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Information transfer (Palmer, 1982)

Changing information from one form to another.


  • To learn and practise language in a written or spoken text by putting it into another form


  • Information is reorganised by students into another form, for example a chart, grid, diagram or picture
  • Student focus – focus on the message
  • Language modes – can be designed for any of the language modes (receptive or productive)
  • Other features can be varied (student arrangement, information distribution, etc)


For receptive language modes (whakarongo, pānui, mātakitaki):

  • Students read, listen to or view an appropriate text, talk or video excerpt (This is the ‘input’)
  • During or after the input, students complete a diagram or chart, etc, that reorganises the information into another form

For productive language modes (kōrero, tuhituhi, whakaatu):

  • Students are given a chart or diagram of information (This is the ‘input’)
  • After studying this, they produce a piece of writing, a formal talk or informal conversation that conveys this information in complete sentences

The forms that the information can be reorganised into or from include maps, plans, grids, tables, diagrams, charts, diaries, calendars, lists, and forms. (Palmer, 1982)

Teacher considerations

You need to choose the appropriate form for the text chosen (for example: a grid or a diagram, depending on the content).

Make sure that the students can’t just copy chunks without understanding them by requiring a different organisation to the text.

Information transfer charts can highlight the structure of a text to make it easier for students to follow.

If focusing on specific vocabulary or grammar, make sure this language is used in places in the text where the most information occurs. If the language is in an important part of the text, it is more likely to be used. (Nation, 1989, p. 61)

It is best to use this technique receptively (students listening or reading) before using it productively (students speaking or writing). (Nation, 1989, p. 61)


If using this technique for listening practice with the teacher speaking, the teacher can draw attention to frequent words or important topic words by giving a quick definition or by repeating the word. (Nation, 1989, p. 61)

Use charts that can be used for any text of a certain topic type (for example: physical structure or instructions). Headings should be those relevant to the topic type, for example, for a description of a physical structure (such as a plant or a form of government), headings would be “parts”, “locations”, and “functions”. For an instructions text, headings would be “materials and tools”, “steps”, “cautions”, and “results”. (For more information on topic types, see Nation, 1989; Johns & Davies, 1983; or Franken, 1987.)

Repeat information transfer tasks using the same topic type (for example, instructions) but different texts so that students become familiar with the structure of a topic type. As they become more familiar with the topic type, the language can become more difficult because they will be able to predict better from their knowledge of the topic type.

Once students are familiar with the technique, they can be taught to use self-questioning to make their own chart for similar texts. For example, four questions can be used with any text that gives instructions – What materials and tools are needed? What are the steps? What do we have to be careful about at each step? What is the result of the steps? (Nation, 1989, pp. 63–64) See “Complete a chart using topic type” under examples Panui (see below).

Information transfer can be used with combining tasks, cooperatively (where students work together with the same information), in a superior-inferior arrangement (where a teacher, student or other has the information), or individually.



Complete a diagram

Level 2
The teacher (or other) describes a family while students complete a family tree diagram (Achievement objective 2.1 – communicate about relationships between people).

Examples in Māori:


Listen and draw

Level 2
Listen and draw – draw or place symbols on a weather map while listening to a weather forecast (Achievement objective 2.4 – communicate about time, weather, and seasons).

Example in Māori:

Follow the links to sample maps and weather symbols, and to transcripts of several weather forecasts from Te Kāea, as broadcasted daily on Māori Television.

Note: you will need to simplify the language for students at level 2 or teach some of the key weather forecast vocabulary before you begin this task.

You can use the Te Kāea forecasts as samples of authentic texts, and compose simpler weather forecasts at a level suitable for the age and proficiency of your students.

You will find recent weather forecasts (and news bulletins) on the Māori Television site.

Level 3
Listen and draw – label a map or classroom seating plan (suggested text type – maps and plans).

The teacher (or a proficient student) has the key map or plan (mahere matua) with all features on it, and describes the various features that are on the map/plan and where they are located.

The other student or students have a version of the map/plan that is missing some of the features on the key map/plan.

While listening to the description of the full features, the students draw in the missing features on their maps/plans.

They can ask the speaker questions to help them complete the task, but may not look at the key map/plan.


Complete a chart

Level 2

Each student tells the class their food preferences and all complete a chart like this:




Breakfast food



(Nation, 1995, pp. 92–93)
(Achievement objective 2.3 – communicate about likes and dislikes, giving reasons where appropriate)

Example in Māori:

Level 7
Students listen to a recording of a Māori news broadcast and complete a chart of key points.

