Written Production

Second Language Teaching

Written production is a skill which requires ideas to be formulated and expressed as printed output. Like its oral production counterpart, written production is developed sequentially in terms of the kinds of texts to be produced by the learner; i.e., from copying and formulating simple words or phrases to create simple messages to drafting autonomous works which involve the expression of numerous thoughts in a coherent and cohesive manner such as one would find in essays or short stories.

As with oral language, there are also two main types of written texts. Interactive texts involve at least two people who are actively engaged in written communications with each other, giving the texts the flavour of spontaneity or a lack of preparedness which is often typical of two-person journals or friendly letters. Noninteractive texts are those texts which the writer produces but does not necessary expect a direct reaction to what he/she has written. This type of writing is almost always prepared either fully or partially and is often followed by a number of drafts which have been edited and rewritten. This latter process is one which is generally used for the publication of books or articles or relates to academic tasks such as compositions, book reports or essays, requiring students to demonstrate their ability to argue a point coherently while showing cohesion of thought and expression. Prepared texts often exhibit the following kinds of characteristics:

  • 1) clearly organized thoughts,
  • 2) rare usage of incorrect words or expressions , and
  • 3) argumentation which is logical and sequential.

Spontaneous written texts, on the other hand, are often characterized by:

  • 1) point form annotations of thoughts,
  • 2) incomplete sentences with more errors present than would normally be accepted in formal written communications, and
  • 3) overt evidence of self-monitoring as some words are slashed and replaced with others as thoughts and ideas are quickly reworked. Because of these distinct characteristics, the type of written text will depend on the context and purpose for writing the message.

Written production is, by its very nature, generally prepared and more precise in its expression than its oral counterpart. This is so because written communications, even so-called spontaneous ones, will allow the writer the time to reflect upon and mentally rework the intent behind the messages before producing them. As well, once the messages have been drafted, their visual presence allows writers the opportunity to read and reread the manner in which the messages were written in order to determine if the sentence structure, word usage, and grammatical forms have been correctly used to communicate the messages in the best way possible. If, at this point, writers find that the written messages are flawed in some way, they can rework the idea(s) until the words, sentence structure and grammar all reflect the manner in which the messages were intended to be communicated. On the other hand, oral production is often not afforded this luxury, since messages are often quickly exchanged and meaning immediately negotiated as is the case for interactive texts.

When these concepts are applied to the classroom situation, it becomes increasingly evident that teachers will need to become familiar with the characteristics demonstrated by these different types of texts so as to be able to help students differentiate between the appropriate use of spontaneous, unprepared written communications and formal prepared written communications. Therefore, at the classroom level, written production activities will depend upon three factors:

  • 1) the purpose of the writing activity, be it experientially-, communicatively-, or linguistically-based,
  • 2) the type of written production activity that is planned, and
  • 3 ) the communicative/linguistic level of the students.

Bearing this in mind, Beginner level students will generally carry out simple writing tasks, such as creating want ads, which are very structured in nature, following models, and focusing on language precision at the word level. Intermediate students will build on these written tasks and will add others to their repertoire which will now require the development of a series of sentences to create short paragraphs for newspaper articles or simple business letters for example. Advanced students will move towards the development of more complex and lengthy written communications which demonstrate the ability to elaborate ideas in a coherent and cohesive fashion as would be the case in the writing of an essay.

In order to appropriately develop the written production skill, it is important to note that there are often two aspects which cause second language learners difficulty and they are:

  • 1) recognizing and applying the sounds known orally to the written symbols which evoke these sounds and
  • 2) the correct syntax patterns of the language.

These two aspects are best developed and learned through guided practice exercises. However, these types of written activities are not considered communicative nor experiential, since they do not convey authentic messages which are relevant to the learner nor are these exercises a consequence of an information gap. Nevertheless, these types of written drill exercises do play a vital role in the development of students’ linguistic abilities as they provide a knowledge base for the use and application of these linguistic structures. Still, there lies one danger in using these types of activities, in that they often do not reflect authentic language use and are almost always decontextualized. Therefore, it is very important that teachers be aware that these types of written activities only develop linguistic knowledge and that their application is limited to the mechanical use of the language, meaning that it will not necessarily transpose itself automatically to real communicative/experiential language usage. Rather, this can best be achieved when the communicative tasks which are assigned to the students are real-life based, using a procedure which employs examples of authentic models and is followed by guided practice sessions based on these models. Thus, an important step in developing students’ writing abilities is to determine if the activities the students are going to carry out are focused on real-life tasks or are simply language exercises, since the type of activity will determine the kind of “product” and its authenticity.

The way in which an activity can be deemed communicative/experiential is whether a communicative intent is present and whether the intent can be carried out authentically in writing or not. For example, an authentic writing task would be to write a postcard to a friend whereas a non-authentic writing task would be to write out a face-to-face conversation which would otherwise be carried out orally. Therefore, in order for a writing activity to be deemed communicative, it must essentially exhibit authentic language use in a meaningful and relevant context, which requires students to supply needed or missing information in order to meet the needs of the communicative intent and to be experiential, it needs to be carried out in a true-to-life fashion. Authentic written tasks could include drawing up a grocery list, creating a want ad, creating a publicity poster, writing a friendly letter or a business letter, writing a newspaper/magazine article, or writing a brochure, guide or manual. All of these communications are authentic and fulfill communicative needs which occur in real life. The types of written tasks assigned to students will, however, be based on the communicative/linguistic abilities of the students. Beginner level students will be limited to tasks which centre around the use of words and simple sentences, such as the drawing up of lists, creating want ads, simple announcements and simple publicity posters. Intermediate students, on the other hand, will be given tasks which will require the development of paragraphs, such as a small article for the newspaper or a simple guide for babysitters, whereas Advanced level students will write more elaborate articles and stories based on the field of experience being developed. Thus, not only will the tasks need to be tailored to the level of the students, but the students will also need to have the necessary communicative/linguistic abilities necessary to be able to carry out the task.

As with the other three language skills, three phases are also being proposed:

  • 1) a pre-writing phase,
  • 2) a writing phase, and
  • 3) a rewriting phase.

This proposal is in keeping with the view of writing as a process more so than a product activity. As with the other skills the pre-writing phase involves the “setting of the stage” in which students are engaged in activities which will assist them in carrying out the communicative task to be assigned in the writing phase. The purpose of the pre-writing phase is to develop the necessary linguistic elements in a contextualized fashion which will later be recycled in the communicative task. This phase is composed of guided practice sessions which will lead students to be able to replicate the same task at the writing stage but on a more individualized basis.

