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2. Designing Listening Comprehension Tasks

In the previous chapter we considered what listening involves, factors that influence learner listening and problems that language learners face during listening. This chapter applies these principles into tasks that can develop your students’ listening skills and strategies. The term ‘task’ is used here to refer to activities where learners listen to input in English for a communicative purpose in order to achieve an outcome. This chapter will discuss the following:

  • Communicative outcomes for listening
  • One-way listening tasks
  • Two-way (interactional) listening tasks
  • A summary of listening responses

As this chapter is concerned primarily with listening tasks for communicative outcomes, it will not be presenting activities for improving perception and recognition of English sounds and words. Discriminative listening activities will be discussed in Chapter 4 as part of awareness-raising activities.

COMMUNICATIVE OUTCOMES FOR LISTENING

There are three reasons for specifying communicative outcomes for listening task.

Firstly, specific outcomes motivate and challenge learners to use language in a purposeful way. Just answering true/false or multiple-choice questions denies them of a true communicative purpose for listening.

Secondly, you can give useful feedback to your students based on their performance in the communicative outcomes.

Thirdly, by first identifying specific outcomes for a lesson, you can determine what skills and strategies your learners will need to use to achieve these outcomes.

The box below lists 16 listening outcomes that are appropriate for all levels of learners. Examples are given to illustrate each outcome so as to help you consider other appropriate ones for your class. Some outcomes are suitable for both one-way and two-way listening tasks, while others may lend themselves more to one type of listening task. Each type of listening task will be explained in detail to demonstrate how these outcomes can be achieved.

Communicative Outcomes for Listening Comprehension Tasks

Communicative outcomes Examples
Lists Similarities / differences; errors
Ranked information The most convincing argument; the best description; the most frightening tale
Sequenced information Picture sequences; lyrics
Categorized information Facts v. opinions; themes; physical attributes
Matched items Pictures with texts; themes with texts
Recommendations and solutions Creative solutions to real, hypothetical or simulated situations
Edited texts Texts with omissions or additions corrected
Extended texts Embellished descriptions; narrative recounts
Reconstructed texts Short recounts or information reports
Restored texts Complete the gaps in a text: dialogues, poems or prose
Diagrams or pictures Floor plans, sketches of people or objects, mind maps, maps
Summaries (guided or open) Summaries of a story, outline of a recount during a conversation
Speculations (oral or written) Beginnings, continuations or endings
Completed diagrams Routes on maps; flow charts
Notes Short notes during presentations
Questions Questions for presenters

 

In chapter one, we considered five types of purposeful listening:

  • discriminatory
  • comprehensive
  • critical
  • therapeutic
  • appreciative

Many of the outcomes suggested in the box above are related to listening for comprehension, while some also incorporate the need to listen critically. It is important that your students get a chance not just to practice basic listening comprehension skills but also to develop higher order listening abilities in the target language.

Task 2.1

Look at the above table; think of a topic / theme you work with in your syllabus or course book and a specific group of learners you teach. Can you suggest more examples for some of these communicative outcomes?

ONE-WAY LISTENING TASKS

One-way listening tasks involve your students only in listening and responding through different ways to achieve outcomes. They do not have to interact with the speaker while listening. This kind of listening is transactional in nature; it is concerned mainly with obtaining information and knowledge. In everyday life, we engage in one-way listening when we listen to the radio, talks and lectures, and watch television and performances. The box below presents ten types of one-way listening tasks. They are differentiated by the kind of response your students have to make while listening and the communicative outcomes. These tasks allow your students to practice the five key listening skills and use appropriate listening strategies to facilitate their comprehension.

One-Way Listening Tasks

Task Response
Restoration Include omitted words or phrases; delete extra information
Reconstruction Create original message with words heard or noted down
Comparison Compare information of a similar nature for similarities and differences
Prediction Extend contents based on clues from part of the text
Sorting Sequence, rank, categorize items
Elaboration Elaborate using numbers, words and pictures
Evaluation Identify inconsistencies and contradictions, rank information
Jigsaw Create a whole from different parts
Matching Match information from listening to pictures or written texts
Problem-solving Offer solution to real-life or hypothetical problems

 

To provide your class with listening input, you can use recordings or read aloud a text yourself.

  • Try to use more authentic materials as these can motivate your students to listen.
  • Avoid using decontextualized sentences.
  • If you are choosing a passage for reading aloud, be careful that you do not use dense texts meant for individual silent reading.
  • Adapt a written text to make it sound like natural speech by using shorter sentences, and including repetitions and spoken discourse markers.
  • Read the text at normal speed. Do not slow down deliberately. If students cannot process the text adequately the first time, let them hear it again.
  • Encourage them to use their background knowledge to infer missing words or ideas.
  • Accept any reasonable interpretations, unless it is accurate details you are focusing on.

