And I need to go Public… ;-) Some ideas for Listening Activities

Listen to it!!!!

A couple of weeks ago I taught a class to a very special group of teachers. At the school where I work we have a project (along with the US Department of State)  where school teachers have classes there. The intention of such classes is not only teach / review methodology but also improve the teachers’ English fluency through it. They are a wonderful group of teachers, super motivated, hardworking….

The lesson I taught focused on listening skills. How to teach, why to teach, pre-listening activities, authenticity… I had some technical problems, but we had a great class nonetheless. Towards the end of the class, the activity involved splitting the students into smaller groups and assigning them types of activities and have them come up with a listening activity. I was amazed at the results – so many fantastic ideas! So I asked them if I could post them on the blog, and they kindly agreed. So here it is, their ideas (ideas are about what they had at hand, but they can be easily adapted):

• Show & Tell – Listen to a fashion show, learners identify vocabulary related to clothes they hear. Do a general accountability using the board. Then show images of famous people with different kinds of clothes. There should be at least more than 9 images – 20 or more. Then teacher asks SS to draw a grid with the numbers of the images, and the teacher does a bingo (SS draw a bingo grid and choose 9 of the images.) Teacher reads the description of the clothes, students mark them.

• TPR – Teacher chooses a story suitable to the levels of the class in question. Split the students into 2 groups. Assign a part of the story to each group. SS listen to the story. The students have to re-enact the part that was assigned to them.

One of the students is (privately) told to do things wrong. each group acts one part. The other students have to guess/ say  who is playing it wrong.

• Another TPR – Have learners listen to the audio. The have them stand in a line. Teacher reads true/false questions about the text. Read the questions out loud – I love it! – and students have to give a step forward if the sentence is true. Possible variation for large classrooms is to have them stand up / sit down as you read the sentences.

• Dictation – Choose a movie – well known to the student – maybe it makes a difference?) elicit things about the movie, what happens, the plot, etc… Think (to yourself!!!) questions about the text…. dictate them. The students should write the questions down. Play the video of the part, have students check their own answers.

• Dictocomp – Read the same text 2 or 3 times. Do it very slowly – do it very slowly the first time, Then read it naturally the next time. The teacher can use images, pictures, anything that might help the students. Then the students are instructed to jolt down the key words of what they listen. Have they write down the story – as close to the original as possible.

I was amazed at the activities they came up with, not only for the activities themselves, but especially for considering the setting they are in. They have huge classrooms – 50, 60 students – many of which barely know how to read and write in their L1 properly. And still, they are willing…they are creative. I bow to them.

I hope you guys find their wonderful ideas useful :-)

10 comments on “And I need to go Public… ;-) Some ideas for Listening Activities

  1. Lao The Younger says:

    Thanks for sharing those with us – thanks to be passed on to the teachers themselves as well! Listening is the area that I find most challenging to my teacher self. Can it be taught or can it only be practised? What strategies are there for the student who comes up and says, “I need to improve my listening – what shall I do?”

    It strikes me that the above activities all provide a context within which the students can practise/develop their listening skills. But what do we do when we see that people are struggling within the contexts. If it was writing, we’d take out a pen and make some notes; we’d possibly be able to set them some exercises’ we might even be able to direct them to some texts that incorporate the kind of usage that we are looking for. But listening??? (And reading???)

    Over the years, I have become convinced that listening cannot be taught. What can be taught is vocabulary (an ample vocabulary reduces the opportunities for incomprehension) and comprehension strategies. These include things like asking for repetition, checking clarification (a challenge for many of the students in my current context), directing the flow of speech (i.e. asking people to slow down), recognising the educative force of a spoken text (a grand way of saying “recognising that they can learn from what they are listening to”), recognising intonation patterns, becoming familiar with the elided nature of English, being able to guess what people are talking about and so on.

    But I still feel hopelessly inexperienced at doing these things and fin that students don’t often engage as meaningfully as I would hope. Coursebooks tend to include texts that are designed to test student listening rather than work on these areas (and nine times out of ten the texts are woefully inauthenthic).

    Not sure how to round this off…haven’t even started on my first cup of coffee. So, just thanks for the opportunity to sit back and think about listening and you might also want to pass this site on to your teacher colleagues: Towards the end, Rost directs us to his own site that they may also find useful.

    • The thanks will be passed on to the ones who deserve it Diarmuid, fear not ;-) Some might even have read your comment already, but I’ll make sure to say it in person next Saturday, they’ll be very pleased.

      I have to say I agree with you… I don’t think listening can be taught. It can be improved through practice, practice, practice (which implies lots of exposition to the target language in the appropriate medium ). What we, as teachers can do is teach them strategies (like the ones you mentioned), broaden their vocabulary to avoid that being a cause for difficulty in listening, and helping them handle the frustation (of not understanding everything) and the high expectations (most of my students want to understand every single word, and let’s face it, that’s unrealistic to most of them and quite unnecessary). I have, once in a while, when faced with a group who struggles with listening a bit more than usual, done an activity where I play them various audios of people speaking Portuguese and among them there are many very hard to understand (due to accent, stress patterns, speech problems, etc). My intention in doing so is to raise their awareness that even in their familiar, “safe” L1, we can encounter difficulties decoding spoken language as well. It helps reduce the affective filter.

