ESL classroom tools for listening skills

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Hemmingway has probably summed up exactly what happens when some ESL students do listening exercises: they hear, but they never listen. As a trainee or novice ESL teacher, three tools that you can use to improve students’ listening skills are videos, recorded programmes, and personal mp3 listening exercises.

Videos are an enjoyable and motivational way of improving both oral and aural skills. Watch the video before you show it to the students, and make some listening worksheets for the students to complete while they are watching: if it’s a long video, you would be well advised to make several listening worksheets. Each worksheet should have listening questions of the same type: multiple choice (not more than four choices); true or false; cloze test; or open-ended response questions (not more than two or three words).

Make sure that the worksheet covers the whole period of the video being watched: don’t ‘target’ all your questions at any one particular part of the video, e.g. the first or the last five minutes. On completion of the video session, go over the answers and playback the video stopping at the parts that correspond to the answers in the worksheet: it would be a good idea if you made a note (next to the answers) of the times at which the relevant answers occur, e.g. ‘Q1. When are they arriving? Ans: (2:27) On Monday.’ Lastly, don’t play the video more than three times: eventually, you should be playing it only two times.

Recorded programmes can be a very fruitful form of listening activity because you can download almost anything from the internet and use it as a listening exercise: speeches, instructions, news items, personal stories, and so forth. Once you have downloaded the material you require, you will be able to play it back to the class as a listening exercise. If it’s a video that you don’t want the class to see (because you want them to get used to listening without seeing the interlocutors) – just make sure that your computer screen isn’t facing the class, or cover the downloaded programme with a screen saver. You should now follow the same procedure as you would with a video.

Personal mp3 listening exercises on particular subjects that might be causing the students difficulty can be especially useful for the following listening topics: numbers (including fractions – which often get forgotten) calendar dates, years (e.g. 1964), letters of the alphabet, and alphanumeric codes (including car registration numbers). It should be noted that some ESL teachers use a three-stage strategy: pre-listening, while-listening, and post-listening activities: which is fine; however, most students are only interested in doing the listening and checking their answers.

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