* TAVI and TALO: Reading and ELT

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In the 1980s there was an explosion of new methods in ELT. It wasn’t just that “Communicative Language Teaching” had started to take hold; there were people like Stevick, Rinvolucri, Faneslow, Asher (Total Phsical Response), Gattengo (The Silent Way), and Lozanov (Suggestopedia) all really rocking the boat. Someone who, IMHO, deserves more recognition for his many contributions to this new wave is Tim Johns. Tim is probably best known for his pionerring work in CALL, and especially in concordancing: he wrote a concordance program that ran on the Sinclair Spectrum PC (48 Ks memory!) in 1982, and later he wrote MicroConcord which I had the pleasure of collaborating with him on. But he also developed the idea of TAVI and TALO with Davis, and that’s the subject of this short post. It’s just a reminder of something that I think got somewhat lost, and deserves to be taken into account in discussions of teaching reading in ELT. I was pleased to see in a paper I marked recently that Lachlan Page took it as an important part of his paper, which also looked at Content and Language Integrated Learning. So below is an abridged version of what Lachlan says about TAVI and TALO. Lachlan is studying the Distance Learning MA in Applied Linguistics at Leicester University, is a Teacher of English at Universidad EAN and the British Council in Bogotá, Colombia.


Defining TALO and TAVI

Johns and Davis (1983) looking at the role a text plays in language learning, developed two approaches for reading a text. Firstly, they looked at TALO or Text as a Linguistic Object, where the text is “an object of study, its principle purpose being to exemplify the syntactic structures of the target language, and to be a source for the ‘quarrying’ of new vocabulary” (Johns & Davies, 1983: 2-3). However, Johns and Davis argue that learning should contain a purpose and that texts in the language classroom should act as “vehicles for social and economic contacts and for the transmission of ideas” (p. 1). Consequently, they propose an alternative to TALO which looks at a Text as a Vehicle for Information, or TAVI. This is where understanding the text is the main priority and the text should have some relevance to the students. Because of this, Johns and Davies (1983: 4) add that where “where possible the texts will be selected not by the language teacher but by the students themselves”.

Looking at both TAVI and TALO it is possible to see positives and negatives. In my opinion, TAVI has more advantages as it provides practical motivation for the students when they are able to choose their own text to read. Also, because it develops students’ social and economic contact with the ability to transmit ideas, it is more akin to situations the students will encounter in the real world. As John and Davies (1983) point out it also gives students a meaningful reasons or purpose to read the text, which for me is important in students’ motivation in the classroom. Au (1998) agrees, proposing that children excel better when language learning has a meaningful purpose. Because of this, the TAVI approach has a distinct advantage.

Comparing TALO and TAVI

In comparing TALO with TAVI, Johns and Davis (1983: 3) propose five points that can be used. These are will be outlined below.

1. The principles underlying the selection of texts

In choosing a text for use in the classroom, the teacher needs to decide what purpose the text will have in the class. The selection of a text for TALO would be of general interest and may have to be modified and graded to fit the level of the class and to provide the correct syntactic structure that the teacher wants to teach. On the other hand, with the TAVI approach the selection of the text depend on the students’ purpose, immediate or deferred. In my opinion, if the students’ purpose is immediate, it is more beneficial for the student to select the text, so that the reading activities will be more relevant and beneficial to the students’ needs.

2. Preparatory activities for the reading of text

When teaching reading skills, contextualising and engaging the students’ interest in the text is vital. Usually with the TALO method, a list of difficult vocabulary is studied. This is usually vocabulary that the student, at that level, would not necessarily know (Johns & Davies, 1983). This is usually in the form of a text box with the unfamiliar word and a definition or synonym. With the TAVI method, pre-reading activities take on a more practical, important role. These activities are designed to activate the students’ interest and establish the purpose of the text for the student. With regards to preparatory activities, it could be argued that TALO provides students with help when learning vocabulary from context. This is useful as Krashen (1989: 446) suggests, when commenting on Nagy’s (1997) research, that not all words are learnt at once “when seen in context”.

3. Work with text

After the teacher or students has selected a text and a pre-reading activity has been done, the language student will move on to working with the text. In general terms during this stage the TALO approach concentrates on the language, what is not known and on points of detail. Conversely, the TAVI approach looks at information, overall meaning, and what is known (Johns & Davies, 1983: 10). This is where TAVI has a distinct advantage as it motivates the students to concentrate on things they know. TALO on the other hand has a more unnatural approach in that students concentrate on language structure rather than meaning.

