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Acep Haryudin, M.Pd

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The mastery of speaking skills in English is a priority for many second-language or foreign language learners. Consequently, learners often evaluate their success in language learning as well as the effectiveness of their English course on the basis of how much they feel they have improved in their spoken language proficiency. Oral skills have hardly been neglected in EFL/ESL courses (witness the huge number of conversation and other speaking course books in the market), though how best to approach the teaching of oral skills has long been the focus of methodological debate. Teachers and textbooks make use of a variety of approaches, ranging from direct approaches focusing on specific features of oral interaction (e.g., turn-taking, topic management, and questioning strategies) to indirect approaches that create conditions for oral interaction through group work, task work, and other strategies (Richards, 1990).


Advances in discourse analysis, conversational analysis, and corpus analysis in recent years have revealed a great deal about the nature of spoken discourse and how it differs from written discourse (McCarthy and Carter, 1997). These differences reflect the different purposes for which spoken and written language are used. Jones (1996:12) comments:


In speaking and listening we tend to be getting somethingdone, exploring ideas, working out someaspect of theworld, or simply being together. In writing, we may becreating a record, committingevents or moments to paper.


Research has also thrown considerable light on the complexity of spoken interaction in either a first or second language. For example, Luoma (2004) cites some of the following features of spoken discourse:

  1. Composed of idea units (conjoined short phrases and clauses)
  2. May be planned (e.g., a lecture) or unplanned (e.g., a conversation)
  3. Employs more vague or generic words than written language
  4. Employs fixed phrases, fillers, and hesitation markers
  5. Contains slips and errors reflecting online processing
  6. Involves reciprocity (i.e., interactions are jointly constructed)
  7. Shows variation (e.g., between formal and casual speech), reflecting speaker roles, speaking purpose, and the context


Conversational routines

A marked feature of conversational discourse is the use of fixed expressions, or “routines,” that often have specific functions in conversation and give con- versational discourse the quality of naturalness. Wardhaugh (1985:74, cited in Richards 1990) observes:


There are routines to help people establish themselves in certain positions: routines for taking off and hanging up coats; arrangements concerning where one is to sit or stand at a party or in a meeting; offers of hospitality; and so on. There are routines for beginnings and endings of conversations, for leading into topics, and for moving away from one topic to another. And there are routines for breaking up conversations, for leaving a party, and for dissolving a gathering. . . .        It is difficult to imagine how life could be lived without some routines.


Consider the following routines. Where might they occur? What might their

function be within these situations?


  1. This one’s on me.
  2. I don’t believe a word of it.
  3. I don’t get the point.
  4. You look great today.
  5. As I was saying, . . .
  6. Nearly time. Got everything.
  7. I’ll be making a move then.
  8. I see what you mean.
  9. Let me think about it.
  10. Just looking, thanks.
  11. I’ll be with you in a minute.
  12. It doesn’t matter.


Pawley and Syder (1983) suggest that native speakers have a repertoire of thousands of routines like these, that their use in appropriate situations creates conversational discourse that sounds natural and native-like, and that they have to be learned and used as fixed expressions.


In designing speaking activities or instructional materials for second language or foreign-language teaching, it is also necessary to recognize the very different functions speaking performs in daily communication and the different purposes for which our students need speaking skills.


Styles of speaking

An important dimension of conversation is using a style of speaking that is appropriate to the particular circumstances. Different styles of speaking reflect the roles, age, sex, and status of participants in interactions and also reflect the expression of politeness. Consider the various ways in which it is possible to ask someone the time, and the different social meanings that are communicated by these differences.

  1. Got the time?
  2. I guess it must be quite late now?
  3. What’s the time?
  4. Do you have the time?
  5. Can I bother you for the time?
  6. You wouldn’t have the time, would you?


Lexical, phonological, and grammatical changes may be involved in producing a suitable style of speaking, as the following alternatives illustrate:

  1. Have you seen the boss? / Have you seen the manager? (lexical)
  2. Whachadoin? / What are you doing? (phonological)
  3. Seen Joe lately? / Have you seen Joe lately?


