Receptive skills (listening and reading):
Listening and reading are active processes as they are selective. They involve:
1- recognizing speech sounds or letters
2- making sense of the message
3- predicting what comes next and selecting what is relevant using language redundancy (repetition of language)
The following is a model of listening comprehension and reading comprehension processes:
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According to this model, the learner, in the first stage, perceives the speech sounds by means of his ears or the letters through his eyes (when it is reading). The reader or listener necessarily pays attention not to every single word but to the whole message by making use of language redundancy (ie, repetition).
In the second stage, he/she recognises the meaning of the words. Good listeners in particular can distinguish low information value words at the third stage; the listener or reader stores some pieces of information concerning the language that he/she heard or read in the short term memory.
And in stage 4, he/she chunks the language material (ie, groups it into topics or categories to remember it later. This is easier in the first language; but in a second or foreign language, much practice is needed because memory span is shorter.
At the fifth stage, meaning is taken from the message and retained in the long term memory; this meaning may be recalled or not later on, which constitutes the last stage.
Differences between the two skills:
1- The listener is disturbed by noise; good practice for listening should be in noisy places.
2- The listener should account for the various language varieties, dialects, different accents..etc.
3- He/she must take account of the speed of the input: this makes of listening comprehension a difficult skill.
4- In listening, there is no repetition: the message is delivered once. And in listening activities, the teacher must not exceed two hearings.
5- Listening is usually associated with other skills and activities like reading, writing (taking notes, filling the gaps, completing tables)...etc.
Teaching Listening comprehension:
The listening skill is not given importance in our English language classrooms although this skill constitutes a major principle and a determinant condition for learning a foreign language. In fact, very few activities are devoted for the development of this receptive skill.
Some ways of teaching listening comprehension:
Some basic principles:
- A lot of exposure to language is needed: the teacher is expected to speak only English, and as much as possible.
- It is better to organize listening sessions in groups: that is to say that listening comprehension activities are more effective when done with small groups of learners because this fosters more concentration and interest in the learners.
- The teacher should not develop memorization but listening skills. Here, he/she should use authentic material (pre- recorded spoken language of native speakers of English for example) because speech is unplanned, spontaneous and hesitant. Using written language like reading from the book is not a good basis for teaching listening comprehension.
- The teacher should integrate other tasks with listening (example: listening and filling the gaps)
- Not all listening comprehension activities have the same object; the major purpose of these activities is to train the learner how to listen to the message. The teacher has to determine the specific purpose which is either:
1) A global understanding of the story
2) Or, understanding specific points of the story
3) Or, focusing on specific language points(grammar, structure...).
For the first purpose, the teacher generally gives comprehension questions after the learners have listened to the story (questions about major idea, such as what is the story about?)
For the second purpose, the questions are more specific; they may concern the different ideas of the text, and/or inference/ reference questions, or even questions about interpretation (deduced meaning: such as asking the learners to make guesses about the other half of the story, which develops prediction).
In the last purpose, the focus is on the type of the text and/or its form: grammar, punctuation, etc. Here the teacher may aim at teaching the learners to differentiate between signals of structure in a text (however, because, yet, first, next...).
In the listening comprehension activities focusing on language points, dictation and completion or close procedures are good exercises (for example, learners are given a text with blanks to complete when listening to the tape) this type of exercise is an integrative one as it involves the three tasks: listening, reading and writing. Another exercise consists of rearranging sentences either during or after listening to the text.
Some listening comprehension activities:
Understanding foreign speech is a complex activity involving a large number of different skills and abilities. It follows from this that classroom listening practice is also complex, and that no one type of exercise can possibly satisfy the needs of most foreign- language students.
There are two major types of listening comprehension activities:
A – Listening for perception activities: these activities train the learner to perceive correctly the different sounds, sound- combinations, stress and intonation of English as a foreign language.
B- Listening for comprehension activities: these exercises demand not only listening but also making response: they involve other language skills (speaking and writing).
A- Some suggested listening for perception activities:
Repetition: learners are asked to repeat words, short phrases or complete utterances said by the teacher or recorded. The teacher says, or plays on the tape recorder, a word or an utterance then asks individual students to repeat them, and corrects where necessarily.
