IATEFL Hungary: Annie McDonald on authentic listening materials design

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Event date: 
Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - 20:00
IATEFL-Hungary - hancockmcdonald.com/blog/topic/iatefl-hungary

Annie began the workshop with a snippet taken from a BBC studio interview and participants listened and brainstormed the problems the text would present for a student approaching a B2 level in English.
She then explained that the workshop would be based on a 45/50 minute listening lesson, from which she had extracted approximately 5 minutes of the original programme and divided it into 4 sections. The various generative activities which she presented were based on these texts. For each activity, Annie commented on underlying aspects of task design and how listeners would benefit from engaging with each one.
Firstly, and to right the (deliberate!) wrong committed during the brainstorm, she introduced 4 activity-types which could be used to focus on context and various types of background knowledge. These included: world knowledge, situational knowledge, speaker knowledge, knowledge of setting and schematic knowledge.
The session then moved to a focus on content, which was divided into 2 two parts, the first looking at a variety of activity-types that could be used with different listening texts which help listeners decode, and the second which focussed on helping students build up meaning. Annie told a joke to demonstrate the ways in which the two processes operate in a non-linear two-way manner, and participants shared explanations of their perceptions of what they had been doing while listening.
Before going on to look at specific activity-types, Annie mentioned that it was important to cater for learners who were risk-takers, i.e. those who are happy to make guesses but might miss important details along the way, and those who are risk-avoiders, i.e. those who will be waylaid by their preoccupation to decode everything they hear.
Decoding activities involve recognition of sounds, syllables, words, phrases or chunks, where as meaning building is achieved by using syntax, intonation, co-text etc. to arrive at, well, meaning in context. The first is more problematic for non-expert listeners, who have an incomplete representation of the language to draw on. Problems are compounded by the characteristics of spoken English, for example, with its short forms, assimilation and elision. It is also an area that requires more focus as it has been largely neglected as the focus on listening activities over the past few decades has been in the direction of meaning building. Annie presented activity-types which would help students deal with unknown words, phrases and grammatical structure.
Meaning-building activities are of a familiar type: sequencing, true/false or multiple-choice, and these focussed on the understanding of specific information, meaning in context (figurative language use), the main points and detail, the main point and inference.
Downloads of the activities and a brief explanation, along with two short recordings, can be downloaded here.


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