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OC\ll1briugc Uni(cr"ily rrc~.1 1990 Preface vu

First pulJli.,hcd 1990 1 Curriculum development in second Inngungc teaching
Fifth relnting 1995

rrinled in the Unil~d S[:Ile~ nr America

2 Beyond methods 35

Lib",r;- nJ C"f1K ,,'U C",,,1"8'lJg.ill-ru1Jlicalion [J,lIa (J) Designing instructional materials for teaching Jistening
Rid'ard~, lad C. comprehension 50
The bnl;u~gc t<:;I,ding malri~ I lad C. Richard~.
r. LIll. - (CmllhrlJgc lan!;u~ge lcacillng Iihraf)')
4 Conversationally speaking: approaches to the teaching of
bdudcs biograrhical reference.l.
ISBN (l·5~1·38"OR-7 (hardb;lck) - ISON 0-521-)l':79~-Q (pnrcrll.d<.J
conversation 67
. I. L"lIgun~e al1lllallgu~gcs - Study md leaching. I. Tille.
II. Serie.l. 5 A profile of an effective reading reacher 87
P5l.R4K 199C1

<111l".OO7-<.ldO 89-31999

6 From meaning into words: writing in a second or

forcigr, ~anguage 100

A ,,~I~loS reconJ for (ltis 00<.'>: i.\ available (mm the Ori:;$!l Library

7 The teacher as self-observer; self-monitoring in teetchtr

ISDN CI·51J-3R<\Cl8-7 IHlI"dh~ck Jevelopmen'r 118

IS(lN 0-521-3117\1<1-9 parcrbad;

8 Langu< and content' :lppro:lchcs to C\lrricu!u!D "JiljlllllCm 144

Cltaplcr 2 is a rc,'j,lclf vcr.lioll or an a~liclc ilIa: originally ~prcMed ill J<1ck C. Richards and Dmriel Hurley
PrV.fI'nr J. l \Sq"l~mbcr 19~7).
Conclusion: a look toward the future 163
Ch~plci "!>;~;\ Icv\~rtl YCf~ionof "Dc~igj\;lIg llls\ruI:\i\ll\;l1 Malerial~

rm Teaching Li.\lcning Conlprclier15ion," RELC An\h\llogy Scrie~,

Ma\ed;)\~ fm L1tllg\ln,c Lc3ffii<l~ and Tcachint. Cmnhddgc Unlve{~lly

References 167
Pll;'S I~ gr;uclul 10 RELC (or pernlLs~ion 10 pulJ:i~h tJli.~ ;r(icl~.

Index 177

CMpter ~ il'revi,cd versi\ln or an article thaI [dgin~lIy ~prc'Lred in

l',orr~~l >(,2 (lMu;ry 1989)

3 Designing instructional materials for

teaching listening comprehension

In Chaprer 1 the role of insrrucrional materials in the language curric­

ulum was discnssed, and it was argued that effective instructional ma­
terials in language teaching are based on theoretically sound learning
principles, are appropriate ro the learners' needs, provide examples of
how language is used, and provide opportunities for communicarive and
authentic language llse.ln this chapter, some of the theorerical principles
underlying [he design of listening materials will be examined. Any ap­
proach to the design of listening comprehension materials and classroom
acrivities reflectS a view of the namre of listening and the processes it
involves. An undersranding "Of the role of bottom-up and top-down
processes in listening is central to any theory of listening comprehension,
3S well as recognition of the differences between the interactional and
transaaional dimensions of language use and how these affect listening.
[n rhis chapter, these views of listening are first elaborated and then
applied to the design of instructional mare rials and activities for the
teaching of listening comprehension.


Listening processes: bottom-up and

top-down processing

Two distinct kinds of processes are involved in listening comprehension,

which are sometimes referred to as "bottom-up" .and "top-down" pro­
cessing (Chaudron and Richards 1986). Bottom-up processing refers to
the use of incoming data as a SOurce of information abour the meaning
of a message. From this perspeaive, the process of comprehension begins •
with the message received, which is analyzed at successive levels of . "",
organization - sounds, words, clauses, and sentences - until rhe intended
meaning is arrived at. Comprehension is thus viewed as a process of
decoding. Examples of botrom-up processes in lisrening include the

1. scanning the input to identify familiar lexical items

2. segmenting rhe stream of speech into consrituents - ~or example, in
order to recognize that "abookofmine" consists of Iour words
• •
Designing instructional materials

()nal materials for

3. using phonological cues to Identify the information focus in an


4. using grammatical cues to organrle the Jl1put intO constituents - Eor
example, in order w recognize thar in "the book which Ilem you"
(the book] and [which Jlem you] Jre the major consrituems rather
than [rhe book which II and [Jem you].

