactions are:
• Explaining a need or intention
• Describing something
• Asking questioning
• Asking for clarification
• Confirming information
• Justifying an opinion
• Making suggestions
• Clarifying understanding
• Making comparisons
• Agreeing and disagreeing
Talk as performance
The third type of talk which can usefully be distinguished has been called talk as
performance. This refers to public talk, that is, talk which transmits information
before an audience such as morning talks, public announcements, and speeches.
For example here is the opening of a fall welcome speech given by a university
Good morning. It’s not my intention to deliver the customary state of the
university address. There’s good reason for that. It would seem to me to be
presumptuous for someone who has been here not quite seven weeks to tell
you what he thinks the state of the university is. You would all be better
prepared for that kind of address than I am. However, I would like to offer
you, based on my experience – which has been pretty intensive these almost
seven weeks – some impressions that I have of this institution, strengths, or
some of them, and the challenges and opportunities that we face here. … I
also want to talk about how I see my role during the short time that I will be
with you …
www.sjsu.edu/president/docs/speeches/2003_welcome.pdf accessed June 9 2007
Spoken texts of this kind according to Jones (1996,14),
…often have identifiable generic structures and the language used is more
predictable. … Because of less contextual support, the speaker must
include all necessary information in the text – hence the importance of topic
as well as textual knowledge. And while meaning is still important, there will
be more emphasis on form and accuracy.
Talk as performance tends to be in the form of monolog rather than dialog, often
follows a recognizable format (e.g. a speech of welcome) and is closer to written
language than conversational language. Similarly it is often evaluated according
to its effectiveness or impact on the listener, something which is unlikely to
happen with talk as interaction or transaction. Examples of talk as performance
Giving a class report about a school trip
Conducting a class debate
Giving a speech of welcome
Making a sales presentation
Giving a lecture
The main features of talk as performance are:
• There is a focus on both message and audience
• It reflects predictable organization and sequencing
• Form and accuracy is important
• Language is more like written language
• It is often monologic
Some of the skills involved in using talk as performance are:
• Using an appropriate format
• Presenting information in an appropriate sequence
• Maintaining audience engagement
• Using correct pronunciation and grammar
• Creating an effect on the audience
• Using appropriate vocabulary
• Using appropriate opening and closing
Teachers sometimes describe interesting differences between how learners
manage these three different kinds of talk, as the following anecdotes illustrate.
I sometimes find with my students at a university in Hong Kong, that they are
good at talk as transaction and performance but not with talk as interaction. For
example the other day one of my students did an excellent class presentation in a
course for computer science majors, and described very effectively a new piece of
computer software. However a few days later when I met the same student going
home on the subway and tried to engage her in social chat, she was at a
complete loss for words.
Another teacher describes a second language user with just the opposite
difficulties. He is more comfortable with talk as interaction than as performance.
One of my colleagues in my university in China is quite comfortable using talk
socially. If we have lunch together with other native speakers he is quite
comfortable joking and chatting in English. However recently we did a
presentation together at a conference and his performance was very different. His
pronunciation became much more “Chinese” and he made quite a few
grammatical and other errors that I hadn’t heard him make before.
Implications for teaching
Three core issues need to be addressed in planning speaking activities for an oral
English course. The first is to determine what kinds of speaking skills the course
will focus on. Is it all three of the genres described above or will some receive
greater attention than others. Informal needs analysis is the starting point here.
Procedures for determining needs include observation of learners carrying out
different kinds of communicative tasks, questionnaires, interviews, and diagnostic
testing (e.g. Tsang and Wong 2002). The second issues is identifying teaching
strategies to “teach” (i.e. provide opportunities for learners to acquire) each kind
Teaching talk as interaction
Talk as interaction is perhaps the most difficult skill to teach since interactional
talk is a very complex as well as subtle phenomena that takes place under the
control of “unspoken” rules. In my experience these are best taught thought
providing examples embedded in naturalistic dialogs that can serve to model
features such as opening and closing conversations, making small talk,
recounting personal incidents and experiences, and reacting to what others say.