These examples are meant to be a starting point for you to adapt as well as design your own tasks.

Restoration Tasks

Outcomes

Edited texts
Input Short texts: information reports, recounts, narratives.
Procedure Students read a short passage with words or phrases that have been changed, added in or omitted. Ask students for the gist of the passage to check their understanding.Students then listen to the passage once without looking at the passage.They listen to the passage again. This time they read the passage as they listen to change or delete words and phrases not in the listening passage. They can also add in words that are missing from the written text.They listen to the passage again to confirm whether they have made the correct additions or deletions.
Option(s) Vary your choice of words according to language focus. Extra phrases, sentences could be added. To make the task more challenging and encourage closer listening, include paraphrases of key phrases instead of putting in words that have a different meaning to the original.

Reconstructing Tasks

Outcomes Reconstructed texts, guided summaries
Input Short texts; information reports, recounts, dialogues
Procedure 1 Students listen to the text once to get the gist. Students get ready to take notes.They listen to the text again and at the same time write down key content words.In pairs, students use the words they have to reconstruct a text that is as close in meaning as possible to the one they have heard.
Procedure 2 Students listen to a text and give a one-sentence summary on what it is about.They listen to the text again and at the same time write down key content words.They ask questions about words they do not understand. They then complete a guided summary of the original text.
Option(s) Students listen to a dialogue and then complete a summary in the form of a recount of what happened during the dialogue.

Comparison Tasks

Outcomes A list of similarities and / or differences
Input Short texts; expositions, information reports, explanations
Procedure Students listen to two or more short accounts or descriptions of the same topic (e.g. news broadcast by different TV stations, eyewitnesses’ accounts, descriptions of events and procedures such as celebrations, religious rites or daily routines in different cultures or countries).They identify the points that the different versions have in common or differ in.
Opinion(s) Student compare attitudes or emotions expressed by various speakers on a common topic.

Prediction Tasks

Outcomes Speculated beginnings, conclusions; diagrams or pictures
Input Longer texts: recounts, narratives, dialogues
Procedure 1 Students listen to a short story or watch a self-contained video clip from a film divided into several parts.Working in pairs, they tell each other what they predict will happen at each stage. Guiding questions could be included to help students stay focused.Then they listen to or watch the next part to check their predictions
Procedure 2 Students listen to a short story or a song with a strong narrative.They suggest what illustrations are appropriate or design a simple storyboard.
Option(s) Students listen to the second half or the ending of a story. They guess what the beginning of the story is. Students listen to one stanza of a poem or the first few lines of a song and predict what it is about. Alternatively, they could compose the next stanza or verse.

Sorting Tasks

Outcomes Categorized information; sequenced information
Input Short texts: procedures, explanations, expositions, information reports
Procedure 1 Students listen to several short advertisements. They classify them according to types of products. E.g. household, recreation, fashion (predetermined or self-generated categories)
Procedure 2 Students work through the jumbled lyrics of a song to put the lines in the right sequence.They listen to a recording to confirm their sequence and rearrange the lines in necessary.
Option(s) Students use the information from the listening input to complete a table with pre-determined categories or complete a chart.

Elaboration Tasks

Outcomes Extended texts, pictures
Input short texts; recounts, narratives, information reports
Procedure 1 Students listen to a ‘bare’ text. As the text unfolds there will be pauses. At each pause, they elaborate a point or a description by adding an adjective, an adverb, or a phrase with a number in it (e.g. a five-room flat). They do this by jotting down their ideas on a piece of paper.When they finish, they include the details on a written version of the text provided by the teacher.They read out their extended texts to each other or write it up as part of a guided writing activity.
Procedure 2 Students listen to a song with brief descriptions for things, places, or people.They identify a few of the objects or people being described and draw simple pictures to illustrate what they hear. They should also include other details that are not in the description.
Option(s) Use a short description of settings from storybooks. Remove all the details (e.g. adjectives for places and characters). Information reports from school textbooks could also be used.

Evaluation Tasks

Outcomes Ranked information, lists
Input Short texts: recounts, narratives, information reports, expositions
Procedure 1 Students look at a cartoon strip with a strong story line (or a silent video clip) for 30 seconds.They may write down some notes to help them remember details.They listen to two versions of the story and decide which  one best represents what they have seen.
Procedure 2 Students listen to a passage with inconsistencies or contradictions in terms of logic or facts.On listening again, they try to identify all the errors.They make a list of all these and, if necessary, explain their decision.
Option(s) Students listen to three or more descriptions of people / places or explanations of procedures. They rank the listening texts according to selected criteria, such as clarity, interest or usefulness.Students listen to excerpts from advertisements and distinguish between statements of fact and statement of opinion.