The listener's lexical and grammatical competence in a language provides

materials in the language curric­ rhe basis for borrom-up processing. A person's lexical compet,enct serves
:3 that effective instructional ma­ as a mental dictionary to which incoming words are referred for meaning
t On theoreticaHy sound learning assignment. Grammatical competence can be thought of as a set of
ners' needs, provide examples of strategies that are applied to rhe analysis of incoming data. Clark and
'O[tunltles for Communicative and Clark (1977: 49) summarize this view of listemng comprehension in the
s~me o~ the theoretical principles
foHowing way:
enals. wdJ be examined. Any ap­

L They [listeners] take in raw speech and retain a phonological representa­

ehenslOfl materials and classroom

tion of it in "working memory."

of listening and the processes it
2. They immediately anempt co organize (he phonological representarion
,Ie of bottom-up and top-down
imo constituents, idemifying [heir comem and funcrion.
1eory of liStening comprehension
J. As rhey idemify each constiruent, they use it ro construct underl)'ing prop­
es between the interactional and
ositions, building conrinually omo a hierarchical representation of
se and how these affect listening
19 are .first elaborated and the~
4. Once they have identified [he propositions for a constituent, they tetain
matenals and a.:tivities for the them in working memory and at ~ome poinr purge memory of the phono­
logical tepresentation. In doing this, rhey forget the exaa wording and re­
rain the meaning.

Top-down processing, on rhe other hand, refers to the use of background

P and knowledge in understanding the meaning of a message. Background
knowledge may take several forms. It may be previous knowledge about
the topic of discourse, it may be situarional or contexmal knowledge,
.'ved in listening comprehension ,.. or it may be knowledge stored in long-term memory in the form of
[(Om-up" and "top-down" pro~ "schemata" and "scripts" - plans about the overall structure of evenrs
..Bottom-up processing refers to and the relationships between them,
mformacion abour the meaning For example, if an adult was seared on a park bench. reading aloud
.Jrocess of comprehension begins from a book to a group of enthralled young children, an observer would
.nalyzed at successive levels of probably assume that the adult was reading a story - rather than, say,
~d sentences - until the imended a recipe or a ser of instructions on how to assemble a computer. This
IS thus. viewed as a prOcess of set of expectations for a particular kind of discourse is generared from
lcesses In listening include rhe the situation, from knowledge of a world populated by adulrs and chil­
dren and rypical imeractions between them. On moving closer, the ob­
senter is able to confirm rhat the children are indeed listening to a story.
lr lexical items Now rhe observer activates his or her "schema" for stories. This can be
, ~?nstit~ems - for example, in thought of as a set of expecrarions as ro how the content of rhe discourse
e conSists of four words will develop:
The language reaching matrix

Where does the stOry rake place?

\Vho are the characrers?

Around what e....ent or events does the srory turn?

What will the outcome be?

Much of people's knowledge of the world consists of knowledge about

specific situations, the people one might expect to encounter in such

situations, what those people's goals and purposes are, and how they

typically accomplish them. In applying this prior knowledge about peo­

ple and events to a parricular situation, comprehension proceeds from

the top down. The acma[ discourse that is heard is used to confirm

expeerations and to fill our the specific details. Examp[es of top-down

processing in listening include:

assigning an inte raerion to parr of a particular evenr, such as storyrelling,

joking, praying, complaining;

assigning places, persons, or things to categories;
inferring cause-and-effeer relationships;
anticIpating ourcomes;
inferring the topic of a discourse;
inferring the sequence between evencs;
inferring missing details.
If the listener is unable to make use of top-down processing, an utterance
or discourse may be incomprehensible. Botwm-up processing alone often
provides an insufficient basis for comprehension. Consider the following
narrative, for example. W'hat is the capie?
Sally first tried setting loose a team of gophers. The plan backfired when a
dog cha'sed them away. She then entertained a group of teenagers and was
delighted when rhey brought their mororr:ydes. Unfonunarely, she failed to
find a Peeping Tom lisred in the Yellow Pages. furthermore, her srereo sys­
tem was nor loud enough. The crab gtaSS might have worked but she didn't
have a fan that was sufficiently powerful. The obscene phone calls gave her
hope until rhe numbet was changed. She rhought about calling a door-ro­
door salesman bur decided to hang up a clothesline instead. It was the instal­
lation of blinking tleon lights across the street that did the trick. She evenru·
ally framed the ad from rhe classified seerion. (Srein and Albridge 1978) .-.,

At first the narrative is virtually incomprehensible. However, once a

schema is provided to apply- to the narrative - "Getting rid of a trou­
blesome neighbor" - the reader can make use of top-down processing,
and the elements of rhe stoty begin to fit into place.
When [earners first encounter a foreign language, they depend heavily
upon top-down processing. For example, imagine a foreigner who has
raken up residence in Japan. The first time she joins a group of Japanese
friends for a me~!. she hears rhem utr:er something that sounds like
Designing instructional materials