In helping students start their written communications, it is important for them to understand the purpose of what it is they are to write. In other words, the need for communicating must be made clear and evident. Further, the writing task needs to reflect the authentic ways in which writing occurs in real life. Thus, by knowing the purpose, students’ writing will begin to take shape and will define its form of expression. To begin this phase the following activities could be carried out:

  • 1) brainstorming ideas which are involved with a particular writing topic,
  • 2) helping students define the types of ideas they might want to include in their work.
  • 3) helping students organize their ideas by working out some of their language problems,
  • 4) reviewing or developing pertinent vocabulary,
  • 5) writing reflective journals about the writing process, and
  • 6) developing semantic maps to demonstrate the flow of ideas and how they are connected.

In the case of semantic mapping, a good activity for developing coherence of thought is to ask students to connect or “map out” their ideas by drawing lines and arrows to form idea clusters. These clusters can then become the focus of paragraph development as students trace the beginning of an argument and seek out the ideas which can be used to support the argument. Any ideas which are irrelevant or do not serve a direct purpose are then eliminated. This process then allows for students to actually “see” their ideas in terms of relationships relative to the argumentation they are developing so that they can begin to visualize the organizational patterns which could form the basis of a draft version of their ideas.

Another activity which can be carried it out is to use authentic documents. Students can use these documents as examples of correct models of communicative expression and grammatical usage. In this case, students carry out a guided analysis of the elements of the text and the type of expressions used to communicate ideas. Students can now use these frameworks for developing their own messages based on the models presented. Or, these authentic documents can serve as informative reading to provide students with insight as to how others express themselves regarding the same topic. Students can be involved in a comparison activity in which they can discuss the different ways in which the same subject has been treated and the different writing styles which have been used to reflect these same ideas. In essence, then, the prewriting phase serves the purpose of “setting the stage” in that students are guided through all the necessary steps needed to carry out the task, whether it be linguistic or communicative in nature.

The writing phase is the moment when students actually begin the process of carrying out the written communicative task. First and foremost, students need to be given a situation or reason for carrying out the task. They will also need to go through a guided and modelled session before they will be able to carry out the task on an independent basis. Thus, this phase is viewed as the development of a series of drafts where students reflect and carry out the revision of ideas, grammar usage, and the overall organization of the work. This phase is an important one in the development of effective writers since students need to see themselves playing two roles: the writer of the text and the reader. In other words, they have to ask themselves the question: Does the reader understand the messages as written by the writer? The answer they come up with will determine the extent of their revisions. Thus, it is through a reflective process and analysis of their work that students will become more competent writers. Consistently, it has been demonstrated that persons who are more effective in their written communications are those who possess the following characteristics:

  • 1) they are willing to do more planning, rescanning, and revising of their work,
  • 2) they will concentrate on the essence of the message instead of getting bogged down with grammatical accuracy or searching for justthe-right word, and
  • 3) they understand and accept that an important part of being a good writer is composing several drafts.

Assisting students through this process is often tedious, but is vital for them to realize that good writing is not one that occurs “off-the-cuff”, but requires extensive revisiting if students intend to improve the manner in which they express themselves. Thus, the role of reader of the text becomes an integral part of the revision process as students analyze and reflect upon what it is they have written and attempt either individually, with another student, or with the assistance of the teacher to discern the difficulties which are presenting themselves on paper. This revision process, then, is an important stepping stone in making students consciously aware of the need to find solutions for improving their work. This process may be accomplished through the use of objectivation grids or self-evaluations which ask the students to think through the process and to consciously make corrections by referring to their notes, dictionaries, both unilingual and bilingual, thesauruses, verb tense references, etc. as a means of revising and improving the work.

The rewriting phase is the transition point when students are ready to finalize the written communication. This stage involves students in correcting any final aspects of the work to produce a refined and polished product. It is at this point, as well, then, that students receive feedback as to their success and are asked to reflect further on the writing process they have just gone through by relating in concrete terms all the steps they carried out to arrive at this point. This process can be discussed as a group and a chart of students’ reactions can be made so that the next time the students are asked to carry out a similar task they will now have a referential framework that they can resort to in order to be able to carry out the task on their own.

To better understand these phases, it is best to walk through the process with a concrete example. Authentic written productions for Beginner level students will focus on guided and structured tasks which centre around the use of words, such as grocery lists, menu writing, posters and simple announcements, whereas students at the Intermediate and Advanced levels will engage in written production tasks which will require more thought and organization of ideas as students at these levels will want to express more elaborate and sophisticated thoughts. Therefore, the following example is intended mostly for these two levels, but the application of the ideas are equally applicable to the Beginner level.

A very popular field of experience for students at both the junior and senior high level is “The World of Work”, since students are very interested in obtaining parttime jobs. At the pre-writing phase students can be asked to participate in any number of activities. For example, in simulating the filling-out of a summer job application, students might be asked to brainstorm a list of summer jobs which they might be interested in. A subsequent step might be to have students read summer want-ads and to select the one which interests them the most. Then, they can be asked to write a letter to express their interest in the job. At this point, however, it is important to ensure that students have the requisite knowledge necessary to write a formal business letter. Teachers need to walk the students through the business letter writing process by using an authentic example to pinpoint the different elements and the manner in which they are expressed, such as the placement and correct format for the date, the placement and format of one’s address or the address of the person to whom the letter is being sent to, the correct salutation usage and any other formal expressions which might be used in the body of the letter, such as “Je vous prie d’agréer, cher Monsieur/chère Madame, l’expression de mes saluations distinguées”, to make the letter more sociolinguistically acceptable. Having gone through this step, the students now have sufficient information to move on to the next phase. move on to the next phase.

At the writing phase students could be asked to brainstorm a list of characteristics which are important to have in order to be able to apply for a certain position. This activity allows students access to a variety of adjectives and expressions which they can later use in the class letter and in their own letters. Next, in order to ensure that the students have fully understood the letter format and are able to apply their knowledge to the writing of a job application letter, a letter is done collectively so that students can go through a guided practice session prior to carrying out the task on their own. Students can be asked to provide the information as the teacher writes down the ideas. At this point, the teacher can also go through revision techniques by demonstrating to students how to use a dictionary to ensure that words are correctly spelt and are being used appropriately. Students can also be shown how to use a series of reference materials in order to ensure that their messages are being correctly communicated. Once these steps have been completed the students can be asked to carry out the task on their own. When students have completed their first draft, they can share their work in pairs or in small groups as a means of determining if all the requisite parts of the letter are present. The purpose of this revision process is to ascertain if the students have truly integrated in their own letters the elements which were previously discussed and to see if they are able to distinguish these parts in a fellow student’s work. The editing process, then, is a means of verifying if in fact students have been able to apply the requisite knowledge and to what degree they have been successful.

