Unit 4: Listening for Communication: Language Functions


When we develop students’ listening skills in English, we are essentially helping them to comprehend and respond to what the speaker wishes to convey. In real-life situations, this would extend to understanding the message and performing some functions based on it. Such functions could range from following simple instructions (Get me a glass of water, will you?) or directions (Turn left at the corner and continue straight ahead until you come to the crossroads) to more complex functions such as understanding the speaker’s attitude, distinguishing facts from opinions, responding to directives and so on.

In this unit we have three activities that will help you make your students understand the English used for language functions. These activities are just examples of classroom exercises with which your students can practise real-world English. You could design other activities along similar lines to help the students practise other language functions.

Unit outcomes

Upon completion of this unit, you will be able to:


  • help your students follow simple directions in English,

  • have your students understand the difference between fact and opinion in someone’s speech, and

  • have the students understand and respond to invitations in English.

Case study

Case study

A well-known JSS school in New Delhi, India, decided to take a group of secondary students on an excursion to Ooty, a famous hill station in Southern India. The teacher in charge was Mrs Robins, who taught English at JSS level. Two weeks before the excursion, Mrs Robins decided to begin preparations for the trip. She convened a meeting of the selected students to discuss the trip. While discussing the trip and what kinds of preparation the students should make, Mrs Robins had a sinking feeling that she would need more than one meeting with the students to prepare them fully for the excursion.

She realised that not only would this be most of the students’ first trip to South India, but also none of them spoke the local language. They would all have to converse in English, right from the airport in New Delhi to the Tourist Lodge in Ooty, with airport personnel, travel guides, hotel staff, local residents and so on. Mrs Robins decided that even with the little time she had, she would need to make the students brush up their social skills, including performing simple functions in English such as making requests, asking for and following directions, making small talk with other tourists, asking for information, etc.

Over the next two weeks, Mrs Robins gave her students intense practice in understanding and responding appropriately to spoken English. She devised role plays in which students took on various roles as hotel and airport personnel, travel guides, etc., and practised what they would hear and how they would respond. During the trip, Mrs Robins was relieved to find that her students were able to have meaningful conversations with people everywhere, because they could understand the language easily and respond appropriately. Back home after the trip, Mrs Robins discussed this with the principal, and began teaching special classes once a week to develop students’ listening and speaking skills in English.

Points to ponder

  1. Do your English textbooks at the JSS level include activities that develop students’ listening comprehension for real-life functions?

  2. How can the teacher incorporate listening exercises within the English period to give students adequate practice?

  3. Does the normal academic interaction in the English classroom give students adequate practice in listening and speaking? Why, or why not?


Activity 1: Listening to directions

Activity 1

One of the most common functions of English is asking for and giving directions. Whether one is in a new place for work or personal reasons, or in an unfamiliar location in one’s own city, hometown or building, one often needs guidance from others to reach a destination. In the classroom, students usually get some practice in other functions such as following instructions, asking and giving permission and so on, but little in following directions.

In this activity, you will learn how to devise situations for students to practise understanding and responding to directions. As a preparatory task, write short instructions giving directions like Get up and walk to the blackboard/Go to the far left corner of the room and sit down/Walk to Jenny’s desk, pick up her pen and put it on my table on three or four small slips of paper. Select four students at random and have them do the activities one by one. After the first student has done her part, describe what she did:

Mary got up from her seat and walked three steps north. Then she turned left and walked three more steps. Then she walked straight north until she reached the blackboard.

Now ask the class to describe each student’s movement as he or she picks up a slip of paper from the table and follows the directions.

This activity is meant to elicit the language of asking for and giving directions, such as nouns showing directions and landmarks (north, east, west, south, corner, traffic point, building, landmark), verbs of movement (turn, follow, skip, cross), prepositions (around, across, behind, below) and their matching structures. This will prepare them for the main activity, which is an exercise for students to complete a map while listening to directions.

For the main activity, you can draw or have someone make you a rough sketch of the area in which your local library is located. The map should have a few landmarks that the students are familiar with. The activity is for students to write the names of the landmarks in the space provided on the map as they listen to you giving directions to a stranger to the library. They should also trace the route from the starting point to the library as they listen.

See Resource 1 for a video on listening to directions. If you cannot play the video, you could have the students listen to the directions given in the audio, or read them out from the transcript. You can make the map according to these directions, or write your own set. It is best to work with a map that students would be familiar with so that they can concentrate on understanding the language of directions.

