Every Level Listening: What Your Students Need to Know and How to Practice It

Every Level Listening
What Your Students Need to Know and How to Practice It

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 14,201 views

No matter what level ESL you teach, your students need to practice their listening skills. For international students, their at home language instruction often downplays the necessity of listening and speaking, so it’s highly important that you include these skills in your lesson plans as soon as possible.

But what are reasonable expectations when it comes to listening skills? Here are some general guidelines to make sure your students are showing skills appropriate for their level of study.

4 Listening Skills and Practice Methods for Beginners

  1. Students at the beginning level are just starting on their English learning journey. Everything is new. And if they have travelled overseas to study English, they may be dealing with culture shock, experiencing new things at every turn.

    Though their language skills are not comprehensive, there are some things your beginnings students should be able to do when they hear English spoken. They should be able to hear and repeat words and be able to distinguish between minimal pairs. (Minimal pairs are sets of words that differ in only one sound such as bat and cat.)

    Help your beginning students be successful at listening activities with these tips. To prepare your beginning students, the room should be quiet. When choosing materials, choose those that use an accent similar to yours. Limit distractions during the activity (though it is necessarily not realistic it will make your students more successful), and be sure to lay out the context if you are showing a movie clip or similar material.

    Here are some activities that are good listening exercises for beginning students.

  2. 1


    Give directions. Give students a simple map that you have drawn. Give them directions from one place on the map to another. As they listen, they should trace their finger along the route you give. If they end up where you were directing them, they listened successfully.

  3. 2


    The classic game of telephone is good for beginning students. Have students sit in a circle and whisper something into the ear of the first person. Each person must repeat what they heard to the next person in the circle, and they’re only allowed to say the phrase one time. Once the last person has heard the phrase, she says it aloud to the rest of the class and you follow by sharing what you actually said to the first person. See if your class can pass the message along without making any errors.

  4. 3

    Minimal Pairs

    Minimal pair bingo. Write at least twelve sets of minimal pairs on the board (though twenty is better) and have students copy them in random order into a blank bingo board. Call out words randomly until someone has five in a row. When they do, check to see that they marked off the words you actually said and not their minimal pairs.

  5. 4

    Listening for Details

    Have students listen for specific words in an audio recording. Give them a short list and have students highlight each word or cross it off when they hear it.

Check 4 Listening Skills and Practice Methods for Intermediate Students

  1. Intermediate students are getting fairly good at communicating in English. Though they do not know everything there is to know, they can navigate their way through a conversation. Intermediate students should be able to follow a series of directions, listen for information both specific (comprehension questions) and general (summary), and they should have at least some success at guessing the meaning of an unfamiliar word from context (upper intermediate).

    When you are doing a listening activity with intermediate students, you may need to play the recording more than one time, which is okay. Try these activities with your intermediate students to practice and improve their listening abilities.

  2. 1


    Give students a series of directions for drawing a picture as you also draw it. Do not tell them the items in the picture but make your instructions very general – draw a circle in the upper left hand corner of the paper. Make a series of lines coming out of the circle. Put a square in the middle of the paper. Put a triangle on top of the square. When you are finished with your picture, have everyone show theirs to the class and see who was best able to draw what you were drawing (in this case a sun and a house).

  3. 2


    Have students do an interview with one of their classmates and introduce the person to the rest of the class. If you like, have the interviewee pretend to be a celebrity or historical figure to change things up a bit.

  4. 3

    Ted Talks

    Show a TED talk to your class and ask some general comprehension questions on it. See how many students are able to answer the questions correctly.

Check 4 Listening Skills and Practice Methods for Advanced Students

  1. Advanced students have had a great deal of practice listening to spoken English. By this time, they should be prepared for realistic listening in their post English studies world. To make your in class exercises more challenging and more like real life, use various accents in your materials, use those designed for native speakers, and see if your students can accomplish the assigned task after listening to the material only one time.

    The following are good exercises for your advanced listening students.

  2. 1


    Listen to a recorded lecture and take notes or complete a blank outline. You can often find these recordings online or in your college library

  3. 2

    Tongue Twisters

    Play the classic game of telephone but add a twist. Instead of a random phrase, start the phone chain with tongue twisters.

  4. 3


    Have students evaluate the plusses and minuses of two products based on a spoken description of each. You might try reading the item descriptions on amazon or another seller’s website.

No matter what level your students are at, listening is an important aspect of language instruction.

Try these activities as well as others to give your students the familiarity they need with the English language in spoken form. That way they will be successful when they complete their language program and get to using English in the real world.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, please help spread it by clicking one of those sharing buttons below. And if you are interested in more, you should follow our Facebook page where we share more about creative, non-boring ways to teach English.

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