The rules for making “small talk” are that such interactions are often initiated by
a comment concerning something in the immediate vicinity or that both
participants have knowledge of, and that the comment will elicit agreement, since
agreement is face-preserving and non-threatening. Hence safe topics must be
chosen such as the weather, the traffic and so on. Students can initially be given
models to practice, such as the following:
A. Nice weather today.
B. Yes it is.
A. I hope the weather is nice for the weekend.
B. Me too.
A. The buses to school are always so crowded.
B. Yes they are.
Later they can be given situations to consider in which small talk might be
appropriate (e.g. meeting someone at a movie, running into a friend in the
cafeteria, waiting at a bus stop) and asked to think of small topic comment and
Giving feedback (back channelling) is another important aspect of talk as
interaction and involves responding to a conversational partner with expressions
such as That’s interesting”, “yeah”, “really”, and so on, that indicate interest and
a wish for the speaker to continue. To practice using back channelling in this way
students can examine dialogs in which feedback expressions have been omitted.
They can consider suitable ways of providing them, then practice them. For
example they can consider different responses they could use on the following
A. I’m going to Hawaii for my next vacation,
A. Yeah, my parents are taking me there as a graduation present.
B. ___________ And what do you plan to do there?
A. Well I guess I’ll spend a lot of time on the beach.
A. But I also want to do some snorkelling.
Another technique to practice the use of conversation starters and personal
recounts involves giving conversation starters which students have to respond to
by asking one or two follow-up questions. The teacher prepares a handout
containing a list of conversational starters (the expressions one uses to start a
conversation or to introduce a topic into a conversation such as, “I didn’t sleep
very well last night”. “Look what I bought on Sunday. How do you like it?” “Did
that thunderstorm last night wake you?”) Students move around the class. One
students read out a starter from the list, and his or her partner responds by
giving feedback or asking follow-up questions to keep the conversation going.
Two simple activities I use to practice topic management are “in the hot seat”,
and “question time”. In the first activity, a student sits on a chair in front of the
class and makes a statement about something he or she did recently (e.g. “I saw
a good movie on Sunday). The other members of the class have to ask three or
more questions about the topic which the student has to answer quickly. Then
another students takes the hot seat. With the activity called question time, before
students begin a lesson on a new theme, I prepare up to 15 questions related to
the theme and put them on a handout. For example if the next unit is on the
theme of sports, on the students’ handout there will be questions such as “What
sports do you play”, “How often do you play sports?”, “What sports are popular in
your country?”, “What sport have you never tried?” etc. I first ask students
around the class to answer the questions quickly. Then students practice asking
and answering the questions in pairs.
Teaching talks as transaction
Talk as transaction is more easily planned since current communicative materials
are a rich resource of group activities, information-gap activities and role plays
that can provide a source for practicing how to use talk for sharing and obtaining
information as well as for carrying out real-world transactions. These activities
include ranking activities, values clarification activities, brainstorming, and
simulations. Group discussion activities can be initiated by having students work
in groups to prepare a short list of controversial statements for others to think
about. Groups exchange statements and discuss them. For example: “Schools
should do away with exams”. “Vegetarianism is the only healthy life style”. “The
Olympic games are a waste of money.” Role-play activities are another familiar
technique for practicing real world transactions and typically involve the following
sequence of activities:
• Preparing: reviewing vocabulary, real world knowledge related to the
content and context of the role play (e.g. returning a faulty item to a
• Modeling and eliciting: demonstrating the stages that are typically
involved in the transaction, eliciting suggestions for how each stage can be
carried out, and teaching the functional language need for each stage
• Practicing and reviewing: students are assigned roles and practice a role
play using cue cards or realia to provide language and other support
However an issue that arises in relation to practicing talk as transaction using
different kinds of communicative tasks, is the level of linguistic accuracy that
students achieve when carrying out these tasks. One assumption is that form will
largely look after itself with incidental support from the teacher. From this
perspective grammar has a mediating role, rather than serving as an end in itself
(Thornbury 1998,112). It is a resource that the learner calls upon to make
meaning but the focus is on task accomplishment rather than grammatical
practice. “The teacher and the learner have a remarkable degree of flexibility, for
they are presented with a set of general learning objectives and problem-solving
tasks” (Kumaravadivelu 1991,99). As students carry out communicative tasks,
the assumption is that they engage in the process of negotiation of meaning,
employing strategies such as comprehension checks, confirmation checks, and
clarification requests. These are believed to lead to a gradual modification of their
language output, which over time takes on more and more target-like forms.