Activity 2: Distinguishing between facts and opinions

Activity 2

In real-life communication situations, conversations do not take place in a linear manner. This means that we do not always say one thing at a time, or say everything with the same feeling and tone. In natural communication, people use various strategies to convey meaning and to convince the listener of what they are saying. Without being conscious of it, we bring facts, opinions, feelings, beliefs, illustrations and evidence into one single conversation. Competent listeners are those who can separate facts from opinions, beliefs, feelings and digressions. At the JSS level, students rarely encounter real-life “natural” conversation in the classroom. The curricular demands of the classroom limit the interaction between teacher and students to asking and answering questions, giving clarifications, asking for permission, etc.

In this activity, you will be able to help your students take part in natural conversations effectively by making them notice the difference between fact and opinion. This will help them to respond to speech in a more spontaneous and natural manner.

To prepare for the activity, have the students discuss, in pairs, their favourite place in their hometown, and then write two sentences, the first naming the place and the second saying why they like it. Ask a few students at random to read out their responses, and put these sentences on the board in two columns. The first column should contain the factual details of the place (e.g., my favourite place in town is Central Park), and the second column should list their reasons (I like it because it has swings, seesaws and an ice cream shop). After you have collected a few samples for each column, bring to their notice that the information in Column 1 relates to facts, while that in Column 2 relates to opinions. Remind them that we include both facts and opinions in conversation, the factual details being something that is true for all time and the opinions being personal reasons and feelings about a topic.

Now give them the set of sentences in Resource 2a and ask them, in pairs, to sort them into facts and opinions. This will prepare them for the listening task. After this preparatory activity, show them the video in Resource 2b. In pairs, they will have to listen carefully and note down the facts and opinions. Partner 1 in each pair should note the facts and Partner 2 the opinions. After they finish writing, play the video once more and have a class discussion about whether they were able to make the appropriate distinctions.

Here are some questions you can ask the students after the video to elicit the facts:

  1. What is a tsunami?

  2. What causes a tsunami?

  3. What happens when a tsunami hits the shore?

  4. How many people were affected by the tsunami in Japan?

  5. Who took the pictures that flashed on television?

These questions can elicit the opinions expressed in the video:

  1. What is Ray’s grandfather’s explanation of a tsunami?

  2. Why should people not live near the sea, according to Ray?

  3. Are people who drive on seaside roads foolish?

  4. What do waves do to people when people annoy them?

  5. How does Ray’s father know where Mr Sharp is?

  6. Is being a reporter a sensible job?

Activity 3: Understanding invitations

Activity 3

A language function common in social situations is invitations, and all cultures have their own interesting sets of sentences and phrases for giving, accepting and declining invitations. English invitations are also made in interesting ways, both in formal and informal forms. As invitations are an integral part of everyone’s lives, it is important for students to be able to understand which utterances are invitations, especially in informal speech, and also to understand when someone is accepting or declining an invitation.

In this activity, we will give you some resources for and ideas on how you can make your JSS students practise the language of invitations with their fellow students. We will focus on oral invitations to develop the students’ listening skills.

Before the activity, give students a pre-listening exercise like the one below to test their familiarity with the language of invitations.

Put the students in pairs and have them match the utterances in Resource 3a with their functions. The objective of this activity is to find out whether the students can differentiate between invitations, requests and permissions. Follow it with another exercise for pair-work, this time matching invitations with their responses. These exercises will make the students familiar with the language of invitations and prepare them for the main activity. During the feedback session, elicit from them which responses show acceptance, and which decline the invitation. Since these utterances are from informal English, there are usually no clear Yes/No answers, and students need to learn to recognise the indirect forms of response.

For the main activity, have the students watch a video/listen to an audio recording of people in conversation (Resource 3b). As they listen, they should note on their worksheets (Resource 3c) their observations about the exchanges. The objective of this activity is to familiarise the students with some specific ways in which people respond to invitations in real life.

Unit summary


This unit showed some ways of teaching your students to understand common language functions so that they can respond appropriately. The activities used are only examples; you could develop similar activities depending on the level of your students’ interests and needs. Listening strategies such as understanding directions, distinguishing between facts and opinions, understanding the speaker’s purpose, etc., are some of the techniques involved in effective listening. Students need exposure to authentic samples of language — that is, the language used in real life — to prepare themselves to communicate effectively outside the classroom. The activities and resources included in this unit are meant to help the teacher show students how best to use English in real-life situations.