The next step is to have students write their revised letter in the rewriting phase, which will reflect the entire writing process which the students have passed through in order to be able to arrive at a polished product. At this stage, it is important that students receive a response back for the effort they would be to telephone the business and set up an interview time. This extension activity now involves the use of the oral production skill.

In essence, then, the development of the written production skill begins with structured and modelled exercises, leading to the application of this knowledge to simple writing tasks which are found in real life, such as lists, newspaper articles, and so forth. As students progress through the communicative/linguistic levels , they will gradually move to more sophisticated writing tasks which need to follow a guided practice format in which students will collectively go through the process before embarking on their own. Once they have completed this step, they are now ready to freely communicate their ideas by applying their linguistic knowledge to relevant, real-life tasks, which can now be integrated with the other language skills in order to complete the students’ language development.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).


Reading Comprehension

Second Language Teaching

Reading comprehension, like its listening counterpart, is also a receptive skill, which once again involves the active processing of messages. This time, however, these messages are found in print form. This form differs greatly from oral discourse, too, in that written discourse is characterized by the observance of correct grammatical usage, coherence and cohesion in thought, and wellconstructed sentences which demonstrate the planning and organizing of ideas, much of which is often lacking in oral discourse. Therefore, efficient readers do not only decode and decipher written symbols, but, also, and more importantly, interpret and construct meaning from these symbols. In this process, ideas, thoughts, concepts, and values are actively extrapolated and internalized by readers so as to determine the communicative intent behind the messages. During the reading process, readers search for all kinds of clues and resort to a number of resources in order to assist them in the construction of meaning, using such strategies as, sound-symbol relationships, grammatical, semantic, contextual, and visual clues, their own experiences, and so forth, as a means of determining the meanings behind the symbols. In addition, readers need to be able to relate with the originator of the text, i.e., the author, in order to negotiate the meaning of his/her communicative intent(s). Thus, as with the listening skill, reading comprehension also has a twofold purpose:

  • 1) to participate in discourse, and
  • 2) to obtain information; i.e., reading serves a need or a purpose.

Thus, the kinds of activities and real-life tasks that are used to develop this skill must represent the need for reading a text by employing such processes as problem-solving and information-getting.

To carry out these processes it is important to be able to read for meaning which is contingent upon grasping key contextual clues. Furthermore, without a context, meaning is difficult to interpret, construct, or reconstruct. For second language learners, it is important that they be given a context so that the deciphering and interpreting of meaning can be facilitated. Here again, it is useful to recall the five basic elements of any context (Tremblay, 1989), which are:

  1. the participants;
  2. the relationship existing between the participants;
  3. the communicative intent(s) used for participating in the speech act;
  4. the medium through which the information is transmitted (e.g., personal letter, informal note, instruction sheet, novel, and so forth); and
  5. the significant background factors pertinent to the context which will affect the speech act. (See the section on listening comprehension for further information on these elements.)

As in listening comprehension, each of these elements plays an important role in defining the context that is needed in order to attain full comprehension of what is being read. It is by knowing the importance of context for purposeful reading that teachers can determine the kinds of reading tasks and activities which are appropriate and helpful in developing reading comprehension in the second language classroom. As a result, when choosing reading material it is important to bear in mind its context-appropriateness and the purpose for reading.

At the classroom level, generally two forms of print materials/resources are used: didactic materials or authentic documents. Hammerly (1982; 1986) suggests that didactic materials are prepared specifically for a second language clientele and for instructional purposes only. As such, their intent is primarily to teach and develop language elements, since the ratio of new linguistic elements (e.g., vocabulary, grammatical structures, etc.) to old/already known elements is very high, with limited focus being placed on reading for problemsolving or information-getting purposes in real-life situations. Recently, however, some didactic material is moving in the direction of reading for meaning, but it is important to note, nevertheless, that a real context is often lacking, as is an authentic reason for reading, making the material less purposeful. Teachers need to be aware of this in order to add a viable context and the carrying out of real-life tasks with the reading material that is being presented in these resources as a means of developing the skill appropriately.

Authentic documents, on the other hand, are prepared for a first language audience and should be employed in the second language classroom when an appropriate context allows for their use. These are documents which one would find in real life, such as telephone messages, grocery lists, pamphlets, application forms, poems, novels, and so forth. However, teachers must be aware that the use of authentic documents is often quite time consuming and involves much more planning for their use than didactic materials, since the ratio of new linguistic elements to old/already known elements will be much lower. This is where strategy use becomes a key factor in developing reading comprehension. Students will need to be shown how to tolerate ambiguity by focusing in on what they know and not on what they do not know. As a result, they have to be shown how to use learning strategies to interpret or construct meaning from print. For example, Beginner level students can be shown how to construct meaning through the use of cognates. Advertising often uses a number of cognates which students can be asked to underline or circle. Next, students can use these words to attempt to “guess” the message or messages which are being shared. This type of activity teaches students to tolerate the unknown, by building upon what they already know and gives them a strategy which will assist them in not getting bogged down in the deciphering of each and every word.

The use of authentic documents will also assist in developing “risk takers” who can then become efficient and effective readers, since they can resort to a variety of strategies to enable them to become less frustrated deal with a text which is unfamiliar to them. As with listening, many of the strategies, such as hypothesizing, predicting, and anticipating, which are used naturally in one’s first language, must be brought to a conscious level in a second language in order to develop and enhance reading comprehension. Other strategies which are particular to reading comprehension, such as scanning or skimming for information, will constantly need to be reinforced if students are to be able to use them efficiently. Still other strategies, such as using contextual and visual clues, will assist students in better anticipating the types of messages they will be reading. Students should also be taught how to use bilingual and unilingual dictionaries as a meanings of assisting them with words which are “blocking” full comprehension. Students need to be taught how to use the dictionary judiciously so that they are not looking up every single word which they are unable to discern. This is a time-consuming strategy and should only be resorted to when the word or expression impedes the students’ total comprehension. Students need to be shown how to glean meaning from a text without having to know the full sense of every word. By having access to a number of strategies, then, students can learn to become better and more efficient readers and interpreters of the second language.

However, unlike listening which involves both interactive and noninteractive text types (see the section on the program components – experience/ communication- for the definition of these terms), essentially all reading is noninteractive. In this sense, reading is often more difficult than listening because readers are mostly receiving information via one-way messages. Consequently, they do not have the immediate opportunity to stop and negotiate meaning or do perception checks with the communicator of the intent to ensure the meaning is being correctly understood. Furthermore, oral discourse is often embellished by nonverbal communications which will assist in the comprehension of the message, while written communication is limited, by the very nature of print, unless it is accompanied by a graphic, an illustration or a photograph, in assisting in the general comprehension of the message(s) being shared. For this reason, then, the types of reading tasks the students are asked to carry out must be realistic and purposeful and the types of texts chosen are both appropriate for level and the task. To assist in the development of reading comprehension, three phases are proposed:

  • 1) the pre-reading phase,
  • 2) the actual reading phase, and
  • 3) the post reading-phase.