You can access Te Kāea online.


Complete a chart according to topic type

Students read a text that gives instructions and complete a chart that is general enough to be used for any instruction text:

Materials and tools


Need to be careful about



For example, instructions for making a hāngi, making poi, fishing and food gathering, preparing and presenting food (level 5 suggested topic).

Examples in Māori:

You could use the pictures that show the steps to make a poi to generate written instructions from an initial speaking task. The written instructions can then be read by another student and transferred into chart form.

The book Taku Poi E (Te Rōpū a Huia, 1998, Ngā Kete Kōrero) is a useful addition to this task. It provides some of the key vocabulary in very simple sentences.

Here is a possible sequence of tasks using the poi pictures (or any other sequence of pictures which depict the parts of a process):

  1. Distribute the Te mahi poi pictures. Students each describe their picture without showing it to others. They put themselves in order.
  2. They then each describe their part of the process, while a partner writes down what each speaker says.
  3. The students then edit the writing in their pairs to produce a clear set of instructions for making a poi – instructions that do not rely on the original pictures for clarity.
  4. These written instructions can then subsequently be read, and the key elements put onto a grid, as for Te mahi kapu tī.

Split information transfer

Level 7
Each student is given a different news report of the same incident and completes a single chart that requires information from both texts. For example, record the reporting of a single news event from Te Kāea and use these as input to the task. (Achievement objective 7.5 – read about and recount actual or imagined events in the past)

You can access Te Kāea online.



Students interview each other about a familiar topic or something they have studied. The questioner has an information transfer diagram or chart to fill in by asking questions.

Level 2
Students ask each other simple questions about their whānau and fill in a chart. (By the end of level 2, learners can ask simple questions and give simple information.)

Example in Māori:

Level 4
Students ask each other questions and fill in a chart about what is needed for a hui, where the student being interviewed has information from advertisements and other written material. (Achievement objective 4.5 communicate about the quality, quantity, and cost of things)

Prepared talks

Students use an information transfer chart (for example: a flowchart of a process) to speak from, in a presentation to a group or the class.

This can be run as a 4/3/2 activity to give more practice, where the students are required to look at the chart less each time. (Nation, 1995, p. 94)

This can also be done using pictures of a process, such as a Series of pictures (Word, 416 kB)which show the stages in making something.

Example in Māori:

You will find other life cycle diagrams in the Pūao series of books (go to www.huia.co.nz and search for the following titles: Te Toke, Te Rō, Te Pūpū, Te Pūngāwerewere, Te Wētā, Te Titiwai, Te Rango, Te Kapokapowai).


Write from a chart according to text type

Level 3
Using information from a chart (such as the topic type example above), students write instructions for simple routines, such as getting ready for school. (Achievement objective 3.1 – communicate, including comparing and contrasting, about habits and customs)

Level 6
Write instructions for performing or making something in one of the Māori creative arts, working from a chart or pictures. (Achievement objective 6.1 – give and follow instructions)


Information transfer requires students to process information deeply which is good for learning. They show they have understood the information deeply enough to adapt it. (Nation, 1989, p. 61)

If using charts based on generalisable topic or text types, “The ability to fit a text into an existing schema has a positive effect on learning unknown vocabulary contained in that text.” (Nation, 1989, p. 64)

Especially where listening is the input, the repetition of similar grammatical structures within a meaningful, communicative context is valuable for learning.

Evaluation of the task

Did the students need to reorganise the information to complete the task?

Did the students need to use the words or structures that you wanted them to practise?


  • Franken, M. (1987). Self-questioning scales for improving academic writing. Guidelines 9, (1), 1–8.
  • Johns, T. & Davies, F. (1983). Text as a vehicle for information: the classroom use of written texts in teaching reading in a foreign language. Reading in a Foreign Language 1 (1), 1–19.
  • Nation, I. S. P. (1989). Language Teaching Techniques. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 2. (p. 28 – listening; p. 54 – speaking; pp. 61–64 – reading, p. 115 for a list of topic types and their information-structure constituents)
  • Nation, I. S. P. (1995). Teaching Listening and Speaking. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 14.
  • Palmer, D. M. (1982). Information Transfer for Listening and Reading. English Teaching Forum 20, (1), 29–33.
    (This article contains a large number of useful and practical suggestions, in the ESL context.)

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