4. The type of teaching/learning interaction involved

With TALO, the style of teaching is generally made up of a monologue by the teacher, or a questions and answers activity between students and the teacher. This limits the opportunity that the students have to speak or to think about the task at hand or the content of the text. On the other hand, with TAVI the idea is that the students work together to take notes, ask the teacher questions, and discuss the text. This not only gives the students speaking practise in the class, but it also prepares them for learning situations they will face outside of the classroom (Johns & Davies, 1983). Again, this type of interaction is valuable for students to develop their conversational skills and to also engage the learner to have an authentic conversation. This is something which Watts-Taffe & Truscott (2000) cite as an important factor in language learning.

5. Follow-up activities to the reading of the text

After reading a text it is common that students will undertake a follow-up task or activity. Using the TALO approach these activities will take on the form of general comprehension questions or questions with regards to grammatical or lexical structure of the text. The TAVI approach however, deals more with the actual uses a learner may have with a particular text. Johns and Davies (1983) point out four general headings for the reasons a learner might have for reading a text. These are: a) Transfer of information b) The application or explanation of information c) The extension of information d) The application of techniques

We could argue here that TAVI is more beneficial to the student as in gives students the ability to use the text as they would in the real world. For example, the transfer of information might involve reading a text, extracting and summarising information from the text, and then writing a report to be read by senior management in a company.


Au, K. H. (1998). Social constructivism and the school literacy learning of students of diverse backgrounds. Journal of Literacy Research, 30, 297–319.

John 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)

Krashen, S. (1989). We Acquire Vocabulary and Spelling by Reading: Additional Evidence for the Input Hypothesis, The Modern Language Journal, 73: 4, 440-464

Nagy, Anderson R., & Herman P,. (1987) “Learn- ing Word Meanings from Context during Normal Reading.” American Educational Research Journal 24: 237-70.

4 thoughts on “* TAVI and TALO: Reading and ELT

  1. Interesting and informative way to describe the two processes – TALO and TAVI. I had not seen them elsewhere before. Common terms are bottom-up and top-down process.

    Like you said motivation is crucial for reading something, more often than not, students do not have this option of choosing their own texts. The main reason is the fact that interesting texts comes in a language level that is way up to the linguistic repertoire of most students I have. It is a no-win situation when comes to reading. Students are inundated with written texts (including grammar explanations and instructions) but none that really makes they feel like reading, especially the case for my teens.

    Point 1: That is what is usually done. Texts are chosen as a pretext for learning grammar and vocabulary. I believe this is done that way because it is hard to find a text that suits everyone or even a subject that everyone is willing to talk about. Because of that, I tried last semester with my groups that were not using coursebooks a different approach to reading: extensive reading.
    Students chose their own books according to their interesting and level.

    Point 2: There was no need to prepare activities for the texts/books they had chosen themselves. Apart from preparing them to chose their own readers using a comic book, we measured the number of words they did not know and I talk to each learner about the results.

    Point 3: Learners were responsible for reading and understanding the text. They were advised to change the reader if they found that reading was not really enjoyable or if they found more than 2/3 words they didn’t know per page. No one actually felt the need to change the stories they were reading.

    Point 4: Although some advocate that all they need is reading, my learners and I sat and decide what kind of things we could do in other for everyone to share their stories with the group in the following week. We also took the time to assess the interactions and the skills involved, never the language.

    Point 5: I totally agree that TAVI is more beneficial at this point. Sharing stories is something that we do on daily basis. So my learners shared their stories and instead of each one reading one book, we came in contact with many stories.

    The only text I have noticed learners engage so easily as class is stories if we mix it with storytelling. No one can resist a good story. I’ve used One Stop English audio-based stories and multiple-path stories. Both with the support of written texts.

    Thanks Geoff for bringing up the discussion on reading in your most recent post, this made me come and read about TAVI and TALO and I’m glad I did because I haven’t written a post on my blog about the extensive reading experience I had last semester and with this in mind, I think I have something more realible here to begin my reflections. In fact, I already have by assessing what I had done using the 5 points you mentioned in your post. Talk more soon.


  2. Hi Rose,
    Thanks for taking the time to make these valuable points here. I recommend everybody to follow the ping back to your post on extensive reading.


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