"Itadakemasu" before they begin eating. She has no idea if this is one
word or three, or whether it refers m the food or to the particlpants.
-ory turn? After repeated experiences of this kind, however, .lnd observation of the
position and funcrion the utterance occupies within the speech e,>,ent of
:!d consists of knowledge about "meal talk," she inters rhat it is some kind of pre-eating ritual, probably
-,t expect ro encounter in such the equivalent of "Bon apetic" If she subsequenrly goes on ro learn some
-,~ pu~pases are, and how they Japanese, she will be able ro apply her knowledge of Japanese words
hiS prior knowledge abour peo­ and grammar to the phrase m arrive at its literal meaning, which is "eat
, comprehension proceeds from - going to." Initially, then, she is entirely dependent upon top-down
'lat is heard is used to confirm processing - that is, the use of background knowledge - in working out
; derails. Examples of rap-down the meaning of the uteerance, and only larer, when her linguistic com­
- petence has developed, can she analyze it from the bottom up.
This is how listening comprehension often cakes place at the initial
ricubr event, such as storytelling, stages in second language learning. For example the Australian Adult
Migrant Education Listening Proficiency Descriprions, which are derived
categoriesj from analysis of rhe listening difficulties of on-arrival migrants to Aus­
tralia and which ch;naeterize Jisrenil1g skills across seven levels of pro­
ficiency, include rhe following inform arion concerning Iisreners at the
lowesc levels of proficiency:
Level 0.5
No idea of synractic relarionships betwf'en words_ Responds to isolated irems
p-down processing, an utterance and has to rely a!most entirely on conuxr to guess meaning.
.orram-up processil1g alone ofren
Here rhe listener is unable to use borrom-up processing. Gradually,-as
__hension. Consider the following
lie? language learning proceeds, the abiliry to use bottom-up processing
emerges, as we see in rhe following descriptions of Levels 1, 2, and J in
lers. The pJal1 backfired when a the Aumalian proficiency descriptions:
d a group of teenagers and was
des. UnforruuateJy, she failed to Levell.
ges. Furthermore, her srereo sys­ Little understanding of syntax. Meaning deduced from juxtaposiriOn of
mght have worked but she didn't words and cOntexr. Sril! responds to isolated words in connected speech ...
lle obscene phone calls gave her Speahr frequendy forced to expand or paraphrase when listener's unfamil­
loughr about calling a door-[o­ iariry wirh synractic conventions causes misundersrauding.
)thesJil1e instead. Ir was rhe insral­
eet chat did the trick. She evenru­
In_ (Srein and Albridge 19781
Level 2
Beginning awareness oE grammar but still relies heavily on srressed words
nprehensible. However, once a and contexr ro deduce meaning ... Can follow very simple, slowly-spokel1
Tative - "Getting rid of a trou­ verbal insrrucrions only if supported by conteXt. Certain areas of English
:ke, use of top-down processing, grammar rend ro cause severe comprehension problems (e.g. rense marking,
,t Into place. pronoun reference, subordination).
n I~ngu~ge, rhey depend heavily
e, Imagme a foreigner who has Level 3
,e she joins a group of Japanese Can understand some syntactic clues to meaning, but undersranding of gram­
er something that sounds like mar very incomplete. In conversation, needs much more redundancy rhan

The language teaching matrix

native speaker. Sometimes has to ask for cbrdicJtion where syntax would
m:lke meanmg clear to native speaker.
(Brindley, personal communiczltion)
By the time the learner is at Level 4 or 5 on the proficiency scale, there
ISless dependence on context. COlHext is now used In association with
the abdHy ro process the message Jrself [Q work OUt unfamiliar meanIngs.
Fluenr lIsrening rhus depends on the use of both [Op-down and bonom_
up processing. The extenr to which one or the other dominate~ reflects
the degree of familiariry the listener has with the ropic of discourse, the
kind of background knowledge he or she can apply to the task, and the
purposes for which he or she is listenmg. An experienced cook, for
example, might listen [Q a radio chef describing a recipe for coq au Vln
merely [Q compare the chef's recipe with her own. She has a precise
schema [Q apply [Q the task of listening and listens in order to register
similarities or differences. She makes heavy use of top-down processes
in listenmg [Q rhe radio program. A novice cook however, with little
pre... ious cooking experience and who IS unfamiliar with coq au ... in, will
be required ro lisren with much greater attention, perhaps in order to
WOte the recipe down. Here, far more borrom·up processing is reqUIred.

Listening purposes: interpersonal and transactional

functions of language

As well as recognizing the fundamental difference between top-down

and borrom-up processing in comprehending language, it is also nec­
essary ro recogmze [he very different purposes that listeners may have
in different simations, and how these differences in purpose affect [he
way they go about listening. Numerous classifications exist of the dif­
ferent functions and purposes for which people use language; a simple
but useful distinaion made by Brown and Yule (1983) between mter­
aaional and transactional functions of language is used here.