Different speech styles reflect perceptions of the social roles of the participants in a speech event. If the speaker and hearer are judged to be of more or less equal status, a casual speech style that stresses affiliation and solidarity is appropriate. If the participants are perceived as being of uneven power or status, a more formal speech style is appropriate, one that marks the dominance of one speaker over the other. Successful management of speech styles creates the sense of politeness that is essential for harmonious social relations (Brown and Levinson, 1978).


Functions of speaking

Numerous attempts have been made to classify the functions of speaking in human interaction. Brown and Yule (1983) made a useful distinction between the interactional functions of speaking, in which it serves to establish and maintain social relations, and the transactional functions, which focus on the exchange of information. In workshops with teachers and in designing my own materials, I use an expanded three-part version of Brown and Yule’s framework (after Jones, 1996, and Burns, 1998): talk as interaction; talk as transaction; talk as performance. Each of these speech activities is quite distinct in terms of form and function and requires different teaching approaches.


Talk as interaction

Talk as interaction refers to what we normally mean by “conversation” and describes interaction that serves a primarily social function. When people meet, they exchange greetings, engage in small talk, recount recent experiences, and so, on because they wish to be friendly and to establish a comfortable zone of interaction with others. The focus is more on the speakers and how they wish to present themselves to each other than on the message. Such exchanges may be either casual or more formal, depending on the circumstances, and their nature has been well described by Brown and Yule (1983). The main features of talk as interaction can be summarized as follows:


  1. Has a primarily social function
  2. Reflects role relationships
  3. Reflects speaker’s identity
  4. May be formal or casual
  5. Uses conversational conventions
  6. Reflects degrees of politeness
  7. Employs many generic words
  8. Uses conversational register
  9. Is jointly constructed


We can see some of these features illustrated in the following authentic example of a segment of conversational discourse (from Thornbury and Slade 2006: 132–133). Two women are asking a third woman about her husband and how they first met.


Jessie        : Right. Right, and so when did you – actually meet him?

Brenda     : So we didn’t actually meet until that night.

Judy         : Oh, hysterical. [laughs]

Brenda     : Well, I met him that night. We were all, we all went out to dinner. So I had                                        champagne and strawberries at the airport.

Jessie        : And what was it like when you first saw him? Were you really – nervous?

Brenda     : – Well, I was hanging out of a window watching him in his car, and I thought “oh                 God what about this!” [laughs]

Brenda     : And he’d combed his hair and shaved his eyebrows – and

Jessie        : Had you seen a photo of him?


Brenda     : Oh, yeah, I had photos of him, photos . . .           and I’d

spoken to him on the phone.

Jessie        : Did you get on well straight away?

Brenda     : Uh, well sort of. I’m a sort of nervy person when I

first meet people, so it was sort of . . . you know . . .          just

nice to him.

Jessie        : – [laughs]


The conversation is highly interactive and is in a collaborative conversational style. The listeners give constant feedback, including laughter, to prompt the speaker to continue, and we see the examples of casual conversational register with “nervy” and “hanging out of the window.”


Examples of these kinds of talk are:

  1. Chatting to an adjacent passenger during a plane flight (polite conversation that does not seek to develop the basis for future social contact)
  2. Chatting to a school friend over coffee (casual conversation that serves to mark an ongoing friendship)
  3. A student chatting to his or her professor while waiting for an elevator (polite conversation that reflects unequal power between the two participants)
  4. Telling a friend about an amusing weekend experience, and hearing him or her recount a similar experience he or she once had (sharing personal recounts)


Some of the skills involved in using talk as interaction involve knowing how to do the following things:


  1. Opening and closing conversations
  2. Choosing topics
  3. Making small-talk
  4. Joking
  5. Recounting personal incidents and experiences
  6. Turn-taking
  7. Using adjacency pairs2
  8. Interrupting
  9. Reacting to others
  10. Using an appropriate style of speaking


Mastering the art of talk as interaction is difficult and may not be a priority for all learners. However, students who do need such skills and find them lacking report that they sometimes feel awkward and at a loss for words when they find themselves in situations that require talk for interaction. They feel difficulty in presenting a good image of themselves and sometimes avoid situations that call for this kind of talk. This can be a disadvantage for some learners where the ability to use talk for conversation can be important. Hatch (1978) emphasizes that second language learners need a wide range of topics at their disposal in order to manage talk as interaction. Initially, learners may depend on familiar topics to get by. However, they also need practice in introducing new topics into conversation to move beyond this stage.