Despite these optimistic claims others have reported that communication tasks
often develop fluency at the expense of accuracy. Higgs and Clifford (1982,78),
for example, reporting experience with foreign language teaching programs in the
In programs that have as curricular goals an early emphasis on
unstructured communication activities – minimising, or excluding entirely,
considerations of grammatical accuracy – it is possible in a fairly short time
.. to provide students with a relatively large vocabulary and a high degree
of fluency .. These same data suggest that the premature immersion of a
student into an unstructured or “free” conversational setting before certain
linguistic structures are more or less in place is not done without cost.
There appear to be a real danger of leading students too rapidly into the
creative aspects of language use, in that if successful communication is
encouraged and rewarded for its own sake, the effect seems to be one of
rewarding at the same time the incorrect strategies seized upon in
attempting to deal with the communication strategies presented.
Similar findings have been reported in more recent studies of task-work (e.g. see
Foster 1998, Musumeci 1996).
An example of the quality of language that is sometimes produces as students
practice transactional functions of language is seen in the following example,
observed during a role play task in a Spanish secondary school English lesson.
One student is playing the role of a doctor and the other a patient, and they are
discussing a health problem.
S 1: You how old?
S2: I’m thirty-four .. thirty five.
S 1: Thirty … five?
S 2: Five.
S 1: Problem?
S 2: I have … a pain in my throat.
S 1: [In Spanish, What do you have?]
S 2: A pain.
S 1: [In Spanish. What’s that?]
S 2: [In Spanish: A pain] A pain.
S 1. Ah, [ain.
S 2 : Yes, and it makes problem to me when I … swallow.
S 1: When do you have …?
S 1: Since yesterday morning.
S 1: [In Spanish. No, I mean, where do you have the pain?] It has a pain in ….?
S 2. In my throat.
S 1: Ah. Let it .. getting, er .. worse. It can be, er … very serious problem and
you are, you will go to New York to operate, so … operation .. the 7th, the 27
er May. And treatment, you can’t eat, er, big meal.
S 2: Big meal. I er … I don’t know? Fish?
S 1: Fiish, you have to eat, er, fish, for example.
This example shows how low-level students when carrying out communication
tasks, often rely on a lexicalised system of communication that is heavily
dependent upon on vocabulary and memorized chunks of language as well as
both verbal and non-verbal communication strategies to get meaning across.
Several ways can be used to address the issue of language accuracy when
students are practicing transactional use of language:
1. By pre-teaching certain linguistic forms that can be used while completing a
2. By reducing the complexity of the task, e.g. by familiarizing students with the
demands of the activity by showing them a similar activity on video or as a
3. By giving time to plan the task
4. By repeated performance of the task
Willis  suggests using a cycle of activities with task-work using a sequence
of activities in a lesson. These create interaction mediated by a task and then
build language awareness and language development around task performance.
She proposes the following sequence of activities:
Introduction to topic and task
o T helps Ss to understand the theme and objectives of the task, for example,
brainstorming ideas with the class, using pictures, mime or personal experience to
introduce the topic.
o Ss may do a pre-task, for example, topic-based odd-word-out games. T may
highlight useful words and phrases, but would not pre-teach new structures.
o Ss can be given preparation time to think about how to do the task.
o Ss can hear a recording of a parallel task being done (so long as this does not give
away the solution to the problem).
o If the task is based on a text, Ss read a part of it.
The task cycle
o The task is done by Ss (in pairs or groups) and gives Ss a chance to use whatever
language they already have to express themselves and say whatever they want to
say. This may be in response to reading a text or hearing a recording.
o T walks round and monitors, encouraging in a supportive way everyone’s attempt
at communication in the target language.
o T helps Ss to formulate what they want to say, but will not intervene to correct
errors of form.
o The emphasis is on spontaneous, exploratory talk and confidence building, within
the privacy of the small group.
o Success in achieving the goals of the tasks help Ss’ motivation.
o Planning prepares for the next stage where Ss are asked to report briefly to the
whole class how they did the task and what the outcome was.
o Ss draft and rehearse what they want to say or write.
o T goes round to advise students on language, suggesting phrases and helping Ss
to polish and correct their language.
o If the reports are in writing, T can encourage peer editing and use of dictionaries.
o The emphasis is on clarity, organization, and accuracy, as appropriate for a public
o Individual students often take this chance to ask questions about specific language
o T asks some pairs to report briefly to the whole class so everyone can compare
findings, or begin a survey. (N.B: There must be a purpose for others to listen).