For such exercises it is important not to let learners see the written version of the heard material, otherwise they will not have to rely on their ears to interpret what they have heard.
Repeating models of intonation and stress patterns is also a useful exercise. This needs a lot of practice in order to perceive
well and produce adequately the stressed and unstressed patterns.
Same or different?
Using minimal-pair distinctions, the teacher calls out two words and asks the learners to say if they are the same or different.
Reading and writing activities:
A series of words or short utterances can be dictated and the learner asked to write them down. Or, he can be given a list of words with one or two letters missing in each, and be requested to fill them in to correspond with a spoken version.
Meaning- based activities:
Here students are asked to explain words (for example to give synonyms) uttered by the teacher. Meaningful words for perception practice have to be given in isolation. Otherwise the learner may guess their meaning from the context without necessarily perceiving them rightly.
B- Listening for comprehension activities:
Listening and making short responses:
In this type of exercises, students are asked for example to obey instructions and show comprehension by complying with them (such as giving direct and simple commands of physical movement, to more complex and difficult attitudes such as preparing a sketch of physical attitudes. learners may also be asked to draw a picture from verbal instructions.
Aural cloze procedure:
The cloze procedure is normally used in reading comprehension; a written passage is given to the learner with words deleted. The learner has to use the context to fill in the missing words. Similar techniques can be used for listening comprehension, with or without a written text.
In the presence of a written text, the teacher simply reads out the full version while the students fill in the gaps.
But in more difficult exercises, learners are not given a written version of the text so, they need more concentration in order to guess the missing words.
In some other activities, learners are given a series of pictures, that they should identify and in a certain way on the basis of the teacher's instructions.
Or, they may be given a map of a village, for example, and asked to locate some parts of this map on the basis of information given by the teacher.
Practical aspects from 1AS Course book
1- Djeha's stories: "Dividing the chicken"
In the course book it is not stated if the activity is a listening or reading one.
Here, we can take it as a listening activity. It is better for the teacher to prepare at home and on a preparation sheet the way he/ she should proceed in the classroom.
First, he/she sets the aims of the lesson, and then should state the new vocabulary and grammatical points to be emphasized.
At the end, he/ she deals with the stages to be followed throughout the lesson.
Aims of the lesson (some suggested aims):
- Develop listening skills
- Practise asking/ answering questions
- Use the past simple
- Narrate a story
Vocabulary: Chicken, farmer, etc.
Some prepositions: to, from, away,...etc.
Structure: the past simple:
Regular verbs: V + ed
Stages of the lesson:
To arouse pupils' interest, the teacher may ask them if they know any
of Dheha's stories, which ones?...etc.
Read the story slowly and accurately.
Here, various exercises may be used. The most common one is asking the
Learners questions about specific information(names, places, specific events, etc.).
1- How many people are mentioned in the story? Who are they?
2- Where does the story take place?
3- Into how many different parts did Djeha cut the chicken?
- The teacher may also ask the learners to explain some words stated in the story.
- Another activity may also be used here, which is asking the learners to work in pairs or
groups (one learner tells one of Djeha's stories, and the other learners listen to him)
Listening comprehension is generally associated with the productive skills. Several activities may be used. A variety of interesting exercises are suggested in the course book, as such as: reordering sentences to make a coherent paragraph, finding missing words in a passage, summarizing the story and/ or writing about one of Djeha's stories
On this last stage, the teacher may assess whether the aims of the lesson have been achieved. The common exercise for such a purpose is to ask the learners some questions
"Be our guide"
For this topic, the teacher may use a tape in which a "guide" (a native speaker of English) speaks directly about his job. Here, the teacher has to follow 5 stages:
1/ It is good to arouse students' interest and motivation by asking them to make some guesses of what they are about to listen.
For example, today's recording is a 'guide’s' talk. What do you think the guide is going to speak about? Then the teacher writes the guesses on the board.
2/ Play the tape and listen quietly to it to the end.
This first hearing is to get an idea of what they are listening. At the same time, they check whether the topics or guesses are covered in the tape.
3/ At the end, stop it and review with the learners what is covered and what is not.