They should practice nominating topics about which they are prepared to speak. They should do lots of listening comprehension for topic nominations of native speakers. They should practice predicting questions for a large number of topics. . . .   They should be taught elicitation devices . . .          to get topic clarification. That is, they should practice saying “huh,” “pardon me,” “excuse me, I didn’t

understand,” etc., and echoing parts of sentences they do not understand in order to get it recycled again. Nothing stops the opportunity to carry on a conversation quicker than silence or the use of “yes” and head nodding when the learner does not understand. (Hatch 1978:434)


Talk as transaction

Talk as transaction refers to situations where the focus is on what is said or done. The message and making oneself understood clearly and accurately is the central focus, rather than the participants and how they interact socially with each other. In such transactions,


. . .          talk is associated with other activities. For example, students may be engaged in hands-on activities (e.g., in a science lesson) to explore concepts associated with floating and sinking. In this type of spoken language students and teachers usually focus on meaning or on talking their way to understanding. (Jones 1996:14)


The following example from a literature lesson illustrates this kind of talk in a classroom setting (T = Teacher, S = Student):


T: The other day we were talking about figures of speech.

And we have already in the past talked about three kinds

of figures of speech. Does anybody remember those

three types? Mary?

S:   Personification, simile, and metaphor.

T: Good. Let me write those on the board. – Now can

anybody tell me what personification is all about again?


S:   Making a nonliving thing act like a person.

T: Yes. OK. Good enough. Now what about simile? . . .

  1. – Cecelia?

S:   Comparing two things by making use of the words

“like” or “as.”

T: OK. Good. I’ll write that on the board. The other one –

metaphor. Paul?

S:   It’s when we make a comparison between two things,

but we compare them without using the words “like” or


T: All right. Good. So it’s more direct than simile. Now we

had a poem a few weeks ago about personification. Do

you remember? Can you recall one line from that poem

where a nonliving thing acts like a human person?

S:   “The moon walks the night.”

T: Good. “The moon walks the night.” Does the moon

have feet to walk?

S:   No.

T: No. So this is a figure of speech. All right. Now our

lesson today has something to do with metaphor. Now

we’re going to see what they have in common . . .

(Richards and Lockhart 1994: 116–117)




Examples of talk as transaction are:

  1. Classroom group discussions and problem-solving activities
  2. A class activity during which students design a poster
  3. Discussing needed computer repairs with a technician
  4. Discussing sightseeing plans with a hotel clerk or tour guide
  5. Making a telephone call to obtain flight information
  6. Asking someone for directions on the street
  7. Buying something in a shop
  8. Ordering food from a menu in a restaurant


Burns (1998) distinguishes between two different types of talk as transaction. The first type involves situations where the focus is on giving and receiving information and where the participants focus primarily on what is said or achieved (e.g., asking someone for directions). Accuracy may not be a priority, as long as information is successfully communicated or understood.


The second type is transactions that focus on obtaining goods or services, such as checking into a hotel or ordering food in a restaurant. For example, the following exchange was observed in a café:


Server: Hi, what’ll it be today?

Client: Just a cappuccino, please. Low-fat decaf if you have it.

Server: Sure. Nothing to eat today?

Client: No, thanks.

Server: Not a problem.


The main features of talk as transaction are:

  1. It has a primarily information focus.
  2. The main focus is on the message and not the participants.
  3. Participants employ communication strategies to make themselves understood.
  4. There may be frequent questions, repetitions, and comprehension checks, as in the example from the preceding classroom lesson.
  5. There may be negotiation and digression.
  6. Linguistic accuracy is not always important.


