We have all pressed play on either the tape recorder or the website associated with our text books.
Listening activities are important for ESL students. They may even be one of the most challenging aspects of language learning and the one that is hardest to ease students into. So of course we love texts that come with listening exercises ready to go for our students. But sometimes the dialogues that come with our curriculum aren’t exactly what we are looking for. Sometimes we want something more interesting, more challenging for our students. That’s when it’s time to get creative. With a little thinking, a little planning, and a little creativity, we can give our students some interesting and memorable listening activities that go far beyond the text book. If you are ready to try something a bit out of the ordinary when it comes to listening exercises, here are a few ideas for you to start with.
Try These 4 Out of the Ordinary Listening Activities for ESL Students
Running for the Mouth
This is a real challenge for anyone, including your ESL students. You’ll need a listening selection (anything will do – the longer it is the harder the challenge – but books on tape and recorded news programs are good choices to start) and a way to play that selection for each team of students. The teams will be competing to be the first to write out a transcript of the listening selection. Set the tape players etc. up on one side of the room with your student teams on the opposite side. On your go, students will take turns running to their tape recorder and listening to a short selection which they will then have to remember. Once each person has what they think they can remember, that player runs back to his team and dictates that selection to the next person in line who writes it down. When she’s done writing what the first player dictates, she runs up to listen to the next portion before running back and dictating that to her team. Play continues this way until the entire selection has been dictated and written down by each team. Point out to your students that even if another team finishes, their time counts, so they should keep going until they are done. Once everyone has finished the dictation, the team with the shortest time wins the race. Give a five second penalty for any errors in the transcription.
If you want this activity to be a little less challenging, have students run to a written selection rather than a recorded passage. Then have them dictate a portion of the written material to their teammate who must listen closely and write it down. The same scoring rules apply.
I don’t know about you, but I love using movies in class, particularly when they tie in to what I am teaching. Having students listen to a movie is fun and challenging. You can do tons of listening activities with a movie clip, but here is a simple one to try that takes very little preparation. Before class, watch the movie clip yourself and note any unfamiliar or interesting vocabulary words used in it. Write them down and then type them up in list form for your students. If you want less of a challenge, keep them in the order you heard them. For more of a challenge, shuffle the order of the words. Give your students the list of words and let them read it over. Review with them how to pronounce each word. Then play the movie clip. Tell students to cross off each word as they hear it. Students will have to listen closely for the specific words and phrases. After the clip, see how many words each person was able to pick out. To further challenge your students, play the movie clip again and have them guess at each word’s meaning based solely on their previous knowledge and its context in the movie clip before letting them look up the actual meaning of each word in a dictionary.
Back on Track
Some people are surprised to hear how much of what we communicate comes through nonverbal means. We all know that some people talk with their hands, but that isn’t the only way information comes across via the body. Facial expressions, mouth movements, and body language all contribute to a listener’s ability to understand what they are hearing. Take those cues away and listening becomes a much greater challenge. (If your students have ever expressed how difficult it is to understand someone over the phone, the lack of these cues is probably the reason for their difficulty.) There are several ways to take away visual clues in listening exercises, but perhaps the easiest is to have students sit back to back and talk to each other. For this exercise, give students a list of ten interview questions or have them come up with their own. Arrange students back to back with their partner, and then give one person in each pair the name of a famous person to role play during the interview. Then have the other student ask his or her interview questions. Once students have finished their interviews, have them switch roles and give the interviewee another identity to assume during the interview. This isn’t the only back to back listening challenge you can do. Just about any conversation or discussion could be done back to back and thus challenge your students’ listening skills.
Minimal Pair Bingo
Before you play this game, you’ll have to help your students understand what minimal pairs are. Explain to them that minimal pairs are words that differ in just one sound (regardless of spelling) such as tap/tat, bee/see, and big/beg. Minimal pairs are particularly useful for listening activities when you target sounds that students struggle to distinguish (lice/rice, sin/seen, bad/dad, etc.). Before you play this game, decide on at least fifty minimal pairs you want to use for the activity. (You can find a useful list of minimal pairs in English here.) Give your students a blank bingo board, and have them fill in each space with one of the words on the left of each pair. Then play Bingo, but instead of calling numbers call words from the right side of each pair. Students must listen carefully to determine if they have written on their bingo card the minimal pair to the word you called. When someone thinks they have bingo, have them read the words they marked to see if they heard your calls correctly.
There are plenty of ways to challenge your students with listening exercises.
Hopefully these exercises will get you thinking out of the box (or the tape recorder) when it comes to listening in class.