The pre-reading phase involves two aspects:

  • 1) contextualizing the reading which gives students access to the information required to better understand the text by providing the situation and some background to the text and
  • 2) anticipating the elements of the text which sets the stage for reading by defining the purpose for reading the text, determining what kinds of information might possibly be found in the text, identifying a process which will assist in finding this information and deciding how it will be recorded.

This phase employs students’ past experiences as a means of anticipating the type(s) of information or messages which might be shared. Brainstorming is the most common form of anticipation, since it allows for all students to bring forth the experiences which they have acquired mostly in their first language and possibly in their second with written texts, such as grocery lists, telephone messages, business letters, legends, fairy tales, novels, etc. Further, brainstorming assists students in becoming consciously aware of the fact that different texts convey a variety of messages in various ways. The use of contextualization and anticipation, then, is an important aspect of the development of reading comprehension, since they provide students with an anchor which will assist them in decoding the text and deriving meaning from it.

The actual reading phase is composed of two stages:

  • 1) the verification stage which gives students the opportunity to verify what they have anticipated by using such strategies as skimming and scanning to determine if the information is present or not and where it is generally located and
  • 2) the comprehension of details which requires the students to seek out and identify specific information required to complete the communicative task.

The latter stage also provides students with feedback on their general reading comprehension, i.e. their ability to determine the gist of the main messages being shared. The kinds of activities in which students can be asked to apply what they have been able to extrapolate from the text could be as follows:

  • 1) completion tasks where students are required to supply missing information,
  • 2) summary guides in which students present in written or oral form pertinent information, or
  • 3) question/answer guides which demand more than just the recall of information, but rather focus on synthesis-type questions such as having students determine what would be the succeeding events based on the information they have at the present time, or on evaluation-type questions where students are asked to use their past experiences as the criteria for judging whether or not the passage, as they have understood it, was consistent with their own experiences.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of real-life tasks which students can be given in order to demonstrate what it is they have understood. As such, an important aspect of this stage is to provide students with appropriate and sufficient feedback as to what they have understood, as well as to determine the depth of their understanding, since with abstract texts there is often a fair amount of cultural information and nuances which are present that can possibly hinder or impede full comprehension of the messages being shared. To ensure, then, that full comprehension is being attained, students must be given tasks which will delve into the extrapolation of this information and which are different from those used in either the pre- or post-reading phases.

The final phase is the post-reading phase. This step consists of tasks that require the students to reinforce what it is they have just acquired and to relate it to previously learned material, while at the same time reflecting upon the strategies employed in the pre-reading and actual reading phases. This phase is also important, since it develops the students’ ability to take what has been derived from the reading text and to apply it to either a similar or different context (a form of transfer or “reinvestment”). The tasks used in this phase should be different than those presented in the previous two phases to ensure the recycling of knowledge. These tasks, then, will often require the use of other language skills such as related oral or written production activities. The kinds of oral and/or written production tasks which can be carried out would depend largely on the original reading text. For example, orally, students might be asked to summarize the reading passage or demonstrate their appreciation of the text by giving a critique. Writing tasks might include rewriting the ending of the article or story, writing the information from another point of view or writing an article for the newspaper based on the information presented.

Another aspect of this phase is an extension of learning which involves tasks that add new elements to the context so as to recycle and reuse what was previously learned. Once again, any one of the other language skills can be used to develop this portion of the post-reading phase. Thus, there are a variety of ways in which reading comprehension tasks can be combined with listening, speaking or writing tasks as a means of transposing and transforming the messages which were originally understood. These tasks, however, need to be in keeping with the communicative/linguistic level of the students as well as their cognitive level.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).

Oral Production

Second Language Teaching

Oral production is developed sequentially in terms of the kinds of texts that are produced by the learner, i.e., from simple messages such as a salutation to discourse that involves coherent and cohesive thought, which is present in such texts as oral presentations or speeches. Oral texts can be of at least four different types: prepared or spontaneous, interactive or noninteractive. Each kind of text type takes time to develop in the second language classroom and requires different teaching strategies in order to ensure this development.

First and foremost, it is important to be able to discern the different types of oral texts that exist. Interactive oral texts involve at least two or more people who are engaged actively in dialogue with one another. This type of discourse is often typified by spontaneous speech or unprepared speech, such as conversations or informal debates. Noninteractive oral texts are texts in which the speaker produces an oral message but does not expect a direct reaction to what has been said. This type of discourse is almost always prepared, either fully or partially, and often consists of texts such as announcements, narrations, presentations, speeches, etc. Most often, prepared speech consists of the following kinds of characteristics:

  • 1) thoughts are organized and clear and
  • 2) argumentation is evident.

Spontaneous speech is often characterized by hesitations, false starts, long pauses, incomplete thoughts or statements, a lack of coherence in the thoughts and statements made, grammatical errors, and a modification of statements as the speaker listens to what he/she is saying in order to sound intelligible (self-monitoring).

Although the two types of oral texts, interactive and noninteractive, have typical characteristics, there is some crossover in terms of the degree of spontaneity or preparation that can take palace. For example., if, before making a telephone call to a colleague, you jot down a few notes to remind yourself of what you intend to discuss in your conversation, you have demonstrated a degree of preparedness, since the topics of discussion have been established prior to your conversation. However, there is still spontaneity because the exact discourse patterns have not been rehearsed. On the other hand, you may have prepared a very detailed speech for a presentation and upon its delivery you find that your audience in not in the least bit captivated by what you are saying. Consequently, you abandon your speech temporarily and create as you go along. This scenario demonstrates spontaneity in noninteractive discourse. Therefore, the context in which the oral production takes place can be a factor in determining the degree of spontaneity or preparedness of the oral text.

In the past, in the general course of oral language development, the tendency has been to allow students plenty of time to prepare their dialogues, skits, presentations, etc., in order for them to present the best possible product. This teaching strategy has been and still is an important aspect of language development, but its main purpose is to develop the students’ ability to order their thoughts and choose the correct linguistic elements and grammatical forms in order to fulfill the communicative intent. These cognitive and metacognitive strategies are important in the preparation of noninteractive texts but do not necessarily assist students in making the transition to unprepared texts. Therefore, a special effort must be made in order to develop students’ confidence in producing such texts, whether oral or written, which will allow them the opportunity to deploy certain strategies that are for the most part found in unrehearsed speech. These strategies include: self-correcting, paraphrasing, refining and clarifying meaning by listening to oneself, negotiating meaning by becoming actively aware or conscious of one’s language use, using circumlocution or asking for help with a word or phrase even if this occurs in one’s first language. In essence, then, it is up to the teacher to assist students in moving away from a dependency on prepared speech to be able to communicate freely in a spontaneous situation, which is more the norm outside the confines of the second language classroom than is prepared speech.

