Back to Homepage

Jornadas de formación de equipos técnicos estatales 2011-2012.
Querétaro, Quer. October, 2011.

Special thanks to professors from FES Acatlán, UNAM who shared this workshop with teachers from all over the country. We hope to see you soon.

Communicative competencies of english language III

-Developing and integrating the four skills

Presenter: Miguel Murillo


Listening and reading (also known as the comprehension skills) in language acquisition have been influenced, in large part, by developments in second language acquisition theory.

It’s now seen “as communication, as a mental process, as the reader’s active participation in the creation of meaning, as a manipulation of strategies, as a receptive rather than as a passive skill”. Barnett (1989)

Listening and reading are not passive activities, they are receptive activities which demand a lot of work in the classroom because readers and listeners actively "produce understanding".

Reading authentic materials develops reading skills and fosters cultural insights and understanding.

Since listening is little easier than speaking it allows more successful activities and adds motivation.

Reading and listening are receptive skills in which the readers and listeners actively “produce understanding”.


They are a source of “comprehensible input”, reading becomes valued in the communicative classroom especially when authentic materials can serve the dual purpose of developing reading skills and of fostering cultural insights and understanding.

As a source of “comprehensible input”, reading becomes valued in the communicative classroom especially when authentic materials can serve the dual purpose of developing reading skills and of fostering cultural insights and understanding.
Listening becomes important, as well, since it has been proved that introducing more listening activities early into the learning process of teaching English will be more motivating to learners and allow them to experience success given that such activities can be simpler than speaking activities for example.

They are both highly complex processes that draw on knowledge of the linguistic code, cognitive processing skills, schema-based understanding, and contextual cues both within and outside the text.
Both skills can be characterized as problem-solving activities involving the formation of hypotheses, drawing of inferences, and the resolution of ambiguities and uncertainties in the input in order to assign meaning.


The organization unit of discourse varies in speech and in writing. Written discourse is normally constructed in sentences, where as the major constituent in the planning and delivery of spoken discourse is the clause.
The observance of grammatical conventions also differs in speech and writing. Whereas written discourse typically consists of well formed sentences, spoken discourse can often include ungrammatical or reduced forms, dropped words, and sentences without subjects, verbs, auxiliaries, and other parts of speech.

In well-written discourse, sentences flow in logical sequence and there is evidence of planning of thought. In spoken conversational discourse, pauses, hesitations, false starts, and corrections make up between 30 and 50 percent of what is said. In addition, speakers tend to use fillers and silent pauses to “buy time” as they plan what they want to say next.
Coherence in written discourse is created differently that in speech, since writing tends to be more planned and tightly organized. A written text is usually produced by one person, allowing the discourse to flow logically as the topic is developed. Conversational speech, on the other hand, is generally not planned and therefore not as organized as written discourse. Often there are topic shifts, since the development of the topic of conversation is cooperatively constructed.

Because conversations are interactive, relying on both verbal and nonverbal signals, meanings are negotiated between conversational partners. Many things may be left unsaid because both parties assume some common knowledge. In many types of written discourse, however, the person communicating the message may be addressing it to a wide essentially anonymous audience and therefore cannot negotiate meaning directly with the reader. Common knowledge cannot always be assumed: background information may be needed in order to communicate clearly


Spontaneous free speech, characterized by the interactiveness and production constraints reviewed above.
Deliberate free speech, such as that which is characteristic of interviews and discussions;
Oral presentation of a written text, as in newscasts, more formal commentaries, and lectures; and
Oral presentation of a fixed script, such a s that produced on stage or a film


Literary texts, such as novels, short stories, plays, poems, essays, and the like;
Specialized or technical texts, such as reports, reviews, textbooks, handbooks, statistical data, diagrams, flow charts, etc.;
Correspondence, such as personal or business letters, e-mails, postcards, notes, or telegrams;
Journalistic literature, such as articles from newspapers and magazines, editorials, headlines, classified ads, weather reports, television listings;
Informational texts, such as dictionaries, guidebooks, phrase books, phonebooks, timetables, maps, signs, price lists, etc.;
Miscellaneous Realia, of various kinds, such as tickets, menus, recipes, advertisements, etc.