Some of the skills involved in using talk for transactions are:


  1. Explaining a need or intention
  2. Describing something
  3. Asking questions
  4. Asking for clarification
  5. Confirming information
  6. Justifying an opinion
  7. Making suggestions
  8. Clarifying understanding
  9. Making comparisons
  10. Agreeing and disagreeing


Talk as performance

The third type of talk that can usefully be distinguished has been called talk as performance. This refers to public talk, that is, talk that transmits information before an audience, such as classroom presentations, public announcements, and speeches. For example, here is the opening of a fall welcome speech given by a university president:


“Good morning. It’s not my intention to deliver the customary state of the university address. There’s good reason for that. It would seem to me to be presumptuous for someone who has been here not quite seven weeks to tell you what he thinks the state of the university is. You would all be better prepared for that kind of address than I am. However, I would like to offer you, based on my experience – which has been pretty intensive these almost seven weeks – some impressions that I have of this institution, strengths, or some of them, and the challenges and opportunities that we face here. . . .           I also want to talk about how I see my role during the short time that I will be

with you . . .”


pdf. Accessed June 9, 2007)


Spoken texts of this kind, according to Jones (1996:14),

. . .      often have identifiable generic structures and the language used is more predictable. . . . Because of less contextual support, the speaker must include all necessary information in the text – hence the importance of topic as well as textual knowledge. And while meaning is still important, there will be more emphasis on form and accuracy.


Talk as performance tends to be in the form of monolog rather than dialog, often follows a recognizable format (e.g., a speech of welcome), and is closer to written language than conversational language. Similarly, it is often evaluated according to its effectiveness or impact on the listener, something that is unlikely to happen with talk as interaction or transaction. Examples of talk as performance are:

  1. Giving a class report about a school trip
  2. Conducting a class debate
  3. Giving a speech of welcome
  4. Making a sales presentation
  5. Giving a lecture

The main features of talk as performance are:

  1. A focus on both message and audience
  2. Predictable organization and sequencing
  3. Importance of both form and accuracy
  4. Language is more like written language
  5. Often monologic

Some of the skills involved in using talk as performance are:

  1. Using an appropriate format
  2. Presenting information in an appropriate sequence
  3. Maintaining audience engagement
  4. Using correct pronunciation and grammar
  5. Creating an effect on the audience
  6. Using appropriate vocabulary
  7. Using an appropriate opening and closing

Teachers sometimes describe interesting differences between how learners manage these three different kinds of talk, as the following anecdotes illustrate.


I sometimes find with my students at a university in Hong Kong that they are good at talk as transaction and performance but not with talk as interaction. For example, the other day one of my students did an excellent class presentation in a course for computer science majors, and described very effectively a new piece of computer software. However, a few days later when I met the same student going home on the subway and tried to engage her in social chat, she was at a complete loss for words.


Another teacher describes a second language user with just the opposite difficulties. He is more comfortable with talk as interaction than with talk as performance.


One of my colleagues in my university in China is quite comfortable using talk socially. If we have lunch together with other native speakers, he is quite comfortable joking and chatting in English. However, recently we did a presentation together at a conference and his performance was very different. His pronunciation became much more “Chinese” and he made quite a few grammatical and other errors that I hadn’t heard him make before.


Implications for teaching

Three core issues need to be addressed in planning speaking activities for an English class. The first is to determine what kinds of speaking skills the class will focus on. Is it all three of the genres described in the preceding section, or will some receive greater attention than others? Informal needs analysis is the starting point here. Procedures for determining needs include observation of learners carrying out different kinds of communicative tasks, questionnaires, interviews, and diagnostic testing (e.g., Tsang and Wong 2002). The second issue is to identifying teaching strategies to “teach” (i.e., provide opportunities for learners to acquire) each kind of talk.


Teaching talk as interaction

Talk as interaction is perhaps the most difficult skill to teach since interactional talk is a very complex and subtle phenomenon that takes place under the control of unspoken rules. In my experience, these are best taught by providing examples embedded in naturalistic dialogs that model features such as opening and closing conversations, making small talk, recounting personal incidents and experiences, and reacting to what others say. One rule for making small talk is to initiate interactions with a comment concerning something in the immediate vicinity or that both participants have knowledge of. The comment should elicit agreement, since agreement is face-preserving and non-threatening. Hence, safe topics, such as the weather, traffic, and so on, must be chosen. Students can initially be given models such as the following to practice:


A: Nice weather today.

B: Yes, it is.