In the classroom, oral production activities will depend upon three factors:

  • 1) the purpose of the oral production, be it experientially – communicatively – or linguistically-based,
  • 2) the type of production activity that is being planned, and
  • 3) the linguistic-communicative level of the students.

For the most part, Beginner level students will need time to prepare their oral productions in order to reduce frustration. Nevertheless, the teacher should engage Beginner level students in simple spontaneous exchanges so as to develop their confidence in this kind of speech act. Intermediate and Advanced level students should be given more opportunities to produce spontaneous speech; however, this will depend largely on the type of oral production task or activity and its purpose.

An oral production activity’s purpose will determine the kind of “product” the teacher can expect. For example, if students are given oral drill exercises, such as transformation drills (exercises that involve students in making linguistic changes in sentences from singular to plural, from one tense to another, from first person to third person, etc.) or completion drills (exercises in which the students complete the sentence with a word or phrase), the type of expected “product” is the correct answer, since the focus is on language knowledge and use. These activities are appropriate for linguistic development provided that the structures are relevant and are carried out in a contextualized fashion. Further, these language activities must be directly linked to the actual oral production task in order to be meaningful to the learner. However, these types of mechanical activities are not to be considered communicative, since they do not convey messages that are a consequence of an information gap (Paulston, 1975).

In order, then, to ensure that these types of activities do play an important role in the development of students’ linguistic abilities, teachers must choose pattern exercises that develop certain linguistic structures which are in keeping with the context and the oral production task to be carried out at a later stage. For example, if the field of experience is “Food” and you want to drill the verb “to take”, this should be done in such a way that the verb is contextualized in terms of food and not dealing with any of its other uses. This transfer will come when the next appropriate context predicates it. Thus, to drill the verb appropriately, a context needs to be set that is related to the verb’s authentic usage, such as in a restaurant situation where a waiter would ask customers what their order would be. Further, to drill the verb effectively, one must ensure that the type of drill questions used are within the experiences of the students. For example, if one asks the question “What do you take for dinner when you’re in a great restaurant?” to Grade Four students, they may have difficulty answering this type of question because it may not be within their realm of experience; however, Grade Ten students may be able to answer more readily since they may have experience this very situation. Therefore, it is also important that the type of oral linguistic exercises given to the students take into account the context, students’ interests, their experiences and their cognitive maturity.

In order for an oral production activity to be communicative, then, it must have the following characteristics:

  • 1) involve the transfer of information that is unknown or not well known to the listener(s),
  • 2) be task-based; i.e., it relates to an activity that occurs in real life,
  • 3) be contextualized; i.e., the speaker has information regarding who the audience is, for what purpose he/she is producing the information, any other circumstances surrounding the production, etc., and
  • 4) be meaningful to the learner; i.e., the activity is relevant to the speaker’s age group and life experiences (Tremblay, 1989).

In these oral communicative activities, students are required to supply information that is needed or missing in order to carry out the task, which may be either prepared or unprepared. Communicative activities consist of such techniques/procedures as brainstorming, role-playing, taking surveys, giving directions/instructions, playing games, especially those which are played in real life), carrying out impromptu conversations, interviewing and so on.

The same types of communicative activities can be done at an experiential level. The difference, however, lies in the fact that now students are making the decisions regarding the linguisitic knowledge and skills they will need in order to convey their own intents based on the context. In this sense, the language experience is taking into account the students’ experiences and interests by carrying out the activities which are meaningful and relevant to them. A brainstorming activity will help illustrate how the same technique/procedure can be communicative in one instance and experiential in another.

Brainstorming, when used as a communicative technique, has a very specific purpose. For example, in the field of experience “Food”, students could be asked to brainstorm all the food words they know in English which they think may sound the same in the second language and verify if they are similar or not. In this case, the students are communicating ideas, but the intent of the activity is very specific; i.e., the students’ knowledge is being directed towards the development of a food vocabulary list based on what they know about food in general. In addition, there is an information gap, since the students are not certain whether the vocabulary they are furnishing exists in the second language or not; therefore, their hypotheses are being verified and they are bridging the gap with the words they are supplying, albeit in their first language.

However, in order to make the same technique experiential, the teacher could ask the students to brainstorm the types of food they would like to eat at their end of the year class picnic. Once the list has been prepared, they could decide who would bring what item to the picnic. In this sense, the activity is experiential in that it is relevant and meaningful to the students, with their interests at the core of the activity. In effect, they are actually participating in making decisions that pertain to them. In addition, this same activity has a context and gives students a reason for communicating. Essentially, then, the distinguishing factors between a communicative activity and an experiential one are:

  • 1) the limitations placed on the activity, i.e., its function- learning (communicative) versus application (experiential), the presence of a communicative intent and a context,
  • 2) how relevant and meaningful the activity is in terms of the students’ interests and maturity, and
  • 3) whether or not the students are playing an active role in a decision-making or problem-solving process.

There are a variety of oral production activities and tasks which can be planned and used at all language levels (Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced). The difference in these activities will be determined by the complexity of the language used, i.e., simple language expression versus more sophisticated language use at the more advanced language levels. A useful example is a survey activity, which involves the reading comprehension skill, since surveys or questionnaires usually appear in print form.

At the Beginner level, a check-off format is most appropriate as a means of gathering information, since these surveys will focus mainly on language at the word level, For example, if the field of experience under study is “Clothing”, then the type of survey questions asked would relate to simple word usage such as “When it is hot, do you prefer shorts or a bathing suit?” Students would answer the question using a one-word answer which would reflect their choice. A full sentence is not necessary, because the purpose of this type of activity is to convey one’s message, not focus on the ability to create a sentence with the chosen word.

A follow up to this activity might involve having students summarize the results of the survey orally, followed by a written summary of the results in which the students would copy down the report as a form of guided practice in which knowledge is transferred to the written skill and reinforces what was learned orally.

At the Intermediate level, the focus will be more at the sentence and paragraph level, where students are asked to state their opinions, likes/dislikes, etc., in which their responses consist of a string of ideas. For example if the field of experience is “fashion”, a survey question at this level might be, “On weekends, what do you like to wear and why?” As such, students are required, then, to substantiate and elaborate on their answer, where they might use complete sentence or other appropriate rejoinders in order to maintain the flow of information. The survey would be made of question relating to other activities that students participation and the types of clothes they would wear for these occasions. Notes can be jotted down on the survey form as the question are being asked, replicating an activity done in real life. Once the data are collected, an oral or written class summary can be carried out, which could be used later on in the unit or the project.