Sometimes only one or two groups report in full; others comment and add extra
points. The class may take notes.
o T chairs, comments on the content of their reports, rephrases perhaps, but gives
no overt public correction.
The language focus
o T sets some language-focussed tasks, based on the texts student read or on the
transcripts of they recordings they heard. Examples include the following.
Find words and phrases related top the topic or text.
Read the transcript, find words ending in “s” and say what the s means.
Find all the words in the simple past form. Say which refer to past time and which
Underline and classify the questions in the transcript.
o T starts Ss off, then students continue, often in pairs.
o T goes round to help; Ss can ask individual questions.
o In plenary, then reviews the analysis, possibly writing relevant language up on the
board in list form: Ss may make notes.
o T conducts practice activities as needed, based on the language analysis work
already on the board, or using examples from the text or transcript.
Practice activities can include:
Choral repetition of the phrases identified and classified
Memory challenge games based on partially erased examples or using
lists already on blackboard for progressive deletion
Sentence completion (set by one team for another)
Matching the past-tense verbs (jumbled) with the subject or objects
they had in the text
Dictionary reference with words from text or transcript
Teaching talk as performance
Teaching talk as performance requires a different teaching strategy. Jones (1996,
Initially talk as performance needs to be prepared for and scaffolded in
much the same way as written text, and many of the teaching strategies
used to make understandings of written text accessible can be applied to
the formal uses of spoken language
This involves providing examples or models of speeches, oral presentations,
stories etc through video or audio recordings or written examples. These are then
analyzed or “deconstructed” in order to understand how such texts work and
what their linguistic and other organizational features are. Questions such as the
following guide this process:
• What is the speaker’s purpose?
• Who is the audience?
• What kind of information do the audience expect?
• How does the talk begin, develop, and end? What moves or stages
• Is any special language used?
Students then work jointly on planning their own texts, which are then presented
to the class.
Feez and Joyce’s approach to text-based instruction provides a good model of
how talk as performance can be taught (1998,v). This approach involves:
• Teaching explicitly about the structures and grammatical features of
spoken and written texts
• Linking spoken and written texts to the cultural context of their use
• Designing units of work which focus on developing skills in relation to
• Providing students with guided practice as they develop language skills for
meaningful communication through whole texts.
Feez and Joyce (1998, 28-31) give the following description of how a text-based
Phase1. Building the context
In this stage students:
• Are introduced to the social context of an authentic model of the text-type being
• Explore features of the general cultural context in which the text-type is used and
the social purposes the text-type achieves
• Explore the immediate context of situation by investigating the register of a model
text which has been selected on the basis of the course objectives and learner
• An exploration of register involves:
Building knowledge of the topic of the model text and knowledge of the social
activity in which the text is used, e.g. such as job seeking
Understanding the roles and relationships of the people using the text and how
these are established and maintained, e.g. the relationship between a job seeker
and a prospective employer
Understanding the channel of communication being used. e.g. using the
telephone, speaking face-to-face with members of an interview panel
Context building activities include:
• Presenting the context through pictures, audiovisual materials, realia, excursions,
field-trips, guest speakers etc
• Establishing the social purpose through discussions or surveys etc
• Cross cultural activities such as comparing differences in the use of the text in two
• Comparing the model text with other texts of the same or contrasting type e.g
comparing a job interview with a complex spoken exchange involving close friends,
a work colleague or a stranger in a service encounter.
