Receptive skills - in particular the art of processing listening texts - often hold an important position in curricula.
This is probably due to the quite simple notion that the development of good listening skills, particularly dealing with unknown vocabulary and inferring meaning, needs to be dealt with within a controlled environment i.e. the classroom. Teaching and learning are currently in the era of coursebooks: the zeitgeist is to run courses alongside a respectable coursebook. However, these coursebooks often provide very scripted, stilted, second-rate recordings; they have an air of inauthenticity about them. As a result, more and more teachers are opting for authentic listening texts, such as YouTube videos, clips from the BBC as well as short films from While some of these may come with pre-prepared exercises, and others might lend themselves quite easily to teacher-made exercises, there always looms the issue of incorporating authentic videos and recordings effectively into a pedagogic setting. What if a teacher has found a recording which is perfect for one group, as it will arouse great interest and excitement, but finds it only mere minutes before the lesson: there isn’t any time to transcribe the listening, pick out the blocking vocabulary and design gist and detailed listening tasks. What then? A useful and ready-to-go format for authentic listening texts is the KWL format, namely: Know / Want to know / Learnt. This exercise can be used countless times but requires clear instruction, clarification and modelling the first time it is used. So how does it work? The teacher draws on the whiteboard three columns and labels them as above. In the first column the learners need to come up with what they already know about the topic - great for activating their schemata and it doubles up as a gist prediction task. If the text is a video on skateboarding in the US, then in this column would go things such as: - I know skateboarding is a popular sport in the US - Tony Hawk is a famous skateboarder - It is predominantly popular among young people In the second column, the learners come up with what they would like to know i.e. what they would like to find out from the recording. For example: - How popular is skateboarding? - What are the figures on the number of skateboarders in the US? - Is it considered dangerous by others? - Is it a growing or a declining sport? - Why is it popular usually only among young people? The first time the class listens to the recording, the task is to listen out for the general gist and to correctly identify whether what is written in their “know” column is in fact present in the listening. For the second listening - the detailed listening - the learners should listen carefully for answers to what is written in their “Want to know” column. Due to the fact the text is authentic, it might be a good idea to allow them to listen to the recording twice during this stage. The third and final column - the learnt column - gives the learner and opportunity to verbalise what they have gotten out of the listening, be it an answer to a query or something additional they did not know before listening. Each of the stages above lend themselves to individual or group work; alternatively, they might be completed as a group activity, with groups of learners deciding together what they already know, what they want to know and what they have learnt. The most important thing is to keep each stage as interactive and communicative as feasibly possible. As the text is authentic, there will probably be some issues with understanding some of what is being said. To my experience, this is most often due to poor bottom-up listening skills - an area which is often overlooked by ELT teachers in favour of top-down listening tasks. Authentic texts provide the perfect opportunity to do some bottom-up listening practice. The teacher could play a short section of the listening several times and the learners could transcribe what they hear. To make this more fun or interactive, they could compare in groups and ‘submit’ a group transcription - the group which is closet to the correct transcription wins! This could also lead to some vocabulary work; however, I would only recommend a teacher tackles unknown vocabulary after the transcription task if they have a number of years experience in ELT: dealing with unknown vocabulary can often lead to unnecessarily increased Teacher Talking Time. An alternative approach - one focused more on top-down listening - would be to play a section of the recording, or possibly the whole thing, as a dictogloss exercise. For further information on what a dictogloss is and how to set it up, please see the following: Despite the text being genuine and not pre-prepared for the classroom, the applied linguist Widdowson would argue that the kind of exercises listed above are not very ‘authentic’: transcription and dictoglossing are particularly contrived exercises in Widdowson’s eyes. So, how can the recording be exploited so as to provide input and output which is both genuine and authentic? The obvious answer is to look to our own lives for a solution. For example, when we watch a YouTube video, we probably would tell our friends about it and give some sort of recommendation: “I watched this awesome video the other day, you gotta watch it / Oh my god, someone showed me this awful clip the other day - it was so boring!” We could get our learners to establish an opinion on the recording and then in pairs build up a conversation, whereby A is the person who watched the clip and B is pretending to be a friend who has not seen it. This sort approach also allows for work on spoken English, particularly on establishing and practising back-channel devices and linking devices. For example, in a genuine situation, the friend would use paralinguistic as well as linguistic devices to show they are listening, such as e.g. nodding the head, saying “aha, oh yeah, right” (back-channel devices), as well as asking questions to clarify what is being said, for example “So skateboarding isn’t as popular as people thought?” Finally, there comes the question of levels. It seems obvious that all of these activities would work with intermediate + levels. However, what about lower levels? Have you tried out KWL with elementary students? Was it a success?
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