4/ Then a second listening: direct them to specific information by questions (such as dates, names, places,...etc.).
then give open questions: what has been more interesting to you?...
5/ Give a third listening if the students find difficulties to answer some specific questions given to them: it is better to start with general then specific questions. And here, you must not deliver information for the learners to allow them follow the tape, but deliver the whole discourse.
Other questions that you may give concern the language, such as how many times such a word, a verb or noun or adjective is repeated? What is the tense of the verbs in the talk?...etc.
Then using information in the oral activity for more productive exercises such as writing a composition or cloze exercises.
Self evaluation sheet:
1- Describe briefly what was your listening activity
2- What steps did you follow: before listening? After listening?
Think about the following questions:
On general, how successful was the activity?
What did the students learn from it?
How much did the learners understand the first time they listened?
How much more could they understand by the end of the activity?
Does the place (at the front, at the back or by a window) of the learner frustrate his
What was he doing during the activity?
Think of one good learner and one weaker student.
What did you do to keep each of them involved?
By the end of the activity, how do you think they each felt?
Pleased with their progress? Frustrated? Interested? Bored?
Think of classroom conditions. What disturbs listening in your classroom: noise, size, echo,etc. Could you improve the conditions?
Did you use a cassette recorder?
If yes, did you have any problems with:
- finding the place on the cassette?
- Using the controls
- Finding the right sound level?
- Other? Which?
How could you overcome the problems next time?
TEACHING READING COMPREHENSION:
Reading is an active process as it is based on interpreting or reacting to a written text as a piece of communication. Reading activities are usually silent; some teachers are for reading aloud before a silent reading. Reading aloud is a speaking rather than a reading exercise.
The purpose of reading is diverse. The following are some types of reading comprehension based on its purposes:
• Extensive reading: It is reading for pleasure. This reading offers enjoyment as it is neither imposed nor assessed. Thus, readers are free to read, when and where they want, and can stop when they want as well. This type of reading is not encouraged in our classrooms, even in the first language. And if readers do not read for pleasure in their mother-tongue, they are very unlikely to do so in a second or foreign language.
• Intensive reading: This is deep and thorough reading, it is reading for learning which is often school related. The texts used for such purposes are based on intensive information.
• Academic reading: Here, the purpose is to evaluate critically the information to organise it conceptually, to compare and contrast it with previous knowledge: memorizing it for further use.
Reading implies a variety of sub-skills such as skimming and scanning.
Skimming: It is going through the reading material quickly in order to get an overall picture of what it is about.
Scanning: It is reading a text in detail to find a particular piece of information, such as looking for a detail in an index, a dictionary, etc.
Indeed, the purposes of reading comprehension activities are determined according to those two sub-skills:
1- A quick reading of the text to get a general idea.
2- Detailed reading in order to find a particular information.
As reading comprehension questions are essential in these activities, there are two major purposes of these questions:
1- to clarify the organization of the text : for example :
- what is the type of this text (narration, contrast, or comparison, etc.) ?
- linking questions about grammar, punctuation and/or vocabulary.
2- to clarify the meaning of the text: what is the text about (its different ideas). Here, we can have :
- direct questions : example : Who is the principle agent in the story ?
-implicit questions (inference questions)
-questions on deduced meaning: at the level of interpretation. Example: what can you say about such an attitude?
-questions on evaluation : example : In your opinion, were they right ...?
The selection of the texts to be used in reading comprehension activities must be based on the purposes intended through such activities.
So, in general, we have three major criteria on the basis of which we select the reading material :
1- The text as a vehicle for teaching language structure and vocabulary :
These texts are “ language focused ” as they are written specially to “ teach the language ”: emphasise certain key features of the language system visible through the repetition of particular structures or Lexis.
2- Texts which teach language through reading :
Such texts promote reading, which helps learning the language. This goes with the principle that language is developed in the course of reading itself. Thus, we can select texts not for their potential as vehicles of structures of Lexis, but for their potential in developing reading strategies.
3- Texts which offer high-interest content :
The selection of such texts is mainly based on learners’ interests and preferences. They must be inherently motivating although linguistically simple. These texts may be stories or any other motivating type of texts.
Types of reading comprehension activities :
There are three major types of reading activities : those which precede presentation of the text, those which accompany it, and those which follow it.