  • How well did you manage to use the audio and video files in the class?

  • What specific challenges did you note as the students carried out each activity?

  • How can each activity be made enjoyable for the students?


Resource 1: Understanding directions: Following directions

Resource 1

Stranger: Excuse me, excuse me — I’m new here — how do I reach the library?

You: You mean the Town Library? Oh — it’s not very far from here. Just walk straight for two blocks until you reach the intersection.

Stranger: Straight — intersection — just hold on, let me write this down! .... Okay — can you say it again?

You: Okay, here you are. As I was saying, walk straight for two blocks until you reach the intersection — the traffic signal. Then take a left turn there, and walk until you reach St. John’s Hospital.

Stranger: Okay — I got it — left at the traffic signal, walk to St. James’ Hospital.

You: No, no — it’s St. JOHN’s hospital, not St. JAMES’!

Stranger: That’s right, St. John’s...

You: Just opposite St. John’s you’ll see a small alley — that’s a short cut to Middle Street. When you get out of the alley, you’ll find yourself opposite Globe Cinema.

Stranger: Okay — alley, Globe Cinema...

You: Right. Walk across to Globe Cinema, and keep walking right. After you’ve crossed two shops you’ll get to another signal. Take a left there, and keep walking a few steps. You’ll see the town’s biggest store just ahead — Duncan’s. The library is just behind Duncan’s. Be careful — the entrance is old — people tend to lose it and walk on, the first time!

Stranger: I got it — Globe Cinema, small entrance, library! Thanks!

You: Nothing to it! And I hope you DO get there!


Resource file

See in the enclosed DVD a video recording of the activity:

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit4\Activity1\Resource1\Video\Understanding_Directions.mp4

Resource 2a: Distinguishing facts and opinions (worksheet)

Resource 2a

List of sentences

  1. Tsunamis are underwater earthquakes that cause sea and ocean waves to rise unnaturally high.

  2. Tsunamis usually occur in places that are prone to earthquakes.

  3. Tsunamis are caused because the gods get angry with human beings for spreading evil.

  4. Tsunamis can be prevented by mass prayers by people from all religions.

  5. The latest tsunami to have caused extensive damage is the one occurring off the coast of Japan on 11 March 2011.

  6. Many people lost their lives in this tsunami because they were careless and should have remained at home on that day.

  7. The Japan tsunami was so severe that it caused Japan’s nuclear reactors to burst.

  8. The radiation emitted by the damaged reactors constitutes a serious health hazard to people living within a 50- to 80-kilometre radius.

  9. I think people all around the world should raise funds to help the people of Japan.

  10. One should never travel to Japan in the future because they may be burnt by the radioactive gases coming out of the nuclear reactors.

(Answers: Sentences 1, 2, 5 7 and 8 are facts; the rest are opinions)

Resource 2b: Distinguishing facts and opinions (transcript)

Resource 2b


Conversation between Ray and Chris, two friends from Kenya.

Ray: Did you watch the evening news yesterday? It seems there was a big tsunami in Japan!

Chris: What’s a tsunami? I’ve never heard this word before.

Ray: It’s a big wave caused by an earthquake under the sea. My grandfather said tsunamis are caused when the gods are angry with us.

Chris: Is that so? Then we should never go near the sea — the water god lives in the sea, doesn’t he?

Ray: Yeah, thank God we don’t live anywhere near the sea! I was watching TV yesterday, and the big waves came and carried away people, houses, cars and even airplanes out to the sea in just one minute.

Chris: You mean the waves came into the roads and airports? That must have been horrible!

Ray: Yeah, and if people are so foolish to drive on the roads near the seashore, they WILL be carried away! I’ve never seen a sea, but I know waves come quietly and pull you to the sea if they don’t like you. I’ve heard of many people who went on holiday to the seaside and never came back home because they did something to make the waves angry!

Anyway, as I was telling you, the news report said more than 80,000 people must have died. It seems tsunamis can also break down houses, big buildings, telephone lines, electric poles, bridges...

Chris: How horrible! Is anybody in Japan still alive? Who is taking the pictures?

Ray: Silly boy, of course people are still there! The reporter was saying the photos were taken by local people and also by reporters from foreign countries. Father was saying his friend Mr Sharp from National Television must be in Japan by now. Mr Sharp is a fearless man who always want to be at the centre of action.