Interactional functions of language

Interactional uses of language are those in which the primary purposes
for communication are social. The emphasis' is on creating harmonious
interactions betv.reen participams rather than on communicating infor­
mation. The goal for the participams is [Q make social interaction com­
fortable and nomhreateuing and to communicate good will. Although
information may be communicated in the proceSS, the accurate and
orderly presentation of information is not the primary purpose. Ex­
amples of interactional uses of language are greetings,'"making small talk,
Designing instructional materials

JrificJtion where syntax would telling jokes, giving compliments, making casual "chat" of the kind used
to pass rime with friend.~ or to make encounters with strangers com­
Jley, personal communication) fortable. Brown and Yule suggest [hat language used in the interactional
mode is listener oriemed. Questions of "face" 3re central; hence imer­
5" on the proficiellCY scale~ there
acrional conversation is a kind of "work" that is done in order for
is now used ill association with
speaker and hearer to maimain face alld to respect the face put forward
) work out unfamiliar meanings.
by others. This is what the sociologist GoHman (1976) referred to as
ie of both top-down and bottom­
"face work." For example, a foremall who sees a worker sweating pro­
~ or the other dominates reflects
fusely as he works On a difficult job remarks sympathecically:"Ic's hard
; with the topic of discourse, the
work." Or a person waitillg at a bus stop in a heavy downpour remarks
le can apply to the task, and rhe
to another person wairing, "Will itever stop?" [11 both cases the speaker's
ling. An experienced cook, for
primary purpose is noc to inform the lisrener of the obvious but to be
escribing a recipe for coq au vin
identified with the concerns of the other person (Wardhaugh 1985).
lith her own. She has a precise
One of the rules of "face work" is thac it should elicit agreement,
g and listens in order to register
hence the importance of small ralk on "safe" topics, such as the weather,
eavy use of top-down processes
the beauty of gardens, the incompetence of politicians, and so on (Brown
10VLce cook however, with little
and LeVinson 1978). Agreement creates harmony and diminishes the
; unfamiliar with cog au vin, will
threat to the participants' face. Brown and Yule add chat cons cant shifts
·r anention, perhaps in order to
of topic are also characteristic of this mode of talk, and illustrate rhis
,orcom-up processing is required.
with an extract from a conversation between some people who have
been talking about a couple who visit the area in the summer. (The +
signs represem a short pause.).
'nal and transactional
A, you kllow but errn + they used to go out in errn August + they used to
come + you know the lovely SUllsetS you get + at that time and
al difference between top-down B: oh yes
,ending language, it IS also nec­ C: there's a nice n.ew postcard a nice - weill don't know how new it is +_.-..
mrposes thac listeners may have ir's been a while since I've been here + of a sunset + a new one +
differences in purpose affect the A: oh that's a lovely one iSll't jt
IS classifications exist of the dif· D: yes yes it was in one of the + calendars
:h people use language; a simple A: yes that was lase year's calendar it was all
and Yule (1983) between inter­ D: was it laS[ year's it was on + it was John Forgan who {Oak that one
, language is used here. A: yes it's really lovely + this year's errn + the Anderson's hou-Se;,at
Lenirnore's in it + ar em Thullderguy I should say + . ..
D: they've sold their house
A: yes + the Andersons
-e in which the primary pu rposes ,;­ B: oh have they
phasis IS on crearing harmonious A: yes yes + erm + they weren't down last year at all +
:r than on communicating infor­ (Brown and Yule 1983: 11-12)
i ro make social interaction com­
Immunicate good will. Although This extract also demonstrates another aspect of interactional discourse
n the process, the aCcurate and - that since the conversarion exists largely to satisfy the social needs of
5 nat the primary purpose. Ex­ the participants at that time, jc is extremely boring for an outsider co
=are greerings, making small talk, listen to.

The language teaching matrix

Mosr conversations :He nppilliingly bonng. It \5 the participatioll In such con_

versations which mJkes us such avid ralkers, the "need (0 know" or the
"need (0 tell" or rhe "nt"ed (0 be friendly," You can listen to hour, and
hours of recorded conversation withom finding allylhmg (hat l!1tereSts you
fran1 [he poim of view of whar the speakers are talkmg ahout at what the)'
are saying about It. After all, their conversation W:IS not intended for rhe
overhearer. !r wJ.s intended for rhem as partIcipants. (Brown and Yule
1983: 82)
Likewise because such discourse 1$ frequently between people who know
each mher and who share background knowledge abour the wpics in­
troduced, a great deal is left unsaid. Conversations are embedded in
contexr. Since the participams are able to foIl our the details using wp­
down comprehension, it is not necessary to specify things very clearly.
Interactional discourse is hence characterized by a high frequency of
words for which a precise reference is not specified.