Jigsaw Tasks

Outcomes Reconstructed texts
Input Longer texts: recounts, narratives, procedures
Procedure Students listen to different parts of a complete text and try to remember the main points.In small groups, they report to one another what they remember and discuss how the different parts fit together.They present their version of the reconstructed texts orally or in writing.
Option(s) Everyone listens to the same recording (e.g. news bulletin), but each has a specific part to pay attention to. They pool their points together and compile a short report.

Matching Tasks

Outcomes Matched themes, matched pictures, completed diagrams
Input Short texts: recounts, narratives, songs, expositions
Procedure 1 Students are given several themes, e.g. relationships, politics, conservation and work.They listen to three short passages and match each one with the most appropriate theme.
Procedure 2 Students are shown pictures of well-known personalities.They listen to descriptions of some of these people and match the information with the pictures.
Procedure 3 Students listen to a set of instructions.They use the instructions to trace a route or complete a floor plan.
Option(s) Teacher writes descriptions of students in the class.Students listen to each description and match it with the correct individual.

Problem Solving Tasks

Outcomes Recommendations or solutions
Input Short texts: recounts, dialogues, expositions
Procedure Students listen to a problem being described.They note down the key points.Working in pairs, they check their understanding and discuss recommendations or solutions to the problem.
Opinion(s) Other sources of input include letters from agony aunts’ columns and storybook characters facing dilemmas. For more advanced students, a short case study could be presented.

Task 2.2

Review the types of one-way listening tasks. For each type, identify the main listening skills that your students will need to carry out the tasks. What cognitive and metacognitive strategies can be practiced at the same time?

TWO-WAY (INTERACTIONAL) TASKS

Unlike one-way listening tasks, two-way listening tasks demand various degrees of oral interaction with the speaker. The listener has to interact with the speaker by asking questions, offering information and expressing opinions. Two-way tasks may involve talk of either an interactional or transactional nature, or even both in some situations. In interactional talk, the turns between speakers and listeners may be short and more balanced. In transactional talk, however, the person giving the information does most of the talking. Nevertheless, listeners will still be able to ask questions during or after listening. Two-way listening tasks therefore involve some skills and processes that are different from one-way listening.

For two-way listening tasks, your students will have to work in pairs or small groups. These tasks are information-gap and opinion-gap activities with specified communicative outcomes. They are based on the principle that people communicate (in this case, listen and speak) when there is a need to share information or opinion. Unlike one-way listening tasks where the teacher structures and manages listening activities directly, two-way tasks require you to take on a facilitative role. Through carefully planned tasks, your students practice listening skills and strategies together. You will therefore need to design tasks with an inbuilt disparity that can motivate your students to participate and cooperate with one another.

Figure 2.3 presents six types of two-way listening tasks. Although speaking is an important part of these tasks, the focus of our discussion here is listening. For some tasks where there are unequal opportunities for listening, you will find it useful to repeat the task with parallel materials and have your students change roles. In this way everyone in class gets an opportunity to practice their listening.

Figure 2.3 Two-way (interactional) listening tasks

Task Response
Creative dictation Dictate to each other to complete a text
Description Sequence / reproduce / complete pictures or diagrams
Simulation Listen to and express opinion in simulated situations
Discussion Listen to and express opinion on specified topics
Presentation Listen and respond to formal and informal presentations

 

Creative Dictation

Outcomes Restored texts: recounts, information reports, dialogues
Procedure 1 Students work in pairs as A and B. They are given a written text with gaps. Student A has a version that contains words or lines that are missing from Student B’s text and vice versa.In pairs, students take turns to dictate to each other the parts of the text they have in their handouts.

They continue dictating to each other until they have completed all the gaps in the text.

Procedure 2 Student A is given a copy of a text (e.g. a poem, lyrics of a song). Student A memorizes a line and repeats it to Student B without looking at the text.Student B writes down what is heard. They continue till the whole text has been reproduced.When they finish, students listen to the complete text to check their restored texts.
Option(s) For procedure 1, use transcripts of dialogues with one student having all the lines of one speaker, or poems with alternate lines missing.

Description Tasks

Outcomes Sequenced pictures, diagrams, pictures, completed diagrams
Input Spontaneous language of description used in procedures and explanations (completely open or supported by guidelines and / or relevant vocabulary items), short printed dialogues
Procedure 1 Student A has a complete cartoon sequence (at least 4 frames) with dialogue in speech balloons. Student B gets a handout with the frames jumbled up.The speech balloons are blanked out.

Student B listens to Student A’s description and sequences the jumbled frames.

Next, Student B fills in the dialogue in the speech bubbles as Student A dictates it.

Procedure 2 Student A describes a picture or diagram to Student B, Student B tries to draw it.
Option(s) Students can be given an incomplete diagram (e.g. a flow chart, a floor plan) to complete or a map to trace a route or identify landmarks.

