There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the teaching of the IELTS listening exam.
There are many advocates in favor of teaching the listening and there are just as many who are against it, stating that learners can teach themselves. I am of the former opinion – it is necessary to teach IELTS listening – even if it is to just introduce the exam. While you would expect your learners to learn alone at home and further their listening skills, it is essential to have a teacher with them, guiding them and giving them tips and tricks on how to master the listening section. Those who say that you cannot teach listening for exam purposes are misinformed.
Listening is an important skill in life and it is a major part of the IELTS exam. Listening is not only restricted to the listening section of the exam, but it is also evident in the spoken section too where the learners are expected to listen carefully to questions and respond accordingly. The advantages of teaching listening skills in any ESL environment whether it is for an exam prep class or general English classes outweigh the disadvantages. The greatest thing that learners will take away with them after learning specialized listening skills is to filter the information they hear and choose the appropriate information to use – something necessary in an exam such as IELTS. Another advantage of having set sessions for listening in an IELTS course is that the teacher will have more control over his or her students. At home learners have the ability to play the recording over and over again – very seldom will they stick to the rules if the do not understand the dialogues, this is detrimental and unrealistic to their learning as in the IELTS exam, candidates can only hear each recording once and therefore this needs to be monitored.
Become an Expert in Preparation to IELTS Listening
Know What to Expect
Like all tests an ESL teacher teaches they need to know the test inside out. The IELTS exam is not similar to any other listening exam and therefore the teacher needs to know it well. Firstly, the teacher should not only study the test, but they should also take the test a few times under exam conditions to really get familiar with it. Most IELTS candidates are adult learners and they want to know exactly what is in the test. Usually adult learners have less confidence when it comes to listening, especially since the IELTS listening is only heard once unlike other exams where the script is heard twice. Before rushing into the listening sit down with your learners and give them all the information they need about the exam. Show them example questions and guide them through each part.
To give you a quick run down of what the listening component of the IELTS exam involves, it contains 4 parts with each part having a total of 10 questions each. It also pays to explain the different kinds of listening they could hear and also the various kinds of answers that they could come across. It is important for them to know this from the very beginning because if there are going to do any self-study at home they need to know what kind of listening exercises to focus on more. The following question types may appear in the IELTS listening exam:
- Map/plan/diagram labeling
- Note/table/form/flow chart summary completion
- Sentence completion.
Encourage Students to Listen to Real English More
Listening to real spoken English as opposed to scripted dialogue is the perfect way for learners to improve their listening skills. Stress the importance of listening to everything they can get their hands on and encourage them to listen to the news in English. Listening to the news in English is a great way to get used to native speaker speeds, hearing different accents, it will also help boost their vocabulary and of course they are doing active listening – at the end of the day it is more interesting to listen to the news than past exam recordings. You can also give your students more motivation to listen to the news by explaining that following the news and keeping up to date with current affairs will help them with speaking as they will have more interesting information to use. To monitor whether you students listen to the news you could occasionally ask them to recap some of the things they have heard in each session. Listening to the news will also help the learners when it comes to listening to things only once as they will have to concentrate more on what is being said.
Give Useful Tips
Many teachers just jump straight into the listening and focus on the exercises that could be included. While this of course is helpful to the learner you should continuously offer your students tips on how to master the listening. This will build student confidence and of course they will have more faith in what you are doing with them in the classroom. Just be careful not to bombard them with tip after tip in one lesson. If they hear all the tips at once, they surely will struggle to remember to implement them when it comes to the exam. Instead offer one or two tips every lesson such as answers are always in the correct order of the listening script. Once you have given them certain tips constantly remind them until you see that they are practicing them without your guidance. Ask your students to recall tips from the last session to facilitate autonomous learning and to prevent them always relying on you to feed them to them.
Teach the Art of Prediction
One thing that students find difficult about the listening exam is that they have to combine three skills at once. They are expected to read the question, listen to the script and of course write the answer. A short amount of time is given between the listening exercises and the students need to learn to use this time wisely. Ask them to read the questions before listening to the text. Reading the questions before the recording has been read will not only take the pressure off, but it will also give the students the chance to build on their schematic knowledge and predict what is being said. This is actually a difficult skill to master and needs to be implemented from day one. Predicting will give them clues as to what they should be listening for whether it be a name, place or number for example.
The great thing about the IELTS listening exam is that the answers are always in the order of the recording; however, they often come quickly after each other and as they only get to hear the recording once they could easily miss one question because they were focusing too much on the previous one. Therefore the teacher must teach the students to not read only one question at a time but to read two or three. You can also stress that it does not really matter whether they get one question wrong as each question is worth only one point, but it does matter if they lose track of where they are for example the learner is still stuck on question three but the script has moved on and is already at question 5.
Taking Notes and Short Hand
Teaching your students the art of note taking is a useful skill not only for the IELTS exam but for real life as well, especially in further academic studies. Spend a little bit of time (10-15 mins) per session listening to different real scripts (i.e. lectures, interviews, news clips etc) and stress the importance of just writing down the main words and figures. For the first time, do the exercise with your students on the board so they can get an idea that it is not necessary to write down everything word for word. Giving the learners different real scripts will also benefit them in the actual listening exam as they may hear a variety of different accents including accents from non-native English speakers. Also, taking notes will benefit the students because it takes off all the pressure of writing all the answers down in their full forms as they are given 10 minutes at the end of the listening to transfer the answers to the answer sheet. After having practiced taking the notes get your students to verbally put them back together again to form a coherent script – this will help prove that you do not need every single word to get the gist of what is being said.
Identifying Key Words
Learning to identify key words in a question is a skill that should not only be reserved for the listening section but it can also be transferred to the other sections of the exam. Being able to identify key words will enable listeners to listen for particular information, similar to that of scanning in reading. If a student can identify key words, they will have a better chance of being able to answer the question correctly, especially as there are often small words that mean nothing alone - but sometimes these ‘small words’ act as key words because they completely change the meaning of the sentence, for example: Mingling with businesspeople to network is not a modern idea – we could be fooled into thinking that words such as mingling, businesspeople or network could be the key words, but in fact they are not, the key word in this sentence is not. The word ‘not’ will never be the obvious choice for learners; however, as a word it has more significance than any of the other words in the sentence when it comes to understanding the whole meaning of the sentence. Examiners often use smaller words as traps - it is their way of separating the average candidates from the excellent ones. The word ‘not’ although mediocre in appearance changes the sentence completely, giving it a negative meaning. More often than not learners will overlook such small words and write them off as insignificant and pay no heed to it, which of course will result in them answering the question incorrectly. Before even listening, give your learners a set of questions where there are obvious key words and ask them to underline which word they believe is the most important in the question and the one that will affect the answer – after the teacher has demonstrated this, they should pick it up in no time. Encourage a class discussion as to way the key word is important. Choose one of the questions and have part of the recording with the answer for the question being focused on to listen to. Ask the students to write the correct answer and then discuss again whether they chose the right key word or not. After having practiced this a few times with more obvious key words give the students a set of questions like the abovementioned one with less obvious key words. You can choose whether to model the underlining of key words or not, I prefer not to do so as to let my students see the mistakes they are making and highlight the importance of words such as ‘not’.
Students often find listening the hardest skill to master due to their general lack of confidence and the stress that is involved listening. Help improve your students’ active listening skills to master the IELTS once and for all.
Once they feel confident with the listening section, they will feel ready to take on the rest of the exam.