Transactional functions of language

T ransa([ional uses of language are those In which language is being used
primarily for communicating informacion. They are "message" oriented
rarher than "listener" oriented. Accurare and coherent communication
of the message is imporram, as well as confirmation rhat the meSsage
has been understood. Explicitness and directness of meaning is essential,
in comparison with (he vagueness of inreracrionallanguage. Wirh trans­
actional uses of language, coherence, content, and clanry are crucial.
Brown and Yule observe that completion of some kind of real-world
task often accompanies transactional uses of language, such as wriring
down a message or carrying our an instrUCtion. Examples of language
being used primarily for a rransacrional purpose include news broad­
casts, lectures, descriptions, and insrrucrions. Brown et al. (1984) suggest
that this is the kind of talk rhat dominates classroom life:

Teacher: now + here we have a subsrance in which heat is moving along

rhe rod from a hot end to a cold end + + can anybody tell me the name we
give w such a substance - a subStance 1I1 which heat can now + + nobody
can rell me thar + well + it's called a conducror'+ + anybody ever heard
of thar word before? + good well + I'll put it on the blackboard for you +
+ ir's called a conducror + whar we are going w do today is have a look at
some conductors. (Brown et al. 1984: 91

Tikunoff (1985) suggests that effective pupil classroom parrtClpation

requires command of language in both irs interactional and transaCtional
functions (see Chapter 8). Language in its interactional functions is
needed in order to interact wirh the teacher and peers while accomplish­

DeSigning instructional materials

It IS the participation in such con­

ing class tasks, and language in its transactional functions is needed in
s, the "need to know" or the
order to acqUIre new skills, assImilate new information, and construct
You can listen to hours Jnd
new concepts. In many situations, both interactional and transactional
·,~ing anything that imerests you
fLmctions are involved. At the doctor's, for example, the doctor may
. s are [DIking ahom or what they
first use small talk to put the patient at ease, then switch to the trans­
ltion was not intended for [he
actional modc while asking for a descrJptlOn of the patient's medica!
~ticipants. (Brown and Yule
The four-parr classification of listening processes and listening pur­
'Jently be[\veen people who know poses established previously can be nsed as a framework for comparing
knowledge about the topics In­ the different demands of different listening activities. Listening activities
Conversations are embedded in may be located at different positions Within the following quadrant:
e to fill out the details using top­
ary to specify things very clearly.
lCterized by a high frequency of
; not specified. B T
o o
, T

o o
M o
se in which language is being used

:ion. They are "message" oriented

-ate and coherent communication
as confirmation that the message

directness of meaning is essential,

ueracrionallanguage. With trans­

Consider a person listening to cocktail party banter, for example, during
content, and clarity are cruciaL
which friends greet each orher, exchange compliments and other cus­
·~ion of some kind of real-world
[Omary rituals, and engage in small talk on fleeting topics of no imporr
ses of language, such as writing
to anyone present. Such an activity would be located III the following
orruction. Examples of language
position on the quadrant:
.;11 purpose lllclude news broad­

Ions. Brown et al. (1984) suggest

'.tes classroom life:

in which heat is moving along
o o
T p
can anybody tell me the name we or T
",hich heat can flow + + nobody o o
ductor + + anybody ever heard " M o
rut it on the blackboard for you + 1. U
going to do today is have a look at :,­

ve pupil classroom pamclpation

its interactional and transactional

r Now consider an experienced air traveler on an airplane listening to a

in its interactional functions is
flight attendant reading the air safety instructions before takeoff. This
lcher and peers while accomplish-
language would be located in the following position on the quadrant:
The language teaching matrix
o o
T p
o o
M o


An activity that is transactional but that requires more use of bortom­

up processing, such as a student driver receiving his or her fitsr driving
lesson from a driving insrructor, would look like rhis on rhe quadrant:

0 T
T 0
0 0
M 0


An example of borrom-up processing within an interacrional situation

would be a partygoer listening intendy [Q someone telling a bad joke
and rrying [Q identify where to laugh:

8 T
o o
T p
o o
M o


Designing instructio.'1a1 materials

Applications to the design of classroom materials

The kinds of exercises and listening activjties llseo in teaching listen­
ing comprehemron ~hollid reflect the dlfferem pwccsscs and put poses
involved In listening: bottom-up, [op-down, interaC[ionaJ, and

Exercises that invotve bottom-up fistening

Exercises rhat require bortom-up processes develop the learner's ability
ro do the following;
l[requires more use of bonom­ rerain inpu{ while it is being pcocessed
receiving his or her first driving recognize word divisions
look like this all lhe quadram: recognize key words in utrerances
recognize key transitions in a discourse
usc knowledge of WOld-order patterns to identify constituents in
recognize grammatical relations bet'.'1een kpy elements in sentences
recognize the function of word stresS in sentences
recognize the function of intonarion in sentences
Such exercises might require the learner to do the following tasks:
identify the referents of pronouns used in ;l conversation
recognize jf a senrence is active or passive
distinguish between senrences containing causarive and noncausative
identify major consriruems In a sentence, such as subject and object,
verh ;Inn :ldverb
"thin an interactional siruarion distinguish berween sentences with and wirhout auxiliary verbs
.") someone telling a bad joke­ recognize rhe use of word stress to mark rhe informarion focu~ of a
, sentence
disringuish between sentences containing similar-sounding tenses
recognize the rime reference of a St:lltence
disringuish between posirive and negarive statements
"~ identify preposirions in rapid speech
recognize sequence markers
distinguish between Yes/No and Wh-questions
(Gore 1979; McLean 1981; Richards, Gordon, and Harper 1987)
"­ These kinds of activities are often more appropriate for learners at a
basic level of language proficiency, although the abiliry CO use bottom­
up ;istening strategies is required at all levels of lisrenmg" For example,
a simple exercise rhat promores hottom-up Iisrening might require stu­

The language reaching matrix

dents to listen to positive and negative statements and choose an ap-

prop nan:: form of agreement.

