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Listening, along with speaking, reading and writing is one of the four primary skills.

Can't see the wood for the trees[edit]

One of the problems for students is that listening is an activity which must be carried out in "real time". Because listeners have a tendency to stop and think about words they don't understand they fail to catch the next five or six words while they are thinking about the difficult one. The trick, of course, is to listen for the words which can be understood and ignore the others - but this is an ability that takes time to acquire.

Another problem with listening to English is that spoken English (or any spoken language) does not consist of simply the written words spoken out loud individually. English is a stress timed language and many short words have weak forms making them difficult to distinguish for the untrained ear; elision and apheresis tend to link words together making many words difficult to distinguish in the stream of speech; there may be differences in accent; etc. And certain features of English, such as consonant clusters, do nothing to help students understand the spoken word, either.

Creating your own listening activities[edit]

Many teachers prefer to use authentic language from native speakers; others prefer to use graded materials.

If you live in an area with a liberal copyright policy or you can get hold of non-copyright materials, you may wish to create your own listening materials from internet podcasts.

Selecting material[edit]

Our article on podcasts contains a number of useful links which you can use to search for material. You will be looking for:

  • Something which will engage your students at some level. For instance, something topical, something which affects their lives, something in which you know they are interested.
  • Something which is not too long. Unless you are really concentrating on listening, you will be looking for a maximum of five minutes which will not overly test your students' attention spans. Remember that you are probably going to play it three times with stops and questions so the time multiplies quickly and students could lose interest.
  • Something which your students will be able to understand, without making it too easy. So take care with things like accents, the quality of the recording, external sounds, the speed of delivery, etc.

Preparing your material[edit]

There are three common ways of using a listening in class:

  • Fill in the gaps - remove various words from the text and students have to fill them in.
  • True or false - students have to listen to decide if a statement is true or false.
  • Answer questions - students have to listen to answer specific questions.

It may be a good idea to transcribe the text of the listening prior to creating the exercises. This can be time-consuming, so using a site which supplies both text and listening is a good time saver. (see Podcasts)

Preparing your students[edit]

(See our article on creating a topical class for extensive advice on reading activities.)

If is a good idea to prime your students first. Discuss the issue or work on an article about the subject. Pre-teach any problematic vocabulary which may come up later in the listening.

Using the listening[edit]

Some teachers prefer to carry out a "listening for gist" exercise in which they play the whole piece through first. Others do it section by section.

If you are playing the text three times you might invite students to compare answers after the first two runs.


After you have finished, ask the students for reactions to what they have heard. Do they agree with any opinions made? Are they surprised etc.

Different types of activities[edit]

Some authorities define different types of listening activities:

Intensive listening[edit]

In this activity the students listen to the material and then talk about the meaning in detail as well as consider the language, grammar and vocabulary used.

Extensive listening[edit]

Extensive listening material is much longer than that used in classic classroom listen exercises and, in theory at least, the student listens to simply for pleasure.

Feature films and other long video selections[edit]

It is possible to use films and TV series in class but they must be used with care.


When using films in class the pedagogical objective must be clear to both the teacher and the students. It is very easy to just wheel the screen into class, put on a film for a couple of hours, and spend the time checking homework.

See also[edit]