logo ELT Concourse: a free training course for TKT: modules 1, 2 and 3
The Concourse

TKT Module 1: Describing language and language skills
Receptive skills


The skills part of the course for Module 1 is divided into two parts.  This part deals with the receptive skills and the next with productive skills.  They are arranged like this:


This guide is quite short and summarises what you need to know for the TKT.
In this site, you will find longer guides to the skills in the teacher-training section.  If you prefer to do those guides and then return to this one for a brief summary and revision, use this menu.  Links will not open in a new tab so use the back button to come back here.

understanding reading teaching reading
understanding listening teaching listening


Key concepts in this guide

By the end of this part of the guide, you should be able to understand and use these key concepts:

  • text types
  • text purposes
  • text staging
  • layout
  • generic knowledge
  • world knowledge
  • intensive and extensive reading and listening
  • skimming, scanning and monitoring
  • listening and reading for gist
  • back channelling
  • top-down and bottom-up processing

Look out for these words like this in the text.
There will be tests at the end of the guide for you to check that you understand the ideas.

read listening

Reading and listening

read computer screen listening headphones

Text types

thinkwrite Task 1: Get a pen and a piece of paper and write down the last four things you read and the last four things you listened to (not just heard).
Click here when you have thought of something.

Probably, not all of the text types you read or listened to are in this list.  It is very difficult to predict what people will hear and read and why.  That is one reason that teaching the area is quite difficult.


Text purposes

All writers and speakers write and speak for a reason.  The purpose of the text will often determine:

  1. How the text is organised:
    this is called the staging.  This refers to how the information is presented conventionally in English.
    For example, we know, when we are reading a news report, that the main event will probably be described in the first paragraph and the outcome with any future action will be presented at the end.  This knowledge allows us to access the text quickly and find what we want.
  2. What language forms are in the text:
    this includes, for example, types of conjunction, tenses, verb types, prepositional phrases, modal auxiliary verbs and so on.
    For example, a recipe will often include adverbs which show the ordering of actions such as firstly, then, finally etc. but a news report will often begin in the present perfect (to show it is relevant to and has changed the present) as in, for example:
        Three men have been arrested at Gatwick airport
    but after the first paragraph, the tense will often be past simple to related what happened as in, for example:
        Police were alerted to the vehicle by a member of the public
    and, at the end, the tense form will often refer to the present or the future as in, e.g.:
        The men will appear in court on Thursday, charged with ...
  3. The layout of the text:
    this includes whether it comes with pictures, graphics or different sizes and types of print (written texts), with film clips, gestures, graphics or special effects (spoken texts) and so on.
    For example, a news report will often come with a general picture of the scene (and often a map of the area) but a letter will not but will have the conventional addresses, dates and so on in recognisable places.

If we know the purpose of a text. it will often make understanding it very much easier because we will know where to look for information and when to listen carefully.
This is called generic knowledge.

think Task 2: Test your generic knowledge of these written texts.
Two questions:
a) What sorts of texts are they?
b) where will you find the most important information?
Click here when you have done that.

text-types test

What sort of text?

If we know a little about the topic of the text, it will also make understanding easier.  This is known as using knowledge of the world to help us understand.
For example, when reading a news story about a terrorist alert at an airport, we can bring our knowledge of the people involved (police, anti-terrorist specialists, immigration officers etc.) and places (long-stay car parks, immigration control, departure lounges etc.) to the text so we can also predict who will be involved and what happened.
We can also bring our knowledge of the world to other sorts of text so, for example, if we are reading an email from a friend, we will already share lots of information so we know who and what is referred if someone writes about my sister or my job and we do not need to have that information in the text.
We also bring our general knowledge to specialist texts in professional fields, of course, so someone who is concerned with an area will not need to have everything explained.  You are doing this now because we have talked here about things like verb tenses and conjunctions and assume, because you are a teacher of English, that you know what is meant by these terms.

thinkwrite Task 3: Now look at your list and write why you read or listened to the texts.
Click here when you have written something.