Students choose an appropriate

Students hear: response:
Thac's a nice ap3rtment.
Yc:'s No
That's not a ve.ry nice place to
Yes No

This coffee isn't hOL

Yes No
This meal is really casty,
Yes No

The following exercise pracrices listening for word stress as a marker of

the information focus of a sentence. Students lisren to questions that
have nvo possible information focuses and use stress to identify the
appropriate focus. For example,

Students check if the person is

asking about where or when
Students hear:
something is happening:
Is your downtown office open
Where When
on Saturday?

Are the banks open on Sunday?

Where When
Are you going to the museum
Where When
on Tuesday?

Exercises that involve top-down listening

Exercises that require top-down processes develop the learner's ability~

COdo the following:

use key words to construct the schema of a discourse

construct plans and schema from elements of a discourse

infer the role of the participams in a situation

irifer the copic of a discourse

infer the outcome of an event

infer the cause or effect of an event

infer unseated details of a situation -'-').­

infer the sequence of a series of events

; '-;;"

infer comparisons

distinguish between literal and figurative meanings

distinguish between facts and opinions

Designing instructional materials

::Hements and choose an ap­ Exercises that address these goals might require the learner to do (asks
like the following:

tents choose an appropriate listen to part of a conversation and infer rhe ropic of the conversarion
onse: look at pictures and then listen to conversations about the pictures
No and match them with the plCtures
No listen to conversations and identify the setting
read a list of ke}' points to be covered in a ralk and then number them
No in sequence while lisrening to the talk
No read informarion about a wpic, thelllisten to a talk on the topic and
check whether the information was mentioned or not
for word stress as a marker of read one side of a telephone conversation and guess the other speaker's
dents listen to questions [hat responses; then listen CO the telephone conversation
md use stress to identify the look at pictures of people speaking and guess what they might be
saying or doing; then listen to their actual conversations
complete.a story, then listen to how the story really ended
~ents check if the person is guess what news headlines mighr refer ro, then listen to news broad­
ing about where or when casts about the events referred to
'ething is happening: (Fassman and Tavares 1985; Rost 1986;
ere When Bode and Lee 1987; Richards et al. 1987)

ere When
Ler us consider listening to news broadcasts and how top-down listening

ere When
strategies can be the focus of this kind of task. Research on accounts of

news events shows that readers and listeners apply specific schemata or

scripts to the task. The script "is the cacalyst between reader and text

that allows a rop down approach" (Zuck and Zuck 1984: 147). The

scripr is "a predetermined, stereotyped sequen'ce' of actions that defines

a well-known situation" (Schank and Abelson 1977: 41) or "a set of

stereotypic expectations abom content in a given texr" (Zuck and Zuck

"':s develop the learner's ability,

1984: 148). On reading abou~ or listening to a news broadcast about a

',' . political event, such as a cha~ge in polirical leadership, Zuck and Zuck

report that some of the obligatory concepts anticipated are:.

a of a discourse
nems of a discourse
situation Who is the new leader?

H~'w did the new' leader come to power?

Was the ascension to PQwer anticipated?

Whar is the reaction of others ro rhis change?

What do we know about the new leader?

What problems will the new leader be facing?

", ;~.,
[ive meanings ,­ This kind of listening is barh top-down and transacrional, and can hence

'," be represented as:

" ,i~


The !,mgJ.tage teaching mrltrix
o o

M o
o -



Two quite different approaches to reaching students to listen to news

broadcasts are seen in recemly published listening materials. In one text,
swdt>nrs listt>n ro news irems while completing doze versions of the news
transcript. No preJis:ening activities are included, and no anempt is made
to actlvate or make llse of scripts relatd to the topic of each news item;
hence the task focuses primanly on bottom-up processing.
in another texr, however, srudents read headlines and beginnings of
stories about news events before they listen to news items. They afe
asked to guess what the headlines and stories are about. Both of these
prclistcning tash help ?evelop a script or schema thar students can apply
to a subsequent listening task. On first listening to each news item,
st:ldents complete a simple task in which they idemify where each event
took place. On a second listen;ng, thl"y indicate whether S(.Hements that
summarize key information in the news stories are true or false. The
tasks focus on idem:fying key information - students are not req'Jired
to identify specific words used in the._news items. The tasks hence reflect
valid purposes in lislenmg to news broadcasts - identifying what hap­
pened and where it happened - and allow students to use a top-down
rarher than a bottom-up approach to listening.