Chris: I don’t think reporters have a good job. I’ll never be a reporter when I grow up — they have to go to such dangerous places!

Ray: Me neither!


Resource file

See in the enclosed DVD a video recording of the activity:

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit4\Activity2\Resource2b\Video\Distinguishing_facts_and_Opinions.mp4

Resource 3a: Understanding invitations (worksheet)

Resource 3a

With your partner, match the utterances in Column 1 with their function in Column 2. The first one is done for you.


Column 1


Column 2


Can I borrow your car for a second?    (Answer is b. Request)




Let’s have dinner tonight at McDonald’s.




Could you suggest a good Chinese restaurant in town?




Please join me at the Dragon Tail tomorrow evening at 8:00. We’re celebrating Mike’s birthday.




Will you give me a lift to town, please?




I’d like to take a day off tomorrow — I need to take my mother to the hospital for her annual check-up.




Hey, come on, let’s catch up over a cup of coffee at the corner store!



II      In the table below, there are invitations in Column 1. Match them to the correct responses in Column 2.






I’d like John and you to join us for lunch tomorrow at our club. We hardly seem to meet these days!


Thank you for the invite — we’d love to be there.


Let’s have dinner tonight at MacDonald’s.


That’s such a good idea! John will be so pleased! We’ll be there!


I’m going to Nairobi for the weekend. Want to come along?


Of course I’ll come. What time on Friday?



Resource 3b: Understanding invitations (transcripts)

Resource 3b

Conversation 1: At the workplace

Raveena: Richa, can I have a word with you?

Richa: Sure, Raveena. What is it?

Raveena: You remember my sister Rita? She’s getting married next Sunday.

Richa: That’s wonderful! Who’s the lucky guy?

Raveena: Well, it happened all of a sudden, y’know... the boy’s suddenly being transferred overseas... so everything’s happening all at once. Oh, sorry, his name’s Ricky Reddy, and he’s a terrific person!

Richa: I’m so glad for Rita! Do congratulate her for me...

Raveena: Oh, I almost forgot... Rita told me specifically to tell you about the reception at The Grand Sunday evening! And David, of course!

Richa: Thanks... David and I would love to come. The Grand, is it? What time’s the reception?

Raveena: Oh! Officially it begins at 6:00 in the evening, but friends and family are meeting a little early, around 5:00.

Richa: Thanks, Raveena. We’ll be there.

Conversation 2: At the football match

Rahman: Hey, guys! Come up here! There’s lots of empty seats!

Tim, Sandy, Mike, Abdul: Hi, Rahman! Keep seats/How’re you doing?/We’re coming!

Rahman: Great to meet up here, isn’t it? Been a long time since we sat and fooled around screaming our heads off here, right?

Abdul: Been a long time since I saw you THIS excited, Rahman! Ha ha!

Tim: Yeah! We’ve been out of touch too long, what say?

Sandy: Absolutely! We must find a way of getting together, just like the old times!

Mike: Have an idea — how about you guys joining me on The Discovery for a spin on the river?

Rahman, Tim, Sandy: Hear! Hear! Great idea! You’re on!

Abdul: The Discovery? Your luxury boat, you mean? You mean ride with you and spend the night on the river?

Mike: Yeah! Yeah! That’s what we’ll do! We’ll catch some big, fat fish, start a barbecue, tell our sad stories and generally have fun!

Abdul: Sorry, Mikey! I wouldn’t be there even for a million dollars! You know how scared I am of water!

Tim, Sandy, Rahman: Oh come on, Abdul — don’t be such a spoilsport!

Mike: Seriously, Abdul — it’s time you got over your water phobia!

Abdul: Some other time, guys! I have a family, you know!


Conversation 3: On the street

Sally: Hey — Rodney! Fancy meeting you here!

Rodney: Who — oh it’s YOU, Sally! Didn’t expect to find you here either!

Sally: I know. I had the afternoon off, so I thought I’ll make a trip to the antique shop and look for something for my window...

Rodney: You too? I thought a walk round the block would get some fresh air into my lungs. I’m so glad I came!

Sally: Me too! I was getting so bored of my life!

Rodney: Okay, you can tell me all about it over a cup of coffee! Let’s find a café...

Sally: Oh no, not today, Rodney! I have to get to the antique shop before they close!

