Tuesday, 10 May 2016

#ELTCHAT summary : Making Listening Tasks Interesting.

#ELTchat summary , Wednesday 4th May 2016

Eltchat is a great time of the week when teachers come together to share ideas and learn from each other. Last Wednesday was the second in the new time format of 7 pm BST. Check your time here http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html. It worked really well, as moderators Angelos Bollas, Hada Litim and I were able to connect with like-minded teachers from around the world. We welcomed several new members and hope they will be happy to join us again in the future.
The discussion this week centred around the need to make listening tasks useful and interesting for our students.

I kicked off the chat with a complaint about a listening I had done which didn't particularly excite my learners. I am an experienced teacher, had found an authentic listening which wasn't too long, had prepared my listeners with a quiz and discussion on the topic of the lesson, which itself interested my learners, yet still found it fell flat, .


  • Angelos suggested that many students find listening boring and ask why they can't just do it at home.
  • Sometimes the length of the track can be a stumbling block in a foreign language.
  • thebestticher said that she had often encountered the problem of students finding the listening difficult- and thus 'boring'. Angelos  said that he had found this with some of his exam students too.
  • Listening is a difficult skill in general, not just for EFL students.
  • manal3abas believes that time helps too. Eventually the ears become more comfortable with the target language. This is a good point. I always find that my students benefit from a couple of lessons before I expect them to do any listening other than to the teacher.
  • Hada suggested asking the students why, and how, they need to listen, to understand their needs.
  • SarhandiSuhail thought that students disengage when the topic has no relevance to them
  • Students only want to listen to native speakers- not others with accents.(I think we all agreed that this view has no place in today's classroom.)

Pre-listening ideas

Perhaps an integrated skills lesson works best, so that the listening is scaffolded by other activities.
NajafiMonireh uses pictures, or visuals of some form or another, to elicit interest.
manal3abas thought that the introductory task is as important as the listening task itself. He uses related questions to elicit any necessary vocabulary. 
sigardit suggested a reading text to start with, and a clear connection to the listening which follows.
She also suggested pre, while, and after, listening activities worked best. 
I suggested word clouds as a way of predicting the content.
SarhandiSuhail worried about prediction exercises with low level students, but others thought that there were important for all levels, and that, if carefully graded, there shouldn't be a problem.

Teach not Test

Hada suggested that we perhaps concentrate too much on testing our students listening skills, yet forget to teach them how to listen first. Her idea was to break listening down into utterances, which also helps with speaking. Angelos thought that students might find it a bit odd to listen too many times. As they are learning, rather than using the text for an exam, you could alternate the tasks.
Some ideas would be to listen for: general idea, specific facts, focus on language, listen for stressed words....
I like to use nursery rhymes, or rap, to work on stress, elision and assimilation at the beginning of any course. This helps students identify  the important parts of a message and think about content over form.
Unfortunately, according to thebestticher, many teachers don't teach listening well, so you could inherit students with poor listening skills.


JACKxELT asked about a course book with good listening resources but they seem to be few and far between. The tasks are often artificial and the songs are often out of date. Sometimes even the accents are faked :-) thebestticher likes to swap the songs in the book for more up-to-date material as she has had some truly horrid experiences, however, a word of warning-check the vocabulary first! TeresaBestwick  said that many books for teens no longer include songs as they date so fast.
TeresaBestwick mentioned the F2F series which labels pronunciation spots as 'Help with Listening'
Hada offered http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/teaching-adults/resources/activities as a useful place to find material.

Finding material for exam classes means that mostly course book material  has to be used, to 'mimic' or practise for the exam. Also, depending on the exam, the numbers of times the students can listen is strictly controlled. How natural are the skills we ask of our  academic exam students anyway?
HancockMcDonald have some excellent help with pronunciation and listening  on their website http://hancockmcdonald.com/materials/9
ITLegge wondered about a creative approach: Listen and write a note, draw the scene etc. Jack had tried this out with his students and found that it was successful.

Authentic Material-is it better?

emilytesol wondered whether authentic listening materials could be more interesting for students, and asked for good examples. 
Podcasts, songs,videos and radio shows, documentaries, news and recipe videos were all mentioned.
DavinnaArtibey used a scifi trailer as a gapfill for her teens, which they enjoyed. Content is important for teens- and not just teens!
http://www.rong-chang.com/listen.htm from sigardit and an itunes app called learn English by Listening from teachingright
ITLegge is a great believer in using student-generated material with her teens, as is SarhandiSuhail, who  thinks that bringing their life into the classroom motivates them.
sophie_cy thought that creating their own podcasts would aid the integration of tech in the classroom too. Or give students texts (songs or excerpts from a video) and ask them to create the listening tasks.
TeresaBestwick suggested http://lyricstraining.com/
Word associations can come from songs, especially if chosen by the students. Students can also record themselves to listen back to for homework. I always record my business students doing their presentations, so that they can critique them as homework, for content and intelligibility.

Don't forget the TTT!

Teachers are, themselves, a surprisingly good source of listening for the class. Perhaps the students could summarise the TT for other students. They could then record their summary in WhatsApp or create a podcast for their classmates as suggested by sigardit. 

TeresaBestwick said that her colleague mixes TTT with kinasthetic listening - and has a keyword that when heard, makes students stand up-turn around-sit down.

How About Video?

Are videos better for listening?  NajafiMonireh thought so, as he found them more interesting. emilytesol thought that non-verbal clues could aid understanding- but could they really be considered listening material? Perhaps watching with a task and the sound turned down could aid confidence and show how much can be understood from the visual clues alone.
SarhandiSuhail liked the fact that videos are contextualised. 
https://edpuzzle.com/ is a great way to assign videos to students.
Jamie Keddie has ideas on how to allow students to make their own videos or work with YouTube videos made by other young people..
Students can  choose a short video and create a simple listening for the others with a few questions.

Towards the end of the chat, mattledding offered http://norvig.com/chomsky.html  a review of receptive skills- the listening section is at the end.
We were also offered the following in the closing minutes http://blog.tlnet-vle.com/

Thanks also to Huw for professor Lynch's keynote on the subject: https://youtu.be/ii76U06svbo

All in all- this was a very busy #ELTChat with more than 350 individual tweets. Looking forward to catching up with everyone-old and new members, next week at 7pm.BST
Remember you can check your time at the top.


  1. Colleagues may find the Prof Lynch Keynote on L2 listening of relevance \ interest. Enjoy:-) Huw https://youtu.be/ii76U06svbo