      I have also been a lot more critical of the activities commonly found and used to “practice” the students’ listening skills – be it from coursebooks or any other source. Yes, they’re mostly just tests, many focus on words and specific data rather than a more holistic, bigger picture comprehension. I’m not saying they should practice listening for specific details, because they may face situations where that will be needed. But on a general, simplistic view of the use the students will make of English in their lives, mostly they’ll need a broader, less specific understanding – wouldn’t you say so? Maybe I’m being naive or taking a too simplistic view on things, but lately I’ve been trying to create and work more with what I believe to be more authentic tasks for listening activities. I try to think of real life situations, what would they need their listening skills for. What kind of response / reaction is expected? And I work from there… Not sure it’s the best thing, but I am experimenting I guess.

      Thanks for the link to Rost’s interview – really interesting, and I like the research he is doing. I have passed it on :-)

      And thanks for your reflection / comment, which made me reflect further… always a good thing. Cheers!

      • philb81 says:

        Hi guys….

        Diarmuid, your points remind me of a presentation I saw recently from Philida Schellekens – (there’s a ppt here: and a pdf here: )

        Philida’s point is that we rarely spend enough time teaching learners how to decode the stream of English syllables that is fired at them… She suggests looking at rules behind pronunciation and how different sounds combine. One activity that she suggests is dictation, followed by an exploration of the mistakes that learners make – I blogged about the talk in a bit more detail here:

  2. seburnt says:

    I like the idea of doing a sort of Show & Tell for both listening and speaking. Now, how is this class connected to the US Dept of State exactly?

    • I like that idea too Ty…

      The connection with the US Department of State is that it’s a joint project of them and Binational Centers here (and I think all over the world as well) to offer professional development to the teachers working in the public system. They’re highly overlooked and untrained, and in most cases the language level is low. So they have this program, where they bring English fellows to spend a year or two in our center and they co-teach these groups of teachers. I’m not sure exactly how the whole joint project works – financially that is. But it’s a great project. They also provide the teachers with the materials, books, resources… everything.

  3. Chiew says:

    I believe that listening can be taught to a certain extent.
    First, the crucial point to note is that it isn’t necessary to understand EVERY word. Learners make this mistake. They hear a word they don’t understand, and, consciously or unconsciously, their mind attempts to analyse it, by which time, they’d miss the following words, and, of course, they lose the context completely by then.
    Second, yes, practice is essential. I always say, remember that a child spends almost two to three years just listening before uttering a correct sentence, so patience, my friend.
    Great ideas, Ceci.

  4. Chiew says:

    I believe that listening can be taught to a certain extent.
    First, the crucial point to note is that it isn’t necessary to understand EVERY word. Learners make this mistake. They hear a word they don’t understand, and, consciously or unconsciously, their mind attempts to analyse it, by which time, they’d miss the following words, and, of course, they lose the context completely by then.
    Second, yes, practice is essential. I always say, remember that a child spends almost two to three years just listening before uttering a correct sentence, so patience, my friend.
    Great ideas, Ceci.

  5. Hey CC-

    Great post, and to respond to other comments here, I certainly think listening can be improved and directly through an inspiring teacher’s efforts, though I agree with Diarmuid that “teaching listening” sounds a bit funny. Either way, one of the biggest tricks is to catch their full attention by pricking their interest ! ;-)

    I think it’s worthwhile to play with all the subtle levels there involved. Don’t know if you’ve seen this TED video, but it’s one of my favs. I’ve thought often of how I might incorporate it into class.

    Cheers !

  6. dalecoulter says:

    Hi Ceci. Nice post, I’ll be sure to make use of some of these with my students this year. Thanks for sharing and thanks to your colleagues for sharing. I find myself here more and more often lately.

    I came across the idea of ‘teaching listening’ as well and it seemed absurd to me that you can teach a person to listen. I agree with Diarmuid’s ideas about teaching vocabulary and strategies. These definitely have a place in the coaching of students as more capable and confident listeners. But what if students are unable to recognise these words in the stream of speech, even if they know the word and have produced on a number of occasions?

    At this point, I think Phil’s point is valuable – the teaching of segmenting. I think the three go hand in hand in the improvement of learners’ ability to listen to and follow spoken English. It’s true to say that ‘you can’t understand every word, and you really shouldn’t try to’, but it provides little relief to the student grappling with the clogged and connected nature of spoken English. Although I don’t want to bash relying on contextual clues to aid understanding, as these are important too.

    Putting the three ideas together: vocabulary, strategies and segmenting teaches students to be more confident when listening to English. At the end of the day, confidence is what I think matters.

    Thanks for the thoughts on listening, thinking about it has prepared me well for the new term and your post has fueled my store of teaching ideas. Do you have any plans to do listening as a receptive-skills focus for DELTA?


    • Hi Dale,

      First, let me apologize for taking a while to respond… we’re right on midterm in my school, and all the marking, checking efolios and dealing with parents has been taking up a lot of my time.

      I see the point you make and as far as I can see, we’re all (you, me, Diarmuid and Phil) on the same page… The best we can do for our students is teach them strategies to deal with problems they may/will encounter when using their listening skills with English. I’m just not sure whether confidence being what matters. I see the great importance it has, but I think developing strategies and skills are still what’s more important. I’ve had a few experiences with very confident students who did poorly at listening activities, despite their confidence. Sometimes too much confidence can actually get in the way, it makes them be more careless.

      My biggest difficulty with my Brazilian students is getting them to notice the clusterins and connected speech. Most expect to hear the words being individually pronounced. But I try to overcome that by raising their awareness and doing activities focusing on that.

      Thanks for stopping by and the comment. :-)

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