Teaching listening skills often presents challenges. This receptive skills is however vital to ensure communication and by following some principles you will make it easier for your students. Developing listening skills means developing the capacity to use known vocabulary and grammar in a real context. You will often find out that even if your students know the grammatical structures and the vocabulary in a listening activity they will find it hard to make sense of it. Once you show them the transcript it all make sense. The problem is that they find it hard to process the meaning of the language at real speed. The best way to help them overcome this common issue is to practise over and over again different listening activities so that they can train their ears to listen. For that reason the exclusive use of target language in the classroom is very important as I mentioned earlier in articles about Target Language. Not only is the use of Target Language important but also the use of an authentic pace while talking. Of course you may exaggerate the pronunciation of some tricky words and pause a bit more often when you teach beginners but under no circumstances should you slow down the way you normally speak. When we watch DVDs or listen to songs we can sometimes use subtitles or even stop the videos or listenings but in real life we simply can’t.
There is a wide range of material at our disposal to help our students improve their listening. Songs, videos, podcasts, listening activities from the textbooks are great resources and are very successful if we follow some key principles.
Songs, videos, podcasts, listening activities from the textbooks are great resources and are very successful if we follow some key principles.
Review the vocabulary and grammatical structures with them before the first listening to ensure they understand the main point of the document. These activities can be match-up activities, card games where one student has one card and the other has the definition or maybe a cloze activity.
For the first listening have your students to focus on background sounds first. These sounds will give them some clues about where the scene takes place. You wouldn’t hear the same types of sounds if you are on the street or over the phone or at a restaurant. For a song have them to focus on the rhythm, beats, rhyming words if any. This first approach should reassure your students and it should help them to understand what kind of document it is. For the first listening the main is to have your students to understand the main idea of the listening document. You don’t need to go too deep for that first listening stage.
After some class feedback about their first findings about the setting, the number of people involved, their gender, their relationships etc. your students should feel ready for a second listening. For the second listening have a worksheet ready where your students will have to complete a gap-filling, a matching exercise or reorder some lyrics but it must anyway be the type of activity that will provide some information.
The third listening should allow your students to answer more open-ended comprehension questions or they can even lead to some discussion. If you work on a song you may even have some debates – Justice in the Hurricane by Bob Dylan.
After your listening activities your lesson may progress to some singing as a follow-up to the song or reproducing an interview, dialogue, weather reports. The main idea you should keep in mind is that your listening activities should lead to some active production where the students will reuse the vocabulary and grammar structures studied.