Exercises that involve listening for interactional purposes

Exereises involving interactional purposes seek to develop the learner's
ability ro do the following:
recognize when language is being used for Intel auional purposes
recognize appropriate moments to make phacic responses in a con­
recognize such illocurionary intentions as jokes, compliments, praise
recognize differences between topics used in small talk and those '.lsed
as real ropics in conversations
recognize markers of familiariry and social distance between speakers
Designing instructional materials

Exercises that address Ihese goals might require the learner to do tasks
such as the following:
distinguish between conversations that ha\'e an inreractional and a
[ransactional purpose
Jisten to conversation~ and select suirable polite commcnts and OlDer
phatic responses
listen to utterances containing complimcnts or praise and choose suit·
able responses
listen to conversations containing small talk and recognize when the
speaker is preparing [Q introduce a real topic
iJentify the degree of familiarity between speakers
,ching students to listen to news distinguish berween rea! invirations and invitations being used to close
J ll~tening mater~als. In one text, ;:I conversation
,lctlngcloze versions of the news (Lougheed 1985; Richards et al. 1987)
ncluded, and no attempt is made
; to the tOpiC of each news item' -For example, recently a group of teachers who wanted to develop lis­
tom-up prOCCSS/llg. ' tcning actj~'jties focusing 011 listening for interactional purposes collected
1d headlines and beginnings of examples of semiauthentic interactional discourse for use with a group
\sten to news items. They are of foreign businessmen planning to visit Canada and the Uniteci States.
wries are abour. BOth of these The teachers role'played and recorded social small talk of the kind
schema that srudems can apply encoumered ar cockrail parties. The quesrion then arose of how TO use
: listening to each news item, the data obtained as a component in a listening program.
they idemify where each event The teachers next examined a commercial text that contained similar
Jicate whether statements that kinds of listening samples. This was nor particularly helpful, for the rext
stories are true or false. The treated casual conversarion ;IS if ir were an example of tranSKtional
,1 - students are noe required
discourse - as if [he comem of such conversarion were crucial and every
items. The tasks hence reflect item of the conversation had w be identified:
,~<Isrs - identifying what hap­
f ~tudenrs to use a top-down

0 T
T 0
~actjonal purposes 0 D
M 0
seek to develop the learner's U W

for inreractional purposes TRANSACTIONAL

{e pharic responses in a con-

as jokes, compliments, praise The rext reqUIred swdenrs to listen and complete partial transcripts
d in small talk and those lIsed of convers;lrions, and to answer multiple·choiee comprehension,ques­
tions thar tested the comenr of the conversarions III great detail.
ial distance berween speakers Such a strong focus on the accurate identification of every word,
phrase, and senrence used by the spe<ikers is inappropr:ate (or inteT
anion~l discourse.
The teachers rhus opted for a diffe;em approach: They cievelore
exelc.ises dut hrst required students to make predictiors. For e.\an·
pIe, the studems were given a setting for ;1 social irHewctio(1 and
description of the kind of people they would meer. They then had [,
think of thl" kinds of qt.:esrjons thcy migln like ro Jsk each pe:so,
3nd rhe killds of topics rhey might like to discuss. Following thi>
they Jistclled lu the com'ersarion samples and compared their predle
tions with what W"JS actually talked about, fOCUSIng only on the gis
of what was said rsther than on specific details. Other tasks wet
de,-eloped thar foc\l~l"d on how topics were irHluJuceu into COllver
sarions and how people opened and closed conversations. One exer
cise type focused 011 distinguishing invitations 1tom conversationa
closings. Students heard dosing sequences of conversations and ha(
to identify whether the sequence led ro a real invitation or was jus
a closing sequence. For nample:
(1) A; Well, it's been good to see you.l guess I'd bener he Boing
E: Nice seeing yOIJ .. gain, too. We reillly should get wgerht:r
A: Let's do thar. Well, set: you soon.
B: Bye.

(2) A: What a surprise it's heen seeing you like this!

B: Yeah, I'm glad 1 ran inro you. Why don'r we have dinner
.­ together someTime? How aboUt this weekend?
A: That would be nice. I'd like that.

Exercises that involve listening for

Iransadiona{ purposes

Exercises invulvillg transactional functions seek to develop the leamer',

ability to do the following:
extract key information from a discourse
identify sptcific facrs and details in a discourse
recognize and act on the illocucionary intent of;1 discourse, such 3S
requests, advice, commands, instructions
identify [he .sequence in which :l series of events occurred
carry OUt r.::isks as a response to listenillg
Exercises that address these goals might require the learner to do tasks
like the following:
De.llgniTlg m:;,lructiOTlai materials