A: I hope the weather is nice for the weekend.

B: Me, too.

A: The buses to school are always so crowded.

B: Yes, they are.


Later, students can be given situations in which small talk might be appropriate (e.g., meeting someone at a movie, running into a friend in the cafeteria, or waiting at a bus stop). They can then be asked to think of small talk topic comments and responses. Giving feedback (or back channeling) is another important aspect of talk as interaction. It involves responding to a conversational partner with expressions that indicate interest and a wish for the speaker to continue, such as “That’s interesting,” “yeah,” “really,” and so on. To practice using back channeling in this way, students can examine dialogs from which feedback expressions have been omitted. They can consider suitable ways of providing them and then practice using them. For example, they can come up with differ ent responses to use in the following dialog:


A: I’m going to Hawaii for my next vacation.

B:            .

A: Yeah, my parents are taking me there as a graduation


B:            . And what do you plan to do there?

A: Well I guess I’ll spend a lot of time on the beach.

B:            .

A: But I also want to do some snorkeling.

B:            .



Another technique to practice the use of conversation starters and narratives about personal experiences involves giving conversation starters that students respond to by asking one or two follow-up questions. For example: “I didn’t sleep very well last night.” “Look what I bought on Sunday. How do you like it?” “Did that thunderstorm last night wake you?” Two simple activities I use to practice topic management are “in the hot seat” and “question time.” In the first activity, a student sits on a chair in front of the class and makes a statement about something he or she did recently (e.g., “I saw a good movie on Sunday”). The other members of the class ask three or more questions about the topic, which the student has to answer quickly. The “question time” activity, introduces students to a lesson on a new theme. I prepare up to 15 questions related to the theme and put them on a handout. For example, if the next unit covers sports, the students’ handout would include questions such as “What sports do you play?” “How often do you play sports?” “What sports are popular in your country?” “What sport have you never tried?” I first ask students around the class to answer the questions quickly. Then students practice asking and answering the questions in pairs.


Teaching talk as transaction

Talk as transaction is more easily planned since current communicative materials are a rich resource of group activities, information-gap activities, and role plays that can provide a source for practicing how to use talk for sharing and obtaining information, as well as for carrying out real-world transactions. These activities include ranking, values clarification, brainstorming, and simulations. Group discussion activities can be initiated by having students work in groups to prepare a short list of controversial statements for others to think about. Groups exchange statements and discuss them, for example: “Schools should do away with exams.” “Vegetarianism is the only healthy lifestyle.” “The Olympic games are a waste of money.” Role-play activities are another familiar technique for practicing real-world transactions and typically involve the following steps:


  1. Preparing: Reviewing vocabulary, real-world knowledge related to the content, and context of the role play (e.g., returning a faulty item to a store).
  2. Modeling and eliciting: Demonstrating the stages that are typically involved in the transaction, eliciting suggestions for how each stage can be carried out, and teaching the functional language needed for each stage.
  3. Practicing and reviewing: Assigning students roles and practicing a role play using cue cards or realia to provide language and other support.


An issue that arises in practicing talk as transaction using different kinds of communicative tasks is the level of linguistic accuracy that students achieve when carrying out these tasks. One assumption is that form will largely look after itself with incidental support from the teacher. Grammar has a mediating role, rather than serving as an end in itself (Thornbury 1998:112). “The teacher and the learner have a remarkable degree of flexibility, for they are presented with a set of general learning objectives and problem-solving tasks” (Kumaravadivelu 1991:99). As students carry out communicative tasks, the assumption is that they engage in the process of negotiation of meaning, employing strategies such as comprehension checks, confirmation checks, and clarification requests. These are believed to lead to a gradual modification of learners’ language output, which over time takes on more and more target-like forms. Despite these optimistic claims, others have reported that communication tasks often develop fluency at the expense of accuracy. For example, Higgs and Clifford (1982:78) reporting experience with foreign language teaching programs in the United States, observed the following:


In programs that have as curricular goals an early emphasis on unstructured communication activities – minimizing, or excluding entirely, considerations of grammatical accuracy – it is possible in a fairly short time . . .           to provide students with a relatively large vocabulary and a high degree of fluency . . .        These same data suggest that the premature immersion of a student into an unstructured or “free” conversational setting before certain linguistic structures are more or less in place is not done without cost. There appears to be a real danger of leading students too rapidly into the creative aspects of language use, in that if successful communication is encouraged and rewarded for its own sake, the effect seems to be one of rewarding at the sametime the incorrect strategies seized upon in attempting to deal with the communication strategies presented.