Rodney: Oh, come on... the shop will be open till 9:00! It’s just a coffee — I promise not to eat you up!

Sally: Well, all right then! But we won’t chat for long, okay?

Rodney: Whatever you say, young lady! Just a coffee, a quick chat, and off you go!

Sally: Okay — I know a nice little place around the corner — let’s go there!


Conversation 4: At a party

Richard: Colleen, may I introduce my colleague Jeremy Black, our finance manager? He’s just been transferred from Cape Town. Jeremy, Colleen Baker. Colleen’s a very close friend and a valuable client.

Jeremy: How do you do!

Colleen: Glad to meet you, Mr Black. In fact, I was just asking Richard if he could find someone to help me with my accounts.

Richard: Jeremy’s the man for it, Colleen! He’s our expert on accounting.

Jeremy: Richard’s just being polite, but I’d be glad to be of help, Ms Baker.

Colleen: Call me Colleen. May I call you Jeremy? Let’s find some time for a meeting.

Jeremy: Is it very urgent? Then how about you coming over to my office on Monday?

Colleen: That’s so kind of you! What time would be convenient?

Jeremy: Eleven would suit me just fine. I’ll finish off my pending jobs, and sit with you. In fact, why don’t you join me for an early lunch?

Colleen: Are you sure? I wouldn’t like to impose...

Jeremy: No, no, no, no! I’d love you to be. So 11:00, then?

Colleen: Eleven! Thanks, Jeremy! It’s really nice of you! And thanks, Richard — you’re always such a dear!

Richard: Anything for you, Colleen!


Conversation 5: At the park

Jenny: Conny! Conny! Come here!

Conny: Why are you yelling at me, Jenny? Can’t you see I’m hiding? Ricky’s there then, and he’s going to find me!

Jenny: You’re playing hide-n-seek? Why didn’t you call me? So mean of you!

Conny: I did! Your mum said you were watching TV.

Jenny: Uh? That’s why Mum called me? I thought she wanted me to get some stuff from the store, so I didn’t answer!

Conny: Naughty girl, Jenny! We’re going to play on the swings next. You want to come along?

Jenny: Really! Gee — that’s nice! Thanks, Conny! Oh, but I can’t come — Mum said I have to help her with the washing.

Conny: That’s too bad! The whole group’s coming!

Jenny: Mum will give me a hiding! She made me promise!

Conny: That’s her voice — she’s yelling for you, Jenny! Go on, run!


Resource files


See in the enclosed DVD a video recording of the activities:

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit4\Activity3\Resource3b\Video\Workplace.mp4

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit4\Activity3\Resource3b\Video\Footballmatch.mp4

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit4\Activity3\Resource3b\Video\Street.mp4

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit4\Activity3\Resource3b\Video\Party.mp4

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit4\Activity3\Resource3b\Video\Park.mp4

Resource 3c: Understanding invitations (worksheet)

Resource 3c

Conversation 1:

  1. Who is giving the invitation? _______________

  2. What is the occasion? _______________

  3. Is the listener accepting or declining the invitation? _______________

  4. If the listener is declining, what reason is he/she giving? ___________ ________________________________________________________

Conversation 2:

  1. Who is giving the invitation? _______________

  2. What is the occasion? _______________

  3. Is the listener accepting or declining the invitation? _______________

  4. If the listener is declining, what reason is he or she giving? _________ ________________________________________________________

Conversation 3:

  1. Who is giving the invitation? _______________

  2. What is the occasion? _______________

  3. Is the listener accepting or declining the invitation? _______________

  4. If the listener is declining, what reason is he or she giving? _________ ________________________________________________________

Conversation 4:

  1. Who is giving the invitation? _______________

  2. What is the occasion? _______________

  3. Is the listener accepting or declining the invitation? _______________

  4. If the listener is declining, what reason is he or she giving? _________ ________________________________________________________

Conversation 5:

  1. Who is giving the invitation? _______________

  2. What is the occasion? _______________

  3. Is the listener accepting or declining the invitation? _______________

  4. If the listener is declining, what reason is he or she giving? _________ ________________________________________________________

Teacher question and answer


Question: How can I involve shy and quiet students in the listening tasks?

Answer: One strategy you can use is to pair one quiet student with a more active one. This will force even shy students to contribute their ideas. Another strategy is to take feedback from the quieter partner in a pair — he or she will have to respond with answers already worked out with a partner, so it will make talking in front of the class less painful.