How can teachers determine which type of materials and tasks to use for listening instruction for their students?
Lund (1990) describes a plan for designing listening instructions, based partly on Richards (1983).
He constructs a taxonomy framework for listening comprised of two basic elements:(1) listener functions, which relates to what the learner attempts to process from the message and (2) listening response, which corresponds to the way in which the listener shows comprehension of the message.


Identification: Recognition or discrimination of aspects of the message rather than attention to the overall message content. This category might include identification of words, word categories, phonemic distinctions, morphological distinctions, or semantic cues to the meaning.
Orientation: Identification of important facts about the text, such as the participants, the situation, the general topic, the tone, the text type, and the like. “Orientation is essentially ‘turning in’ to or preparing to process the information”. This function is especially important for Novice listeners, who need advance organizers and/or script activators to enhance comprehension.
Main idea comprehension: Understanding of the higher-order ideas in the listening passage. An example drawn from advertisements is understanding what product is being promoted. This function “typically distinguishes the intermediate listener to the novice”.

Detailed comprehension: Understanding of more specific information. “The amount of detail one can understand typically distinguishes the advanced listener from the intermediate” This function improves with a second listening of the same text.
Full comprehension: Understanding of both the main ideas and supportive detail. This level of comprehension is the goal of instruction in listening proficiency. Although one does not need or want to listen to every message with full comprehension, the ability to do so when desired marks a superior level of listening proficiency.
Replication: Ability to reproduce the message in either the same modality (through repetition of the content) or in a different modality (such as transcription or dictation). It does not imply a higher level of proficiency than full comprehension, but represents a different purpose and thus a different way of attending to the message.


Doing, it implies a physical response of some sort, such as in TPR methodology.
Choosing, it involves activities such as putting pictures in order or matching a product to an advertisement, for example.
Transferring, it might involve drawing, tracing a rout, filling in a gap, or other kinds of transferring of information from one modality to another.
Answering, such as completing a set of questions asking for specific information in the text.
Considering, involving such activities as preparing an outline, taking notes, or preparing captions for pictures based on the listening passage.

Extending, which implies going beyond the text to create an ending, complete a partial transcript, change the text, or embellish it in some way.
Duplicating, which provides evidence that the function of replication has been accomplished
Modeling, this involves imitation of featu

res of the text or of the text as a whole.
Conversing, implying some kind of interaction with the text, either in a face-to face conversation or in using interactive video programs.


Pre-listening activities
Listening for the gist
Listening with visuals
Graphic fill-ins
Matching descriptions to pictures
Dictation and variations (Familiar content, simple structures)
Clue searching (listening for clues to meaning, such as key words, syntactic features, actor/action/object, etc.)
Distinguishing registers (formal/informal styles)
Kinesics/Physical response
Recursive listening (multiple sequenced tasks)
Inferential listening (drawing inferences not presented overtly in the text)
Paraphrase in native language
Completion of native language summary
Comprehension checks (various formats)
Remembering responses of others

Dictation and variations (many include unfamiliar content, more complex structures)
Completing target language summary
Paraphrasing (target language)
Note taking/outlining
Summarizing (native or target language)
Recursive listening (multiple tasks)
Inferential listening (drawing inferences, conclusions not presented overly in the text)
Identifying sociolinguistic factors
Style shifting
Reaction/analysis activities
Creative elaboration activities


Bottom-up models are essentially “text-driven”: the reader begins essentially by trying to decode letters, words, phrases and sentences, and builds up comprehension in a somewhat linear fashion from this incoming data.
Top-down models can be thought as “reader-driven”, where schemata that the reader brings to the text drive comprehension.

Interactive: interaction between reader and text: high-level of decoding and sampling from the textual features happen simultaneously and in a cyclical fashion.