At the Advanced level, students’ oral productions will focus on using sophisticated language forms in a more elaborated fashion, i.e., students will communicate their thoughts as a series of cohesive and coherent ideas, linked by discourse elements such as “seen that, for that, as,” etc. as a means of connecting these ideas and giving their productions more fluidity. As such, surveys at this level can take on the role of determining students’ knowledge and the ability to synthesize and evaluate it. If for example, the field of experience under study is “Being Independent” and the unit or project revolves around the creation of a pamphlet describing essential aspects of living alone, the types of questions asked would require the student to describe in detail an incident that he/she has experienced or a friend has experienced so that information can be gleaned from the scenarios. For example, one scenario could be “Imagine that you have been accepted to a university in Eastern Province and you should move. Describe what you would think is your new life. Explain what are your expenses, etc. The scenario type question then requires that students use more sophisticated language as a means of closing the information gap.

As can be seen the same type of oral text can serve a number of levels, what will change, however, will be the level of sophistication of the language use.

Brainstorming is a cognitive learning strategy that generally involves the process of generating or creating ideas to resolve a problem. In the second language classroom, this process can be used to generate vocabulary, expressions or, at more advanced communicative/linguistic levels, ideas for discussion purposes. This type of activity focuses on communicating thoughts, not on linguistic accuracy. Therefore, linguistic errors may be found as a product of this activity and should be accepted accordingly; however, if errors impede total comprehension, then the negotiation of meaning will be required in order that the students’ intents be understood. Error correction may even still be necessary if the error persists. This kind of activity can be done as an entire class or in small groups of between four to six students. Students will have to be reminded that the goal is the generation of words, expressions or ideas and that all answers should be accepted without criticism. This process can also be used as a pre-production activity or as will be seen later on as a means of communicating ideas as it relates to a reading passage or a writing assignment.

Role-playing or simulations are oral production activities which are often based on listening activities, which have already exposed students to certain linguistic and sociolinguistic patterns needed for this task. At the Beginner level, especially, it is advisable to demonstrate or model the process for students. This can be done by the teacher or through the use of audio tapes or videotaped scenes. In some cases, students can be supplied with cue cards that present the entire situation with only certain aspects missing, which are then filled in spontaneously by the students. Or, just the beginning of the dialogue can be supplied and students can complete the dialogue. In another case, cue cards would provide students information on what they are to talk about and no more.

It is up to them, then, to develop the conversation, following the appropriate protocol for the situation, such as formal versus informal language use, and so forth. Variations of this process include: partners switching roles, an audience member intervening and giving one of the characters advice, one participant actually playing one role while the other role is played by an “imaginary” person requiring the audience to determine what the “imaginary” person is saying, one person can play both roles or various groups can replay the same roles with the class listening for the differences/similarities in the simulations. For students at the Intermediate/Advanced levels, role-playing can replicate more difficult situations, such as giving a classmate advice on a problem he/she may be experiencing or simulating a situation in which one character expresses an opinion and must support it with documented evidence. These types of activities, then, allow students to recycle knowledge and experiences.

Conversations are similar to role-playing but differ in the sense that they relate more to unprepared discourse and to events that often occur in one’s daily life, such as asking friends about the movie they saw the night before or inviting a friend out to see a movie. Brainstorming is one activity which can be done as a precursor to the conversational activity so that the class as a whole or small groups can determine the kinds of words, expressions or appropriate social conventions they think they will need for the conversation. From there, depending on whether the teacher is dealing with Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced level students, he/she may wish to give them time to prepare mentally or to allow them to carry it out impromptu. The latter format assists students in becoming more independent and confident speakers as well as better risk takers in unstructured situations.

When students present their conversations to the class, those who make up the audience should be actively engaged in an activity that corresponds to the conversation. Students can be asked to do an activity such as those outlined in the listening comprehension section or they can be asked to evaluate the conversation (see peer evaluation in the section on Evaluating StudentsWork). Whatever format is chosen, it is important to involve students in their peers’ oral productions as this will assist them in directly developing their listening comprehension and indirectly in improving their oral production skills.

Interviews are a variation on conversations but require a preparation phase in which the types of questions that will be asked are often predetermined. For Beginner level students, the teacher may prepare a sequence of questions or the questions may be decided upon as a class. An example of this format is a game called Social Bingo (Omaggio, 1986), in which the students attempt to fill in their Bingo cards by interviewing fellow classmates so as to determine which situation belongs to whom. Once they have found the person, they write the student’s name below the situation. The teacher then decides what vertical or horizontal line, the X, and so on will be the winning combination.

At the Intermediate or Advanced levels, students can be allowed to prepare their questions in advance, in which case they would be creating a structured interview. This preparation process can be done individually, in pairs or in small groups (three or four students). When the students have decided upon their questions, they can be transferred to cue cards to help facilitate the interview process, which replicates a process that is often used on television. Interviews can also be unstructured, but this is probably best done at the Advanced level, since this type of activity will encourage students to be more spontaneous in the application of their language knowledge and to choose the best means of expressing themselves. This type of activity mainly requires the use of metacognitive strategies, since students are required to sustain the interview process by choosing the best linguistic expressions, monitoring their speech and self-correcting their message. This type of interview is used best for gathering general information, since it is more like a conversation than a question-answer session.

A debate is a production activity that requires high levels of language ability and is best carried out at the Advanced level, since students at this level will have a larger vocabulary and are able to access more linguistic structures. Furthermore, this type of activity requires critical thinking skills which are often associated with more mature students. This type of activity can involve two steps:

  • 1) researching the topic, and
  • 2) brainstorming prior to the debate.

The first step can involve a “reading for information” stage in which students gather data regarding the topic to be discussed, which would include the jotting down of notes which students could use to support their opinions during the debate. Alternatively, students may wish to interview key resource people who could supply them with information on the topic, in which case they also would be using interview techniques. Students could then be grouped according to their opinions so that as a group they could develop a defence for their opinions. Once students have pooled their information, the groups can be divided again so as to carry out a practice session to determine if their defence is solid enough. At the same time, they can determine what appropriate linguistic forms and vocabulary will be needed in order to best express their intents. Once the “mock” debate session has been completed, the second step can take place.

This step involves students in brainstorming linguistic items, such as “floortaking formulae”, i.e., expressions needed to agree or disagree, to show objection, to support an idea/opinion, to express an opinion, etc., so that they will have at their disposal the necessary linguistic formulae that will assist them in sustaining their communication. This type of activity also allows for the use of negotiation techniques, which can also be brainstormed so that students have access to ways in which they can clarify another’s communicative intent. Once the debate begins, the teacher’s role, as an observer, is to note frequent errors in communication which will be discussed at a later date but not during the process. Students not participating in the debate are also observers and should be given a task that relates to the debate, such as writing a summary of the key points raised by either side or writing an opinion from the observer’s point of view as to which side presented the best arguments. The summary can be given orally, followed by a discussion of what types of difficulties the students experienced in presenting their opinions, which takes the form of analysis and reflection. This activity, then, is probably the most difficult and challenging for students. Thus, students must be given ample time to prepare properly for this task.