label rhe pans of an objecT from a description of :r

ers IS inappropriate for imcl­
iderwfy dle keY ideas in a clisLUune
follow insrrucrions ro asscmble an irem
"t approach: They deve~oped
complete:l m;lp or piCTure fro~ ,ll aUtJI description
make predlGlOns. For eX<.1ll)­
write a summ~ry of a talk or lQlHclsation
or a soci:d inrer.1ction :wd a
wr:te down a m('ssage delivered aurally
.ould meer. They rhen had \0
identtfy :I picture from 3 description of it
light like to ask each pet:;oJ\
listen to an advertisemenr :or a job lind note down the ,iob
,;c to discuss Following this,
e~ and compared theIr pledic­
(Blundell and Swkes 1981; Rosr 1986; Richards et at. 1987)
out, focusing only on the giH
;ific details. Orher [asks were An example of an exercise that involves a [ransaC[ional purpose for
were in~roduced into conver­ lisrening would be llHening ro job annOUClccweClt5 on a radio program,
osed conversations. One eXCr­ To prepare for this cask, ~n:rlems mighr first predict what they expect
lvitarions from :::onversarional rhe requirements for specific jobs to be. Then the students liscen [0 radio
lees of conversations and had annOuncemmts about each job and rake brief notcs. Anorher example­
) a real invirarion or was just w~uJd be li~renjng for inforrn;1rion about a rravel jtine~ary. Be:ore lis­
lenin!'!;, studenrs work in groups on planning which cicies they would
I gtle~s I'd better be going like co visit on a two· week visit to [he Unin:J States and C<Jnada, and
what they would like co dCl and see in each place. Then they listen w a
really should get together conversation berween a client and a travel agent, during which a visH
co North America is planned for rhe chcrn. Students listen and complete
n. lhe: derails of the visit on a forrn. These kinds of rasks do not require
swdents to attempt [0 idenrify every ,,,,ord in what they hear. Rather,
rhe students must a:tempt ro identify key il\[oflIlJtion, a rask for which
you like this~ dlc prdiS[cning activity h:lS given chern a script. Both ac:ivilies are nans'
•Vhf don't we have dinner
acrional and also involve cop-down processing.
this weeke:td?
An example of a transacrlonallisrellillf; purpose involving botrom-llp
n. lisrening would be lisren;nr; to a description event (e.g., a traffic:
accident) and comparing the information given wich a written account
of the same event, in order to find Oll[ how many differences there werl'
ben...ecn the twO accounts .

ons seeK ro develop [he learner'S j Conclusions
}} [n deve10plng classroom acnVltLeS and materials for teaching listening
.; comprehension, a dear undersranding is needed of the nature of top­
a discourse ."
Iry intent of a discourse, such as J down .and borrom·up approaches to listening and how these proc:esses
'UCl;OIJS ~. relate to different kinds of liSTening purposes. Too often, liStening rexts
·ies of events occurred -} require Students [Q adopt a single appNach in listening, one that demands
ening i ;j detailed undersranding of the conrent of a discourse and the recognirion

of evety word and struct!.l:"e that occurred in a texL Students shoukl not
ht require the [earner to do casks 'f, be required [0 respond to interactional discourse as if ir Wl're being used

The (anguage reaching malrix

for OJ II ansanional purpose. nor shoeld ,hey be expected [0 usr;: a bot1:om­

up approach to an aural text if a top-down approach is more <lppropri3te.
Ways of using listening passages should be exp~ortd ,ha[ help stlJdenrs
elnploy appropriate listening strategies fUf particular llsrenir.g purposes.

Discussion topics and activities

1. Give examples of contexts for lisrening where bottom-up

processil1g is more imponant [han rop-cown pro~es5jng, aIld vice
2. On pa?;e 52 a schema for stories is presented in rhc form of;l ~et
of quesclons a lis[ener might use in listwil:g to a Story. Prepare
Similar schemas by deve:oping specific questIOns rhac son:eone
might use in listening to a rtport of:
a) a vis:t [0 the dent!H
b) a do~estic argumcm

c) a uaific accidem

d, a political cri~is
J. C2.n you exp:\nd the lis: of examples of rop-down processes given
on p;lge 52?
4. eive examples of sirualions where ianguagc use is primuily:
a) transactional
b} inreractiona!
c) a mixture of Gotb
5. Cnrique the li::;t Df exercise rypes dealing with the four dimensiom
ot liscelling (pp. 59-65). Can you suggest orher exercise rypes that
would address these listening p::ocesses?
6. Record an enrnple of language being used for (a) Honsactional
purpo.~f>.~ and (b) jllteractional pucposes. Examine each examp\f:
:lnd consider the kinds of demands i[ makcs on 3 in terms
of bonom-up and top-down prU<:..:essing.
7. Examine a second or fort:l!').l1 language lisrening text. What is its
focus? What kinds of listcning situations, pucposes, and skil\s does

it add~ess? What kinds of exer~ise types and act:viries does It use?

How appropri2.te are rhey to the focus!
3. Choose a sample of aurhenric liSTening material (either tilt:: material
you recordf:d in questio'l 6 or some~hing else) th<.l[ would be
appropriate for use in a second language ~is[t::ning dass. Pl:ln a
lesson around the tape or VIdeo :nale[ial, and develop suitable
l·~'a...,;,.,<> o"X'ercises and activities [or use with Lt.