Listening is one of the most challenging skills for our students to develop and yet also one of the most important. By developing their ability to listen well, we develop our students' ability to become more independent learners, as by hearing accurately they are much more likely to be able to reproduce accurately, refine their understanding of grammar and develop their own vocabulary
Outline a framework that can be used to design a listening lesson that will develop your students' listening skills and look at some of the issues involved.
The basic framework
Applying the framework to a song
The basic framework
The basic framework on which you can construct a listening lesson can be divided into three main stages.
Pre listening, during which we help our students prepare to listen.
While listening, during which we help to focus their attention on the listening text and guide the development of their understanding of it.
Post listening, during which we help our students integrate what they have learnt from the text into their existing knowledge.
There are certain goals that should be achieved before students attempt to listen to any text. These are motivation, contextualization, and preparation.
It is enormously important that before listening students are motivated to listen, so you should try to select a text that they will find interesting and then design tasks that will arouse your students' interest and curiosity.
When we listen in our everyday lives we hear language within its natural environment, and that environment gives us a huge amount of information about the linguistic content we are likely to hear. Listening to a tape recording in a classroom is a very unnatural process. The text has been taken from its original environment and we need to design tasks that will help students to contextualize the listening and access their existing knowledge and expectations to help them understand the text.
To do the task we set students while they listen there could be specific vocabulary or expressions that students will need. It's vital that we cover this before they start to listen as we want the challenge within the lesson to be act of listening not of understanding what they have to do.
When we listen to something in our everyday lives we do so for a reason. Students too need a reason to listen that will focus their attention. For our students to really develop their listening skills they will need to listen a number of times - three or four usually works quite well - as I've found that the first time many students listen to a text they are nervous and have to tune in to accents and the speed at which the people are speaking.
Ideally the listening tasks we design for them should guide them through the text and should be graded so that the first listening task they do is quite easy and helps them to get a general understanding of the text. Sometimes a single question at this stage will be enough, not putting the students under too much pressure.
The second task for the second time students listen should demand a greater and more detailed understanding of the text. Make sure though that the task doesn't demand too much of a response. Writing long responses as they listen can be very demanding and is a separate skill in itself, so keep the tasks to single words, ticking or some sort of graphical response.
The third listening task could just be a matter of checking their own answers from the second task or could lead students towards some more subtle interpretations of the text.
Listening to a foreign language is a very intensive and demanding activity and for this reason I think it's very important that students should have 'breathing' or 'thinking' space between listenings. I usually get my students to compare their answers between listening as this gives them the chance not only to have a break from the listening, but also to check their understanding with a peer and so reconsider before listening again.
There are two common forms that post-listening tasks can take. These are reactions to the content of the text, and analysis of the linguistic features used to express the content.
Reaction to the text
Of these two I find that tasks that focus students reaction to the content are most important. Again this is something that we naturally do in our everyday lives. Because we listen for a reason, there is generally a following reaction. This could be discussion as a response to what we've heard - do they agree or disagree or even believe what they have heard? - or it could be some kind of reuse of the information they have heard.
Analysis of language
The second of these two post-listening task types involves focusing students on linguistic features of the text. This is important in terms of developing their knowledge of language, but less so in terms of developing students' listening skills. It could take the form of an analysis of verb forms from a script of the listening text or vocabulary or collocation work. This is a good time to do form focused work as the students have already developed an understanding of the text and so will find dealing with the forms that express those meanings much easier.
Two key areas of developing our students' listening skills.
The type of listening tasks we choose
The way we prepare our students before listening
Types of listening tasks
Comprehension check questions are by far the most common type of listening tasks our students are given in class. Look at almost any language course book listening activity and you will find these. Sometimes they will be multiple choice questions, sometimes true false statements and sometimes open W/H questions. In many ways there is nothing wrong with this, but how often do we really do these kinds of tasks in our everyday lives? Do you sit down to watch TV or listen to the radio with a set of questions in front of you? I very much doubt it. As such these types of activities aren't developing our students' abilities to understand and process what they've heard in any meaningful kind of way.
Preparing students for listening
Over many years I have taught lessons that so thoroughly prepared students to listen for the sole purpose of getting the correct answers to a set of prescribed questions that they could hardly fail to get a question wrong. I prepared the students by thoroughly pre-teaching all possible unknown words, checked that the students understood the context of the listening and then made sure that they and had predicted the possible answers to all the questions. Results were generally good, so what's wrong with this?
Well the problems begin the moment the students step outside the classroom into the real world. They are surrounded by a vast range of spontaneous and unpredictable language. They have no control over the range of vocabulary they may encounter or the kind of things they will hear or need to respond to. This is why many times; even higher level students who do very well in the classroom find it so difficult to cope when faced with a 'real' situation. We simply haven't taught them in a way that will help them cope with this
Listening skills are hard to develop. Students can do a variety of work before listening to help them understand the listening.
Why do pre-listening tasks?
Aims and types of pre-listening tasks
Why do pre-listening tasks?
In real life it is unusual for people to listen to something without having some idea of what they are going to hear. When listening to a radio phone-in show, they will probably know which topic is being discussed. When listening to an interview with a famous person, they probably know something about that person already. A waiter knows the menu from which the diner is choosing their food.
In our first language we rarely have trouble understanding listening. But, in a second language, it is one of the harder skills to develop - dealing at speed with unfamiliar sounds, words and structures. This is even more difficult if we do not know the topic under discussion, or who is speaking to whom.
So, simply asking the students to listen to something and answer some questions is a little unfair, and makes developing listening skills much harder.
Many students are fearful of listening, and can be disheartened when they listen to something but feel they understand very little. It is also harder to concentrate on listening if you have little interest in a topic or situation.
Pre-listening tasks aim to deal with all of these issues: to generate interest, build confidence and to facilitate comprehension.
Training your students to bring their own knowledge and their skills of prediction to their listening work can only help them when listening to the language outside the classroom. These skills are as much a part of listening as understanding pronunciation or listening for details.