Knowing why we are reading or listening to a text helps us to decide how to read or listen.  To explain:

  1. Listening:
    1. When we are dealing with some listening texts, for example, a set of instructions or a waiter explaining what's in a dish, it's important that we understand nearly everything.  If miss something important we may make a serious mistake or get the wrong meal.
      Some listening settings allow us to interrupt and ask for clarification or repetition, e.g., the work instructions or the waiter's explanation.  Some settings, such as lectures, don't allow that, so it's important to be even more careful.
      This is called intensive listening.
    2. Typically, in a TV news programme, people will watch and listen quite casually until a key word or picture alerts them to an item of interest.  Then they switch listening mode and pay more attention.  Travel announcements are often dealt with this way.  If we recognise that the announcement does not concern our journey, we just switch off until the next one comes along.
      This kind of listening is called monitor listening.
    3. A TV soap opera or an anecdote might require some attention but as long as we get the gist of what's going on, it isn't usually necessary (or possible) to catch every word and every nuance.  Typically, an anecdote is told face-to-face or over the 'phone so in this case we also need occasionally to show interest and comprehension.  We do that through what's called back channelling (grunts, exclamations such as oh, really?, wow, gosh etc., nods, smiles etc.).
      We are gist listening.  This is also known as extensive listening because we do not need to understand everything we hear.
    4. Finally, some texts require our full attention, even to the point of making notes to help us recall important information.  Here, we need particularly to pay attention to the speaker's signals.  For example, something beginning
          Here's the key point: ...
      is likely to be important but something beginning
          By the way, ...
      can probably be safely ignored.
      This is a difficult skill because it combines monitoring, listening for gist and intensive listening.
  2. Reading:
    1. When we are dealing with some written texts, for example, a recipe or a set of instructions, it's important that we understand nearly everything.  If the book says twist anti-clockwise or do not allow it to boil, it's important that we get it right.  Fortunately, when we read, we can usually take the time to re-read as often as we like and use a dictionary when we don't understand.
      Typically, study texts (such as this one) or texts with very important information (instructions at work, information about finance and tax and so on) also require this approach.  We may even have to take notes!
      This is intensive reading.
    2. Typically, on a news website, people will run their eyes across the links looking for a story that interests them and then access the text for a more detailed look at the information.
      Even when we are quite interested in a story, we still often won't read every word, preferring to skip to the important (for us) bits of the story.
      Similarly, other texts, such a bus timetable require us just to look for what we need.  We can't usually just read from top to bottom, left to right because we don't want the information from most of the text.  We only want to know when the next bus goes to where we want to be.  If you are looking for a name in a telephone directory, you don't start at page one and read till you find it.
      This is called scanning or scan reading.
    3. Depending on how much we are engaged, reading a novel requires a different approach, too.  We will usually read with some care and even back-track to re-read sections but we can ignore parts of the text and simply follow the story.  If we are getting a bit bored, we may even start to glance through the text to find out what happened in the story.
      Ignoring whole parts and just getting the gist is called skimming or skim reading.  This is also called extensive reading because it is not necessary to understand every word.

It's clear, then, that we use different skills depending on:

  1. the sorts of text we are accessing
  2. our reasons for accessing it

The summary of all this:

summary receptive skills


Top-down and Bottom-up processing

These are two key ideas but good readers and good listeners use them both at the same time.  They are not difficult to understand.

Top-down processing
using your knowledge of the world in general to understand what you read or hear.  For example, if you know that penguins live in the Antarctic, you know that a text about them will not mention North Africa but you will be alert to words like snow, ice, Weddell Sea and so on.
using your knowledge of typical text layout and staging to locate specific information.  You did this at the beginning of the guide.
using your knowledge of the topic to help you understand.  For example, if you are an expert gardener, you will know how to do a lot of things with plants and can recognise words like dibber, wheelbarrow, shears, espalier etc. so can focus on the new material in a text (spoken or written).
Bottom-up processing concerns using your formal linguistic knowledge of:
the pronunciation of English to distinguish, e.g., between pin and bin.
lexis and how it is pronounced to understand meaning in a written or spoken text.
intonation to understand a speaker's emotional state and intention.
the grammar of the language to distinguish, e.g., between
    He arrived
    He has arrived
conjunctions, cohesive devices such as pronouns and sequencers to identify connections and relationships between ideas.


Teaching implications

thinkwrite Task 4: Think what these might be.  Then click here to compare your list.

There are lots of guides on this site which you can follow to learn more about reading and listening in English.  A good place to start is the initial plus section.  That has a sections on understanding and teaching all four skills.
In addition, there are exercises in the section for learners of English designed to help them improve their reading speeds.  Click here to go there (new tab).

self test

Self-test questions

Before you go on, make sure you can answer these questions.  If you can't, go back to the sections which give you trouble.

If you are happy with your progress, go on.


Tests and practice for TKT

Test 1 A matching task
Test 2 A 10-item quiz

Return to the Module 1 index: back
or go on to the next guide which is to productive skills.