The last type of oral production activity to be discussed is the use of games. Games are an excellent means of reviewing linguistic structures or they can serve as information gap activities. Games are highly motivational and students easily become involved. Games that are offshoots of well-known games or games which are broadcasted on television are particularly popular. The advantage of creating and using games that they are based on these models is that students are already familiar with the rules.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).

Listening Comprehension

Second Language Teaching

Listening comprehension is often referred to as a receptive skill where the word “receptive” takes on the connotation of passivity. Rather, listening is an active process which entails the use of cognitive strategies such as guessing, clumping together known material so as to attend to the unknown, recognizing linguistic and semantic patterns, and using one’s past experiences to anticipate contextual elements. The purpose of listening, then, is twofold:

  • 1) to participate in discourse and
  • 2) to obtain information; i.e., listening serves a need or a purpose.

Thus, the kinds of activities and tasks that are used to develop this skill must represent this need to listen, while involving both the problem-solving and information-getting processes.

Listening constitutes discerning meaning by actively participating in the information getting process; however, meaning is contingent upon context: without a context, meaning is difficult to discern. Knowing and comprehending the context become the key elements in developing understanding. This is best exemplified by the illustration given in Roger Tremblay’s module for the development of listening comprehension.* He describes a situation similar to the one given here. If one hears the exclamation “Shut the door!”, everyone would understand that to mean that the person wants the door closed. However, what is not known is the underlying context of the exclamation. For example, one context may relate to a person who is studying and, because there is far too much noise for him/her to concentrate, he/she wants the door closed. Another may find a person talking on the telephone who wishes some privacy in his/herm conversation. Consequently, he/she asks to have the door shut. Or, a person is taking a shower and someone has left the door open allowing the cold air to enter, thus prompting a request for the door to be closed. Therefore, hearing the exclamation “Shut the door” does not necessarily ensure that full comprehension has been attained; rather, it allows for a number of interpretations to occur.
Context, then, is a necessary element of a given speech act which ensures a greater possibility for the attainment of full comprehension.

In general any given context will consist of the following five basic elements

  1. the participant, i.e., those persons involved in the communicative act;
  2. the relationship existing between the participants (for example, client/ sales clerk, parent/child, waiter/customer, etc.);
  3. the communicative intent(s) used for participating in the speech act (for example, persuading someone to do something, asking for information, refusing an invitation, etc.);
  4. the medium though which the message(s) is being transmitted (for example, radio, telephone, loudspeaker, person to person); and
  5. the antecedent or other circumstances pertinent to the context (for example, time, day, place, past events and experiences, shared beliefs, values and assumptions, a shared linguistic code, etc.) which will affect the speech act.

Each of these elements, then, plays an important role in defining the context and awareness of them is needed in order to be able to fully comprehend the message(s).

Knowing that these elements pertain to a context is an important aspect in the development of appropriate listening tasks for the second language classroom. Further, not only should the tasks bear in mind the context, but also as Dunkel states, “…response tasks should be success-oriented and should focus on training [students to listen for information or to become full discourse participants], not on testing listening comprehension” (1986, p. 104). Thus, extensive practice in information-seeking and information-getting is essential before the skill can be evaluated. Indeed, if students are to be able to understand oral language, they must not only be provided with appropriate examples of contextualized speech, but they must also be given sufficient exposure to these contexts as a means of properly developing this skill. In order to attain this goal, two practices should be closely followed.

First and foremost, authentic texts should be used whenever possible, or, at the very least, contextualized texts, i.e., texts which one would naturally hear in a given context in real life. This will ensure that the students will listen to language that communicates a message and not just employs a certain linguistic form, which happens to be the one in development. For example, discerning the difference between a [p] and a [b] sound from a list of words that may or may not be related is an activity representative of decontextualized, non-communicative language use. In addition, this type of activity serves only to make students aware that there are phonemic differences which can cause comprehension problems, but as such do not communicate an intent. Therefore, if the goal is communication, then the type of oral text being used to develop the skill needs to reflect this notion and the task used to demonstrate what is being understood must predicate this philosophy.

The question that arises, then, is what is such a text? For example, if the field under study is that of planning a vacation to a second language area, students can be asked to listen to weather reports to determine which place has the best weather conditions at the desired time of travel. The students would be asked to take down notes and from this information-seeking process they can discuss which area would be most appropriate to visit and why. This type of task, then, involves both information-seeking and decision-making processes, which actively involve the students in listening for a reason or a need. As the field of experience is being developed the students could then be asked to listen to a recorded message that relates to arrival and departure times of flights in order to determine if their flight is leaving on time, if it is delayed and if so, by how long. This kind of activity forces students to attend to certain information, a skill related to selective attention – a metacognitive learning strategy. Therefore, the listening tasks associated with these messages must be purposeful and based on strategies which promote the information-seeking and problem-solving processes.

The second practice relates to teaching students to use learning strategies to discern meaning. Many of these strategies are used naturally in one’s first language, such as hypothesizing, predicting, and anticipating, but these skills must be brought to a conscious level in a second language classroom, at least in the beginning, in order to develop and enhance listening comprehension. In this regard, one should be aware of the two forms of listening to which a learner can be exposed to and participate in, that is:

  • 1) interactive listening, which involves the listener in an active exchange with the speaker, meaning that the speaker and the listener are constantly switching roles and are involved in a continual negotiation process within the speech act, and
  • 2) noninteractive listening, which involves the listener in receiving one-way messages in which information is supplied to the listener and no overt reaction is required, such as in the case of listening to prerecorded flight information, a weather broadcast on the radio, a news broadcast on television, a P.A. announcement in a schools, etc.

It is this latter form, for the most part, which is the precursory step to the former, and which ultimately, leads to the development of the production skills. As a result, there are three phases involved in the development of listening comprehension, these being:

  • 1) the pre-listening phase,
  • 2) the actual listening phase, and
  • 3) the post-listening phase.

The pre-listening phase is composed of two parts which relate to strategies already used in one’s first language: 1) the anticipation of elements and 2) the contextualization of the situation or main context. To anticipate elements, students must raise to a conscious level those general elements they have previously experienced in their first language as they relate to the particular context or situation to be listened to. Whereas contextualization, on the other hand, is a complementary activity, which takes a new situation and analyses discrete aspects relating to such elements as the participants, the relationship between/among participants and so forth, employing students’ past experiences as reference points.