Some pre-reading activities simply consist of questions to which the reader is required to find the answer from the text. These questions function as scanning tasks. That is the learner reads the text quickly in order to find specific information related to the questions.
One very popular kind of pre-reading task is“ brain storming ” : giving the class a particular key word or key concept, or a newspaper headline or book title. Learners are then invited to call out words and concepts they personally associate with the key word.
Brain storming has several advantages as a classroom
- It requires little teacher preparation.
- It allows learners considerable freedom to bring their own prior knowledge and opinions.
- It can involve the whole class.
By means of brain storming activities, the teacher can guide the class towards the kinds and classifications which will best help them deal with the major concepts contained in the text to be read.
The aim of these activities is to encourage the learners to be flexible, active and reflective readers, such as asking about the type of the text.
In other examples, when the texts are narrative fiction for example, those texts may be divided into sections with intervening questions to encourage learners to predict the continuing events of the story.
Other procedures may be used instead of asking the learners to predict, they may be asked to find out a key sentence, in the first section of the text, on which the events of the ensuing story hinge.
Another activity, best done in pairs or groups, is to give learners jumbled sentences or sections of text and ask them to reassemble them to form a coherent text. This activity is called “ Jigsaw reading ” : the teacher cuts a text at meaning boundaries and distributes the different parts to learners who must reconstruct the whole text. Then, they must all compare it to the original text. The teacher should allow for self-correction and discussion of their errors. This makes of this activity a useful discussion exercise.
A similar problem-solving exercise is group cloze, where the cloze procedure is used to explore the range of possibilities in order to produce a meaningful text.
Other while-reading activities require students to transfer information from the text to tables or grids.
The post-reading activity consists generally of a set of questions which follow a text. These activities may also be role-play activities, reproducing the text, discussion or cloze activities.
These activities can serve the purpose of heightening the reader’s awareness of other ways in which the topic could have been written about.
Investigating reading in your own classroom
The following are some suggested ways for organizing reading activities. The teacher indicates the aim, level, resources, procedure and evaluation.
To establish the range of every day experiences of reading in both the first and other languages.
Resources : ( This depends on the text to be read )
1- Ask the class to note down everything they can remember reading the previous day, in any language. Ask them to include even minor reading events such as reading a shopping list or address book, and observing particular road signs.
2- Ask them to classify their reading under the following headings :
- reading for survival (for example, road sings)
- reading for learning (for example, an English grammar)
- reading for pleasure (for example, a comic)
- any other reasons
This activity could be done either individually or in groups.
1- What were the differences and similarities between the experiences of different individuals and groups?
2- What were the differences between reading in the first and the foreign languages?
To encourage students to read for pleasure.
Books brought in by students or from the school library.
1- Each student in turn reports on a book that he or she is currently reading in English. .
2- They might then produce cards to be filed and consulted by other members of the class.
The teacher can take notes of individual students reading preferences.
To make students aware of some different genres.
Intermediate and advanced
The openings of different texts, for example, a novel, a newspaper article, a personal letter, and a business letter.
1- Get students to attempt to identify the genres which the texts belong to. They can first be asked to comment on the nature of the textual evidence they can draw on, for example, syntactic features such as the presence of subordinate clauses, or particular uses of the article or passive voice.
To encourage students to draw on schematic knowledge about the role of characters in stories.
Any story genre, for example, folk talk, opera, romantic novel.
1- give the students a list of characters in the story.
2- Ask them to work in groups to guess the development of the story. Make sure they involve all the characters.
3- Get them to compare their own versions of the story with the actual one.
How similar were the stories produced by the groups
1- What were the main stages of your lesson?
2- Think about the following questions:
- How did the learners react to the text ?
- Did they find it interesting ? boring ? difficult ? easy ?
- Think of some weakest students in the class. Could they understand the text ?
- Did the learners answer the questions on the text ? If so:
- Did they answer orally ? in groups , by writing the answers ?
- Were any questions : too easy ? too difficult ?
- How well did the questions help learners to understand the text ?
- Did learners complete a table ? If so:
- How many learners completed it successfully?
- Were there any problems in organizing the task ?
How did you overcome them ?