Weak listening comprehension is one of the things that discourages students the most. Young learners who don’t understand what they’re hearing will just tune out and not participate. For adult learners, it can be downright frustrating. Unlike children, they want to understand more, they need to understand, whether their goal is to learn English for business or pleasure.
This is why it is absolutely essential to include activities that specifically target your students’ needs and help them improve their listening comprehension skills. Songs are probably the most popular choice among ESL teachers, because they're so easy to use in class, but videos and podcasts are very big today. However, the problem is not what you give your students to listen to; it’s the how.
Here are some suggestions and strategies that will surely boost your students’ listening:
There are over 150 Songs and Lyrics worksheets available at BusyTeacher.org, and you may choose any that suit your students' level and needs. Most exercises include fill in the gaps, comprehension questions, word order or sentence order. No matter which worksheet you use, or if you decide to make your own, keep in mind these essential points to ensure the listening exercise is effective:
Always introduce the song with some background information on the artist or band, the topic covered in the song, or the historical context. Here are some examples of worksheets that include great warm-up exercises:
This Used to Be My Playground by Madonna – Although children’s pastimes are not mentioned in the song, this warm-up activity is a great introduction to the topic of the song.
Introduce key vocabulary or expressions
If the song you choose is loaded with words, idioms, or expressions your students might not understand, it’s highly recommended that you go over them before listening to the song. This worksheet for Where Is the Love by Black-Eyed Peas provides a list of words and expressions the students may not be familiar with, but it’s better to review these concepts before the listening to enhance comprehension.
The first time students listen to the song they should be required to get the general idea or the gist of what the artist or band is trying to say.
For the second listening you may require your students to complete a gap-filling or matching exercise, but it must be the type of exercise that provides some information, which your learners must then complete or organize. In the worksheet for I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing By Aerosmith, there are different exercises like these.
For the optional third listening, and if time allows, you may ask your students to answer more open-ended comprehension questions, or even discussion questions that specifically relate to the information provided in the song. In the above mentioned worksheets, there are several suggestions for comprehension questions, as well as some that are great for sparking discussion.
If you choose to use the conversations or dialogues that are usually provided in the audio material that comes with course books, make sure you follow the same steps: warm up, introduce vocabulary, first listening, second listening and exercise, and third listening or discussion. It’s also a great idea to follow up with a role play where students pair up and have a similar conversation.
Videos literally come in all shapes and sizes; the variety of material available in some type of video format is astounding, from short news pieces on CNN.com to entire movies. The advantage of video material is that students not only listen to the information that is being presented, they also have images to accompany their listening, which provides better chances for comprehension. If you want to use video to boost your learners’ listening skills, the first thing you must do is choose the right video.
How do I choose a video?
First, consider your students’ needs. Are they business people who want to do business in English? Any of the short business news videos available on YouTube or CNN.com will do nicely. But what if your students are teens? You may wish to show them an interview of their favorite pop star. What about the length of the video? The more advanced your learners are, the longer the video should be, although for practical purposes, a video shown in class for targeted listening practice should be no longer than 15 minutes.
After you’ve chosen the right video for your class, prepare the warm up activities and exercises just as you would for songs.
Podcasts are all the rage right now. These usually consist of an audio file, usually in MP3 format, which is downloaded to an iPod or MP3 player. Now, podcasts may go from 20 minutes to 2 hours, so this type of listening is recommended for advanced students. Most usually sound like pre-recorded radio shows, with interviews, discussions, or commentaries on recent events, and there are podcasts about any topic you can think of, from hobbies to popular TV shows, sports to technology. The selection process is similar to how you’d choose a video. Make sure it’s appropriate for your students in terms of length, content, and level of difficulty.
The added advantage of a podcast is that it can be downloaded by your students and listened to for homework. Just provide the link for download and the worksheet or comprehension questions, and assign! Pick an interesting podcast, and it'll be one assignment your students will be looking forward to.
As mentioned earlier the important thing is not what they listen to, it’s how. Of course, you may wish to show them an entire movie just for fun. But using audio or video material solely for the purpose of improving listening skills requires planning and a great deal of thought. Only after you've thoroughly planned a great listening exercise, only then, you’ll be ready to press PLAY.