This pre-listening phase can be viewed as the “setting of the stage”, since it provides the students with a frame of reference from which to select the strategies needed to carry out the task. In order to facilitate this process, however, students could be made consciously aware of the kinds of information they may be lacking in the areas of social, cultural and linguistic information which could impede their ability to comprehend the text (Dunkel, 1986). In this case, some preteaching of key concepts may be required as a means of raising to a conscious level what students know and do not know in order to put them at ease with unfamiliar texts.

Generally, there are two kinds of activities which a teacher can use “to set the stage”. Brainstorming is one way in which teachers can make students more consciously aware of the anticipatory elements that could be heard in a given context. These brainstorming activities can consist of a review of the key vocabulary or phrases that might be associated with the context and the key messages which might be shared. These lists, either verbal or written, can be created as a whole group or individually. Further, in the brainstorming activity, students can be asked to ascertain whether or not they believe that the list, either drawn up by the students or provided by the teacher, does contain the elements that they would have anticipated for this particular context. This can be done by either checking off the items prior to the listening activity itself and later verifying them in the actual listening activity, or a survey of the class can be taken by asking the students to raise their hands if they think a particular element will be heard in that context, and the number of responses tallied and placed on the board to be verified in the listening activity.

A second way in which to “set the stage” is to describe to the students the type of oral text (interactive/noninteractive) that they will be listening to and to ask them to discern the following kinds of information:

  • 1) the kind of relationship(s) that might exist between speakers, if any exists at all,
  • 2) the general kinds of information that they might expect to hear,
  • 3) where they believe this type of text would most likely occur and so on.

Once again, the answers given would be verified in the listening phase. This kind of activity, then, raises to a conscious level what students have often already experienced in their first language and demonstrates to them how this knowledge is valuable in the second language classroom as well. The use of pre-listening activities, then, is an important aspect of the development of listening comprehension, since they teach students to anticipate the semantic and linguistic elements that are most often associated with a particular situation or context. The ability to anticipate will assist in developing a tolerance of ambiguity and risk-taking behaviours, which is particularly important for all students, especially those at the Beginner level.

The actual listening activity consists of two phases: the verification phase (the first time students are asked to listen to an oral text) and the comprehension phase (the second time students are asked to listen to the same oral text).

In the verification phase, students can be asked to do any one of the following kinds of activities:

  • 1) verify the elements that they were asked to anticipate in the pre-listening activity,
  • 2) take notes on what they heard,
  • 3) determine where the conversation took place, between whom, and when,
  • 4) provide general details or the main idea(s) of what they heard, or
  • 5) determine the mood of the speakers, the situation, etc.

Cultural nuances can also be attended to in the verification stage by asking students to listen for such things as:

  • 1) dialectical variations for the same word or expression,
  • 2) changes in intonation which can be related to an expression or word, known or unknown to the students, or
  • 3) listening to two similar conversations presented by two different sets of second language speakers and having the students determine the linguistic and/or paralinguistic differences that are evident. In essence, the goal of this phase is to verify the students’ hypotheses regarding the text that they have listened to as a means of developing their ability to anticipate certain messages and as a way of using this particular strategy for listening to authentic oral texts.

In the comprehension phase, students are asked to provide both general and precise details in order to resolve a problem or to meet a specific communicative need. In other words, students carry out listening activities for real-life purposes and within a context which places the students in a situation where the participation in the sharing of information will assist them in carrying out the communicative task. This phase also provides students with feedback on their general comprehension. The kinds of activities in which students can be asked to participate in are, for example:

  • 1) completion exercises in which they are required to use the information given in the text to complete the task,
  • 2) answer, in oral or in written form, questions that relate to the text; however, these questions must go beyond the recall of information, rather focusing on synthesistype questions, such as having the students determine what would be the succeeding events based on the information they have at present, or on evaluation-type questions wherein students are asked to use their past experiences as the criteria to judge whether or not the passage, as they understood it, was consistent with their own experiences*,
  • 3) give, in oral or written form, a summary of what they heard, if appropriate to the context, and
  • 4) fill in a cloze-type activity which would replicate a real-life task, such as filling-in an interview questionnaire.

As can be seen by the examples given, the most important aspect for the appropriate development of this skill is to ask students to carry out real-life tasks. Further, it is equally important to provide students with appropriate and sufficient feedback with regard to their ability to comprehend a text so that they can become more confident in the development of their listening abilities. In addition, it is important to note that the activities associated with this phase must be different from those used in either the pre- or post- listening phases.

The final phase is the post-listening phase which consists of an information sharing session in which the students share the type of information and strategies used to obtain this information and includes a reinvestment stage in which the students carry out tasks which reinforce what has just been acquired. This is an equally important phase, since it develops the students’ ability to take what has been previously learned and apply it to either a similar or different context. Once again the tasks used in this phase must be different from those given in the pre-listening and actual listening phases. Moreover, the kinds of tasks that are related to this phase quite often involve other skills, such as an oral production activity, reading and/or written activity or any combination of these skills. The kinds of oral production activities that can be carried out will depend largely on the type of oral text used. Activities such as oral summaries, classroom discussion or debates on the subject, role-playing or simulations of the situation or interviewing each other as to the kinds of things one would hear in the context presented, followed by a survey of the class results, are tasks which can be carried out. In terms of extending the oral text to a reading comprehension activity, students can read an article or an interview on the same topic and discuss how two different media address the same subject; or students can be asked to research the different ways written texts convey the same information. With regards to writing, students can be asked to write a written summary of the events from a journalist’s perspective, write a character sketch about one of the people involved in the oral text, write a different ending to what they heard and share their endings with the class. A class discussion can arise form this kind of activity. As can be seen, there is a variety of ways in which the post-listening activity can lead to the introduction of another skill, which is, in reality, a transfer (reinvestment) of not only previously learned material, but also a reuse of the information acquired in the listening activity.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).

Second Language Teaching

Second Language Teaching

Components of the Program of Studies

  • Experience/Communication
  • Culture
  • Language
  • General Language Education

Suggested Teaching Methodology

  • Pedagogical Principles
  • Teacher and Student Roles
  • Phases in the Teaching Process

Teaching Strategies and Activities

  • Listening Comprehension
  • Oral Production
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Written Production
  • Learning Strategies
  • Grouping Students
  • Types and Suggested Uses of Learning Resources


  • Yearly Planning
  • Planning an Integrated Unit
  • Daily Lesson Planning

Evaluating Students’ Work

  • Purpose of Evaluation
  • Formative Evaluation Techniques
  • Summative Evaluation of Educational Projects
  • Formats for Reporting Student Progress

Technology in the Classroom

Enrichment and Remediation