A recent variation of this third type of model in native language is called “composing model” of reading, which views comprehension as the act of composing a new version of the text from an inner reader.


(1) skimming, or quickly running one’s eyes over the text to get the gist,
(2) scanning or quickly searching for some particular piece of information in the text,
(3) extensive reading or reading almost always for pleasure and without the need to comprehend all the details of the text, and
(4) intensive reading or often reading for information when the reader needs to understand linguistic as well as semantic detail and pay close attention to the text

Suggested Tasks for Building Reading Proficiency

Anticipation/Prediction activities
Pre-reading activities (Various)
Detecting functions of texts
Extracting specific information
Contextual guessing
Simple cloze (multiple-choice)
Filling out forms
Comprehension checks (various)
Clue searching
Making inferences
Scrambled stories
Résumé (Native language)
Passage completion
Identifying sociolinguistic features

Identifying discourse structure
Identifying link words/Referents
Comprehension checks (various)
Contextual guessing
Making inferences
Extracting specific detail
Paraphrasing (target language)
Résumé (native or target language)
Identifying sociolinguistic features
Understanding discourse structures
Understanding idioms
Understanding intentions
Analysis and evaluate activities
Creative elaboration


Pre-teaching/Preparation Stage. This important first step helps develop skills in anticipation and prediction for the reading of graphic material. Students need to build up expectancies for the material that they are about to read. Some activities for this first stage of reading include:
Brainstorming to generate ideas that have a high probability of occurrence in the text.
Looking at visuals, headlines, titles, charts, or other contextual aids that are provided with the text.
Predicting or hypothesizing on the basis of the title or first line of a text what significance it might have or what might come next.

Skimming/Scanning Stages. Both of these steps are distinct processes involving, as we saw earlier, getting the gist (skimming) and locating specific information (scanning). Skilled readers do some scanning while attempting to skim a text; however, practice is needed in each skill for second language students. Some of the practice activities needed for this stage include:
Getting the gist of short readings, paragraphs, or other graphic material.
Indentifying topic sentences and main ideas.
Selecting the best paraphrase from multiple-choice options of the main idea of the text or the conclusion.
Matching subtitles with paragraphs.
Filling in charts or forms with key concepts.
Creating titles or headlines for passages.
Making global judgments or reacting in some global fashion to a reading passage.
Teachers should have students move directly from skimming to scanning with any reading task.

Decoding/Intensive Reading Stage. This stage is most necessary when students are “learning to read” rather than “reading to learn”. Decoding involves guessing from content the meaning of unknown words or phrases and may be needed at the word, intra-sentential, inter-sentential, or discourse level. Readers need to be taught not only how to guess the meaning of content words but also how to interpret the force of connectors, determine the relationships among sentences or sentence elements, and the like.

Comprehension stage. In this step, comprehension checks of various sorts are made to determine if students have achieved their reading purpose(s). Reading comprehension exercises should (a) not confound the reading skill with other skills, such as writing, listening, or speaking if they are to be considered pure tests of reading comprehension, and (b) reading comprehension checks should project the reader through several phases of the reading process.

Transferable/Integrating Skills. In this final stage of teaching reading exercises should be used to help students go beyond the confines of the specific passage to enhance reading skills and effective reading strategies per se. Exercises that encourage contextual guessing, selective reading for main ideas, appropriate dictionary usage, and effective reading strategies to confirm hypotheses are among those identified as especially helpful in this stage.


language­learner language
Transitional competence
Approximative system
Progressive restructuring
Restructuring continuum
Recreational or Developmental continuum


Learning to write-even in one's native language-is not simply a matter of "writing things down.“
Most people who have attempted to put pen to paper to communicate ideas would agree that expressing oneself clearly in writing can be a slow and painful process.