Similar findings have been reported in more recent studies of task work (see Foster, 1998; Musumeci, 1996). The following example of the quality of language that is sometimes produced as students practice transactional functions of language. This example was observed during a role-play task in a Spanish secondary school English lesson. One student is playing the role of a doctor and the other a patient, and they are discussing a health problem.


S1: You how old?

S2: I’m thirty-four . . .       thirty-five.

S1: Thirty . . .      five?

S2: Five.

S1: Problem?

S2: I have . . .     a pain in my throat.

S1: [In Spanish] What do you have?

S2: A pain.

S1: [In Spanish] What’s that?

S2: [In Spanish] A pain. A pain.

S1: Ah, pain.

S2: Yes, and it makes problem to me when I . . .            swallow.

S1: When do you have . . .        ?

S1: Since yesterday morning.

S1: [In Spanish] No, I mean, where do you have the pain?

It has a pain in . . .     ?

S2: In my throat.

S1: Ah. Let it . . . getting, er . . .          worse. It can be, er . . .

very serious problem and you are, you will go to New

York to operate, so . . . operation . . .         the 7th, the 27th,

er May. And treatment, you can’t eat, er, big meal.

S2: Big meal. I er . . .       I don’t know? Fish?

S1: Fish, you have to eat, er, fish, for example.


This example shows how low-level students, when carrying out communication tasks, often rely on a lexicalized system of communication that depends heavily on vocabulary and memorized chunks of language, as well as both verbal and nonverbal communication strategies, to get meaning across. Several methods can be used to address the issue of language accuracy when students are practicing transactional use of language:


  1. By pre-teaching certain linguistic forms that can be used while

completing a task.

  1. By reducing the complexity of the task (e.g., by familiarizing

students with the demands of the activity by showing them a

similar activity on video or as a dialog).

  1. By giving adequate time to plan the task.
  2. By repeated performance of the task.


Willis (1966) suggests using a cycle of activities with task work using a sequence of activities in a lesson. These activities create interaction mediated by a task and then build language awareness and language development around task performance. She proposes the following sequence of activities:

Pre-task activities

Introduction to topic and task

J  T helps Ss to understand the theme and objectives of the task,

for example, brainstorming ideas with the class, using pictures,

mime, or personal experience to introduce the topic.

J  Ss may do a pre-task, for example, topic-based odd-word-out

games. T may highlight useful words and phrases, but would not

pre-teach new structures.

J  Ss can be given preparation time to think about how to do the


J  Ss can hear a recording of a parallel task being done (so long as

this does not give away the solution to the problem).

J  If the task is based on a text, Ss read a part of it.

The task cycle


J  The task is done by Ss (in pairs or groups) and gives Ss a chance

to use whatever language they already have to express themselves

and say whatever they want to say. This may be in response to

reading a text or hearing a recording.

J  T walks around and monitors, encouraging everyone’s attempt

at communication in the target language.

J  T helps Ss to formulate what they want to say, but will not

intervene to correct errors of form.

J The emphasis is on spontaneous, exploratory talk and

confidence building, within the privacy of the small group.

J  Success in achieving the goals of the tasks helps Ss’ motivation.


J  Planning prepares Ss for the next stage, where they are asked to

briefly report to the whole class how they did the task and what

the outcome was.

J  Ss draft and rehearse what they want to say or write.

J  T goes around to advise students on language, suggesting

phrases and helping Ss to polish and correct their language.

J  If the reports are in writing, T can encourage peer editing and

use of dictionaries.

J  The emphasis is on clarity, organization, and accuracy, as

appropriate for a public presentation.

J  Individual students often take this chance to ask questions about

specific language items.


J  T asks some pairs to report briefly to the whole class so everyone

can compare findings, or begin a survey. There must be a

purpose for others to listen. Sometimes only one or two groups

report in full; others comment and add extra points. The class

may take notes.