Phase 2 Modelling and deconstructing the text
In this stage students:
• Investigate the structural pattern and language features of the model
• Compare the model with other examples of the same text-type
Feez and Joyce (1998,29)comment that “modelling and deconstruction are
undertaken at both the whole text, clause and expression levels. It is at this
stage that many traditional ESL language teaching activities come into their
Phase 3 Joint construction of the text
In this stage:
• Students begin to contribute to the construction of whole examples of the text-
• The teacher gradually reduces the contribution to text construction, as the
students move closer to being able to control text-type independently
Joint construction activities include:
• Teacher questioning, discussing and editing whole class construction, then scribing
onto board or OHT
• Skeleton texts
• Jigsaw and information gap activities
• Small group construction of tests
• Self-assessment and peer assessment activities
Phase 4 Independent construction of the text
In this stage:
• Students work independently with the text
• Learner performances are used for achievement assessment
Independent construction activities include:
• Listening tasks, e.g. comprehension activities in response to live or recorded
material such as performing a task, sequencing pictures, numbering, ticking or
underlining material on a worksheet, answering questions
• Listening and speaking tasks, e.g. role plays, simulated or authentic dialogues
• Speaking tasks e.g. spoken presentation to class, community organization,
• Reading tasks e.g. comprehension activities in response to written material such as
performing a task, s sequencing pictures, numbering, ticking or underlining
material on a worksheet, answering questions
• Writing tasks which demand that students draft and present whole texts
Phase 5 Linking to related texts
In this stage students investigate how what they have learnt in this teaching/learning cycle
can be related to:
• Other texts in the same or similar context
• Future or past cycles of teaching and learning
Activities which link the text-type to related texts include:
• Comparing the use of the text-type across different fields
• Researching other text-types used in the same field
• Role-playing what happens if the same text-type is sued by people with different
roles and relationships
• Comparing spleen and written modes of the same text-type
• Researching how a key language feature used in this text-type is used in other
Evaluating performance on speaking activities
The third issue involved in planning speaking activities is determining the
expected level of performance on a speaking task and the criteria that will be
used to assess student performance. For any activity we use in class, whether it
be one that seeks to develop proficiency in using talk as interaction, transaction,
or performance, we need to consider what successful completion of the activity
involves. Is accuracy of pronunciation and grammar important? Is each
participant expected to speak for about the same amount of time? Is it
acceptable if a speaker uses many long pauses and repetitions? If a speaker’s
contribution to a discussion is off topic, does it matter?
As the above questions illustrate, the type of criteria we use to assess a speaker’s
oral performance during a classroom activity will depend on what kind of talk we
are talking about and the kind of classroom activity we are using. Green,
Christopher and Lam (2002, 228) in a report on teaching discussion skills
recommend assigning one student to serve as an observer during a discussion
activity using the following observation form:
Number of contributions
Students: A B C D E F
1. Total number of
2. Responding supportively
3. Responding aggressively
4. Introducing a new (relevant)
5. Digressing from the topic
A speaking activity that requires talk as performance, e.g. a mini-lecture, would
require very different assessment criteria however. These might include:
• Clarity of presentation: i.e. the extent to which the speaker organizes
information in an easily comprehensible order
• Use of discourse markers, repetition and stress to emphasize important
points and to make the lecture structure more salient to the listeners
Different speaking activities such as conversations, group discussions, and
speeches make different types of demands on learners. They require different
kinds and levels of preparation and support and different criteria obviously have
to be used in assessing how well students carry them out.
I will conclude with a set of questions I use to guide myself when preparing
speaking activities for the classroom or in textbooks and which I use with
teachers in workshops which focus on developing and reviewing classroom
• What will the focus of the activity be: talk as interaction, transaction or
• How will the activity be modeled?
• What stages will the activity be divided into?
• What language support will be needed?
• What resources will be needed?
• What learning arrangements will be needed?
• What level of performance is expected?
• How and when will feedback be given?
Approaches to both the teaching of listening and speaking have changed
considerably in recent years as insights from research and theory have prompted
a rethinking of the processes involved in second language listening , the nature of
oral interaction in a second or foreign language, and a reconsideration of what it
means to teach these important components of second language proficiency.
Cognitively based view of comprehension have clarified how listening draws on
different kinds of knowledge – both linguistic, cultural, and contextual – and
emphasize the need to help learners understand and use both bottom-up and
top-down processes in listening as well as make use of effective listening
strategies. Effective approaches to teaching listening need to make a clear
distinction between teaching and testing, and provide learners with guided
practice in using relevant listening skills for specific listening purposes depending
on their needs and their proficiency level.
Approaches to the teaching of speaking have also been able to draw on a better
understanding of the nature of spoken language and of the characteristics of
different types of spoken discourse (interactional, transactional, and
performance-based). The challenge for teachers and materials developers is to
find strategies that help learners develop fluency, accuracy, as well as
appropriateness of language use. A combination of teaching methods is
appropriate depending on whether the focus of an activity is accuracy, fluency, or
appropriateness. The most important question in teaching speaking skills is how
can we help learners move beyond the level of linguistic competence (mastery of
the linguistic system), to achieve communicative competence, that is, knowing
how to use English appropriately for a range of different communicative
purposes, particularly social purposes, educationally-related purposes and work-
related purposes. Hopefully the suggestions outlined above and the further
references listed below will provide some of the answers to these important
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