RIVERS (1975)

Many who know how to "write things down" in their native language avoid expressing themselves in writing almost completely, even in personal letters. To write so that one is really communicating a message, isolated in place and time, is an art which requires consciously directed effort and delib­erate choice of language. The old saying, "If you can say it, you can write it," is simplistic in its concept of the communicative aspect of writing (p. 237).

Composing: It refers to all the processes that lead to the writing of something-reflection about the topic, gathering of information, taking of notes, working on a series of drafts, revising.
Writing: It refers specifically to the transcription of the material itself.
Writing might best be viewed as a continuum of activities that range from the more mechanical or formal aspects of "writing down" on the one end to the more complex act of composing on the other.


As a teacher always attempt to combine writing purposes to some extent: make sure that writing is directed in some fashion in the lower ranges of proficiency to support that which is learned in class (i.e., grammatical structures, vocabulary, discourse features), yet assignments and exercises present language in the context of full discourse so that students learn how to write for communicative purposes.

As students' competence increases, writing assignments become less structured, less teacher-directed, and more creative in nature. Students are encouraged to use the language independently to inform, narrate, describe, question, per­suade, express feelings and attitudes, discuss ideas, and support points of view.
Second language writing instruction that is care­fully planned can help students learn more about the composing process itself, a recursive, problem-solving activity that has the potential to affect students' writing and thinking skills in their native language, thus extending the benefits of language study well beyond the limits of the second language classroom.

The most important factor in writing exercises is that students need to be personally involved in order to make the learning experience of lasting value.
Encouraging student participation in the exercise, while at the same time refining and expanding writing skills, requires a certain pragmatic approach.
The teacher should be clear on what skills he/she is trying to develop. Next, the teacher needs to decide on which means (or type of exercise) can facilitate learning of the target area.


Provide a notebook for each student. Ask the students to write in their journals every day. Write the day of the week and the date on a board. Read the day and date, then ask the students to copy the date in their journals and to write about anything they choose. Some students will write sentences, some may write paragraphs and some may write only words. Tell students to raise their hands if they want to know how to spell a word. Write the word on the board. Suggest topics that the students might like to write about: their friends, their family, how they feel, their favorite food or their favorite book. Give students the opportunity to read their entries to their classmates. The teacher does not correct the writing at this point, but she may want to write a brief comment in a few of the journals each day.

Have the students brainstorm a topic such as "family." Draw a word web on the chalkboard. Write the word "family" in the middle circle. Then ask for words that tell about families in the circles that you draw around the main circle. Ask the students to make sentences from the words you have written on the board. Start the sentences by writing "Four people live in my house." Write all the sentences on the board, reading them as you write.

Ask the students to make up a story together. The story can be something that really happened, such as a game they played outside or a trip that someone took, or it could be a made-up story, such as "One day Juan saw a flying car." Write the sentences on the board as the students say them. Do not correct grammar at this point. Read the story aloud, then ask the students to read it in unison. Have them read it several times. Ask if anyone would like to read the story by himself. Explain why you put punctuation and capital letters in the sentences.

Use fill-in-the-blank activities. Adjust the difficulty level according to the ability of your students. Give the students a worksheet, and ask them to write the words in the correct places. Write a story on the board the first time. Complete it with the students.

Have students make a mural that tells or retells a story--for example, summarizing the events in a story they have read or how their family makes preparations for a holiday. Provide butcher paper, markers, tape and crayons. Ask them to draw a picture showing what happens first, second and the next steps. Then ask them to write sentences below the pictures that describe the action. Help the students tape the mural to a wall. Organize an exhibit of the mural. Appoint a student to stand in front of each picture to read the sentence under that picture and explain what is happening in the picture. The other students form a line and walk past the mural listening to the information about each picture. Let the students take turns describing the pictures.

Give the students opportunities to do functional tasks such as making lists of things they need to bring for a party, writing friendly letters, reading and copying poems that you write on the chalkboard and writing notes to their families about school events.

Back to Homepage Email: Design: Francisco Amador Garcia

Culture, ecoturism, archaeology, beaches, legends, temples, convents, surfing, museums.