Talking Your Students Into Listening

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Is the prospect of a listening activity met with groans and terrified faces? More often than not I would say YES!

So how can you boost your students’ confidence in their listening skills and make their experience a fun yet meaningful one?

Rachel Moss from ‘ATC Language Schools – Winchester’ gives us some tips and techniques below…




Pre-listening preparation is crucial; It primes students by giving them a context and a focus for their listening. This may seem like stating the obvious, but in our haste to get to the ‘real’ part of the lesson, i.e. the listening, it’s easy to rush this important stage.

Textbooks usually provide pre-listening activities, but one of the most effective ways I’ve found is brainstorming. That is, getting my students talking about the topic of the listening.



This works because it activates the students’ background knowledge, which helps their comprehension. This stands to reason – in real life how often do we listen to something without some idea about what we will hear?

Extra Speaking = Extra Listening

Students may worry about listening, but they often say they want more speaking practice – brainstorming gives them that, and it gives everyone extra listening practice too. Write it into your lesson plan, don’t be afraid to use it to supplement your course book, and enjoy it. It could turn those looks of horror into smiles of pleasure!

Great Groupwork

It works best in small groups, or a whole group if the class is small enough. Pairs can soon run out of steam, but in groups your students will hear a range of ideas. Use the other students in your class.

Students in multilingual classes especially usually come from very diverse backgrounds with a depth of knowledge in various areas. If someone lacks background knowledge of the topic, their classmates may be able to provide it.

Someone else’s background knowledge is still background knowledge!


What’s Your Experience?

Ask students to close their books, put down their pens and listen to each other. Give them the topic and ask them what they know about it.

Do they have any experience of it, or know anyone one who has?

Move between groups and encourage all students to speak. This is about the flow of ideas, so make notes to go back to later to correct errors. But correct pronunciation – make sure they are hearing and pronouncing any key vocabulary correctly so they recognise it in the listening.



Make Predictions

Get students to make predictions about the listening, and don’t forget to check them in post-listening feedback. This stage often gets missed, but if a student can think back to their predictions and say whether they were right or not it shows them that they’ve understood the text, a great confidence booster and a satisfying way to wrap up the listening.

I like to use the first listening as a chance for them to check predictions and compare their ideas, then subsequent repetitions of the listening for other comprehension activities.


Use Your Instinct!

Use your teacher’s instinct to judge when the momentum is slowing or when you feel the students are most engaged and ready for the listening, but I find 5 – 10 minutes is usually enough.

By Rachel Moss – Teacher at ‘ATC Language Schools – Winchester’



Chang, A. C-S. & Read, J. (2006). The effects of listening support on the performance of EFL learners. TESOL Quarterly, 40(2), 375-397.

Graham, S. (2017). Research into practice: listening strategies in an instructed classroom setting. Language Teaching, 50 (1), 107-119. 10.1017/S0261444816000306

Long, D.R., (1990). What you don’t know can’t help you: An exploratory study of background knowledge and second language listening comprehension. SSLA, 12, 65-80,


3 Responses

  1. Colette Diamond

    I find that students get more anxious about a listening activity than a speaking activity.Your idea of brainstorming and talking about the topic in advance is indeed extremely useful.If they can speak about it in groups then they become more relaxed as they pick up some ideas about what they are likely to hear and understand.
    I think students need very, very clear instructions ( regardless of level ) as to what exactly they are listening for. It may be specific information or just general gist. Either way, students will only feel confident about the task if they have had a chance to discuss ideas and predict what they might hear. The folded arms, closed books idea is essential not only in the preparation stage but also at least once or twice in the listening task itself. Pens and books should only be picked up once the teacher is satisfied that the students have had sufficient time to discuss their ideas and rid themselves of anxiety as an anxious student will not be able to process the information and that fear of listening with all its consequences can last for some time.

  2. Great ideas, Rachel. I like the idea of students sharing their background knowledge of the topic before the listening task to set the scene/situation and gain some context. If we have some prior knowledge about a topic, i.e Travelling in Thailand, students will already be somewhat prepared to ‘hear’ vocabulary on this topic. Students rely heavily on top-down processing here and might almost guess what is going to come up in the listening. Another idea might be to get students to read a short paragraph on the topic and then in groups, students have to decide if the text they have read makes similar/different points to the listening. These are great ideas to prepare students for real-life unfamiliar situations. The more engaged students are with a topic in a pre-task, the better they will be able to manage the listening task itself (and the more motivated they will be to actively listen)

  3. Great ideas guys!
    Priming is indeed crucial.
    Students might even be given the topic the day before, with a homework task to go and research it, and bring back as much information as they can the following day for sharing. They could then write their own predication questions.

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