Teaching Listening


Have you ever noticed that a huge number of coursebooks don’t really teach learners how to listen, but rather just give them lots of practice of this? Listening is one of the more difficult skills to teach and to learn, but we can give learners the tools they need to become better listeners. Why not try some of the following approaches the next time you have a listening task in class.

  1. Get the learners to predict what they are going to hear.

Prediction is something that we all naturally do before we listen to something. If someone approaches you with a face like thunder you can guess the kind of thing you are going to hear. However, when it comes to language learning and listening in class, learners often need to be reminded to do this. Not only does prediction give the learners a reason to listen but it has been proven that by thinking about a topic before listening to it, they will be able to understand more of what they hear.

  1. Stop learners worrying about unknown vocabulary

Do you often find that learners focus more on what they don’t understand than what they do? This can often lead them to feeling blocked when listening. Try replacing the unknown words in a recording with “blah” and tell the learners that the blah words are not important. The learners will often find that they can now ignore the “blahs” and still answer questions about this listening correctly, demonstrating to them that they don’t need to understand every word when they listen to something.

  1. Help learners deduce meaning from context

Working out the meaning of words through the context is a vital skill in both listening and reading. Learners are sometimes unaware of how they can work out the meaning of a word through the context in which it appears. One way to demonstrate this is by replacing words in a text with a “funny word”. I like to use cheese. This word can replace whatever you like; nouns verbs adjectives etc. For example, “I would like to book a cheese room for 2 nights please”. The learners can then listen to the recording and try to work out the meaning of the funny words. They do not need to be able to give you the exact word that your funny word has replaced, but simply be able to explain what it means or give a translation into their language. This activity can also easily be replicated as a reading activity. This will help your learners develop the skill of working out what words mean rather than just saying that they don’t understand them.

  1. Making learners aware of distractors and discourse markers.

If like me you have a large number of learners preparing for Cambridge exams, you will surely know that the listening exams are full of distractors that cause no end of problems for our learners. To help learners with this I employ a test-teach-test approach. I ask the learners to complete the first 2 parts of a listening task without any help. These must include distractors or discourse markers (it helps if these are challenging to highlight the importance of recognising these things). Next the learners are given the tape script and asked to highlight the part in which the answer appears. Now you can draw their attention to the distractor or discourse marker that resulted in one answer being correct. You can now discuss with the class the effect these have when we are listening. Finally, you can now complete the rest of the listening exam with the learners hopefully spotting the traps and choosing the correct answers.

  1. Listening doesn’t always need a recording

In the classroom learners are always listening (or they should be) either to each other or the teacher. This means that you don’t need a recording to get your learners listening better. One way to do this is to take a paragraph from a text that the learners have recently studied (I like to use a piece of writing that the class has been working on) and divide it into sentences. The learners are then given a sentence each and have to put themselves in the correct order by reading the sentences to each other and listening to each other. You can make this competitive by putting the learners in teams and making it a race to reorder the paragraph. This is a great way to develop listening skills and to review other things you have recently done in class at the same time!

If you have found these any of these activities useful and would like to see some of them in action plus much more, why not sign up for our Saturday session focusing on receptive skills on the 16th of March!

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