Simulation Tasks

Outcomes Any of the outcomes suggested in Figure 2.3 related to discussions.
Input Spontaneous language of discussion and argument in expository texts (completely open or supported by guidelines and / or relevant vocabulary items)
Procedure Divide students into small groups (maximum 5 members) and assign each one a role in a simulated situation that is either realistic or fantastic (e.g. town council meeting or members of an inter-galactic council facing an imminent war). Present them with a problem to discuss.Members have to express their opinions individually.

They then transform these ideas into a creative solution.

Option(s) Examples of roles in simulation include committees, jury members, judges in a competition, counselors and spies. To encourage your students to develop the habit of listening closely and critically to what others are saying, assign the role of a moderator to one person in the group each time. The moderator should ask questions, challenge assumptions and clarify views.

Discussion Tasks

Outcomes Any of the outcomes suggested in Figure 2.3 related to discussions
Input Spontaneous language discussion and argument in expository texts (completely open or supported by guidelines and / or relevant vocabulary items)
Procedure Divide students into groups (maximum 5 members). Present them with a problem or a controversial issue.They discuss ways of dealing with the problem of issue.

These are compiled and presented to the rest of the class.

Option(s) Students can base their discussions on excerpts of TV news and documentaries they watch. Make discussions more challenging by stipulating that the group must reach a consensus or by assigning a particular point of view to each student to argue from.Appoint a moderator.

Presentation Tasks

Outcomes Notes, questions, categorized information
Input Prepared formal or semi-formal presentations by fellow students: recounts, explanations, expositions
Procedure 1 Students prepare and make a presentation on a topic of their choice.They select two other presentations that they are interested in. For one of the presentations, they have to make short notes. For the other presentation, they prepare two questions to ask the speaker after the presentation.
Procedure 2 Presenters prepare a worksheet with different categories of information based on their talk. Each member in the audience gets a copy. As they listen, they complete the worksheet.The presenter shows the correct answers on the overhead projector after the talk.
Option(s) Debates can be exploited for the same purpose.

Task 2.3

Review the types of two-way (interactional) listening tasks. For each type identify the main listening skills that your students will need to carry out the tasks.

Specific instructions for some two-way listening tasks have not been included. You will find it useful to establish appropriate ground rules before starting the tasks. For tasks involving information gaps, you may want to emphasize that they should not at any one time see the information (text or pictures) that the other person has. You can also tell them not to give all the information at once.

Task 2.4

Some of the one-way listening tasks could be modified into two-way tasks where the students are the ones providing the input to each other. Can you suggest a possible adaptation?

Task 2.5

Select a two-way listening task and identify the types of social-affective strategies that your students may need to apply to help them complete the task. Consider the language that your students will need. Draw up a list of useful expressions (formal and informal) to teach your students. Practice these with a colleague and experiment with different intonation.

A SUMMARY OF LISTENING RESPONSES

Listening activities are sometimes categorized according to types of response they elicit: short responses and extended responses. The type of responses that one-way and two-way (interactional) tasks elicit from your students can also be viewed from this perspective.

Listening responses for listening comprehension tasks

Short responses Longer and extended responses
Mark / check items in pictures / diagrams Frame appropriate answers
Match pictures / diagrams with text Summarize information
Rearrange pictures Reconstruct original message / text
Complete pictures / diagrams Paraphrase original message / text
Draw pictures / diagrams Edit text
Label pictures / diagrams Restore text
Carry out actions / instructions Trace a route
Complete grids / tables Complete texts with long gaps
Complete texts with one-word gaps Elaborate by quantifying or qualifying
Indentify true / false Predict the next part
Identify factual and opinion statements Take notes
Spot mistakes / differences / inconsistencies Separate main ideas from the irrelevant
Confirm pre-listening speculations Express opinion
Identify specific items of information, e.g. content, grammar items, discourse markers Offer recommendations and solutions
Indentify attitudes / relationships / mood  

CONCLUSION

All the tasks in this chapter have been presented in very simple outlines so that you can apply them in the unique situations you are in. you will also need to prepare materials carefully and plan the procedures systematically according to the interest and ability of your class (e.g. recordings, texts for reading aloud, role cards, scenarios for simulation tasks, topics for discussions, incomplete texts for creative dictation, timing for different steps of the procedure). In addition, you will need to introduce the tasks in such a way as to arouse your students’ interest as well as encourage them to use their background knowledge to facilitate comprehension. If you do not plan to use these tasks as stand alone activities, you will also need to think of how each listening outcome could be extended and what follow-up activities would be suitable. The next chapter shows you how to plan pre- and post-listening activities that will achieve the objectives. You will also explore ways in which some of the tasks could be combined with other language skills.

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May 16, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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