J  T chairs, comments on the content of group reports, rephrases

perhaps, but gives no overt public correction.


The language focus


J  T sets some language-focused tasks, based on the texts student

read or on the transcripts of the recordings they heard. Examples

include the following:

J Find words and phrases related to the topic or text.

J Read the transcript, find words ending in “s” and say

what the “s” means.

J Find all the words in the simple past form. Say which

refer to past time and which do not.

J Underline and classify the questions in the transcript.

J  T starts Ss off, then students continue, often in pairs.

Teaching talk as performance

Teaching talk as performance requires a different teaching strategy. Jones (1996:17) comments:


Initially, talk as performance needs to be prepared for and scaffolded in much the same way as written text, and many of the teaching strategies used to make understandings of written text accessible can be applied to the formal uses of spoken language.


This approach involves providing examples or models of speeches, oral presentations, stories, etc., through video or audio recordings or written examples. These are then analyzed, or “deconstructed,” to understand how such texts work and what their linguistic and other organizational features are. Questions such as the following guide this process:


J What is the speaker’s purpose?

J Who is the audience?

J What kind of information does the audience expect?

J How does the talk begin, develop, and end? What moves or stages

are involved?

J Is any special language used?


Students then work jointly on planning their own texts, which are then presented to the class.

Feez and Joyce’s approach to text-based instruction provides a good model for teaching talk as performance (1998:v). This approach involves:

J Teaching explicitly about the structures and grammatical features

of spoken and written texts

J Linking spoken and written texts to the cultural context of their


J Designing units of work that focus on developing skills in relation

to whole texts

J Providing students with guided practice as they develop language

skills for meaningful communication through whole texts


Feez and Joyce (1998: 28–31) give the following description of how a text- based lesson proceeds:


Phase 1  Building the context

In this stage, students:

J  Are introduced to the social context of an authentic model of

the text-type being studied

J  Explore features of the general cultural context in which the

text-type is used and the social purposes the text-type achieves

J  Explore the immediate context of situation by investigating

the register of a model text that has been selected on the basis

of the course objectives and learner need

An exploration of register involves:

J  Building knowledge of the topic of the model text and

knowledge of the social activity in which the text is used, e.g.,

job seeking

J  Understanding the roles and relationships of the people

using the text and how these are established and maintained,

e.g., the relationship between a job seeker and a prospective


J  Understanding the channel of communication being used,

e.g., using the telephone, or speaking face-to-face with

members of an interview panel

Context building activities include:

J  Presenting the context through pictures, audiovisual materials,

realia, excursions, field-trips, guest speakers, etc.

J  Establishing the social purpose through discussions or surveys,


J  Cross-cultural activities, such as comparing differences in the

use of the text in two cultures

J  Comparing the model text with other texts of the same or

contrasting type, e.g., comparing a job interview with a

complex spoken exchange involving close friends, a work

colleague, or a stranger in a service encounter

Phase 2  Modeling and deconstructing the text

In this stage, students:

J  Investigate the structural pattern and language features of the


J  Compare the model with other examples of the same text-type


Feez and Joyce (1998:29) comment that “modeling and deconstruction are undertaken at both the whole text, clause, and expression levels. It is at this stage that many traditional ESL language teaching activities come into their own.”


Phase 3  Joint construction of the text

In this stage:

J  Students begin to contribute to the construction of whole

examples of the text-type

J  The teacher gradually reduces the contribution to text

construction, as the students move closer to being able to

control text-type independently

Joint construction activities include:

J  Teacher questioning, discussing and editing whole class

construction, then scribing onto board or overhead


J  Skeleton texts

J  Jigsaw and information-gap activities

J  Small group construction of tests

J  Self-assessment and peer assessment activities

Phase 4  Independent construction of the text

In this stage:

J  Students work independently with the text

J  Learner performances are used for achievement assessment

Independent construction activities include:

J  Listening tasks, e.g., comprehension activities in response

to live or recorded material such as performing a task,

sequencing pictures, numbering, ticking or underlining

material on a worksheet, and answering questions

J  Listening and speaking tasks, e.g., role plays, and simulated or

authentic dialogs

J  Speaking tasks, e.g., spoken presentation to class, a

community organization, or a workplace

J  Reading tasks, e.g., comprehension activities in response

to written material such as performing a task, sequencing

pictures, numbering, ticking or underlining material on a

worksheet, and answering questions

J  Writing tasks which demand that students draft and present

whole texts

Phase 5  Linking to related texts

In this stage, students investigate how what they have learned in this teach-

ing/learning cycle can be related to:

J  Other texts in the same or similar context

J  Future or past cycles of teaching and learning

Activities that link the text-type to related texts include:

J  Comparing the use of the text-type across different fields

J  Researching other text-types used in the same field

J  Role-playing what happens if the same text-type is used by

people with different roles and relationships

J  Comparing spoken and written modes of the same text-type

J  Researching how a key language feature used in this text-type

is used in other text-types


Evaluating performance on speaking activities

The third issue involved in planning speaking activities is determining the expected level of performance on a speaking task and the criteria that will be used to assess student performance. For any activity we use in class, whether it be one that seeks to develop proficiency in using talk as interaction, transaction, or performance, we need to consider what successful completion of the activity involves. Is accuracy of pronunciation and grammar important? Is each participant expected to speak for about the same amount of time? Is it acceptable if a speaker uses many long pauses and repetitions? If a speaker’s contribution to a discussion is off topic, does it matter? As the above questions illustrate, the types of criteria we use to assess a speaker’s oral performance during a classroom activity will depend on which kind of talk we are talking about and the kind of classroom activity we are using. In a report on teaching discussion skills, Green, Christopher, and Lam (2002:228) recommend assigning one student to serve as an observer during a discussion activity, using the following observation form:


Number of contributions

by students

A     B     C     D     E     F

  1. Totalnumber of contributions


  1. Respondingsupportively
  2. Respondingaggressively
  3. Introducinga new (relevant)


  1. Digressingfrom the topic


A speaking activity that requires talk as performance (e.g., a mini-lecture) would require very different assessment criteria. These might include:

  1. Clarity of presentation: i.e., the extent to which the speaker organizes information in an easily comprehensible order
  2. Use of discourse markers, repetition, and stress to emphasize important points and to make the lecture structure more salient to the listeners


Different speaking activities such as conversations, group discussions, and speeches make different types of demands on learners. They require different kinds and levels of preparation and support, and different criteria must be used to assess how well students carry them out.



I will conclude with a set of questions I use to guide myself when preparing speaking activities for the classroom or for textbooks. I also use these questions with teachers in workshops that focus on developing and reviewing classroom materials.

  1. What will be the focus of the activity – talk as interaction, transaction, or performance?
  2. How will the activity be modeled?
  3. What stages will the activity be divided into?
  4. What language support will be needed?
  5. What resources will be needed?
  6. What learning arrangements will be needed?
  7. What level of performance is expected?
  8. How and when will feedback be given?



References and Further Reading


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Brown, P., and S. Levinson (1978). Politeness: Some Universals in Language

Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Buck, G. (2001). Assessing Listening. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Buck, G. (1995). How to become a good listening teacher. In D. Mendelsohn

and J. Rubin (eds.), A Guide for the Teaching of Second Language

Listening. San Diego, CA: Dominie Press, pp. 113–128.

Burns, Anne (1998). Teaching speaking. Annual Review of Applied

Linguistics 18:102–123.

Clark, H. M., and E. V. Clark (1977). Psychology and Language: An

Introduction to Psycholinguistics. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Feez, S., and H. Joyce 1998. Text-Based Syllabus Design. Sydney: Macquarie


Field, John (2003). Promoting perception: lexical segmentation in second

language listening. ELT Journal 57:325–334.

Goh, C. (2000). A cognitive perspective on language learners’ listening

comprehension problems. System 28:55–75.

Goh, C. (1998). How learners with different listening abilities use

comprehension strategies and tactics. Language Teaching Research


Goh, C. (1997) Metacognitive awareness and second language listeners. ELT

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Green, F., E. Christopher, and J. Lam (2002). Developing discussion skills

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