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How to Use While-Listening Activities in the ESL Classroom

Pre-listening exercises help activate student schema prior to listening lessons. Post-listening activities are useful for checking listening comprehension. While-listening activities provide opportunities to catch errors in comprehension while the listening activity is taking place. If comprehension checking is only done at the end of the lesson, we lose opportunities to correct any faulty understanding before that.

While-listening exercises include listening for the gist of spoken discourse, sequencing or ordering events, and listening for details. This OnTESOL graduate blog will share some “while-listening” activities to help you determine if learners are following along correctly and who may be having difficulties.

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10 While-Listening Activities

There are numerous possibilities for while-listening activities. These are my favourite 10:

1. Gap Fill Exercises

Gap Fills are some of the most common while-listening exercises. Here, you’ll provide learners with a sheet or document with blank spaces. They’ll listen to the audio and fill in the missing words.

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2. Multiple Choice Answers

Multiple choice answers are simple while-listening activities to keep learners focused. Provide class members handouts or documents with multiple-choice questions. As students follow along, they answer.

3. Answer Questions

You can stop the audio and ask specific questions related to the discourse they heard. For example, you could ask:

  1. Who was with Oscar?
  2. Where were they going?
  3. How long were they planning this outing?

And so on. This is an effective activity to keep learners engaged throughout the audio.

4. Stop-Describe-Go

Here, you’ll stop the audio and ask class members to describe what they heard. After everything is clear, play more of the audio and repeat the process. Continue this to the end. Use this idea to check learner comprehension in stages. As such, you can break audio into sections and build grammar points, vocabulary points, or expression for each section from there.

5. Stop-Paraphrase-Go

This is the same concept as item 4 above, but this time, you’ll ask class members to paraphrase what they heard. Then, you move on to the next section.

A note about paraphrasing exercises: I’ve found over the years that paraphrasing is a challenging yet superb way to get learners to use English in concise terms. Many teachers out there know that students can often take a long way around when explaining things.

Paraphrasing forces them to use less but more accurate words for the sake of improved clarity. In turn, this helps them with proficiency tests such as IELTS.

6. Predict What Is Next

At periodic intervals, you can stop the audio and ask class members what might happen next. Using our previous examples, we could stop the audio and ask:

  1. What do you think they forgot?
    1.1. Prompt: What are things that can be forgotten in such a situation?
    [Play again for confirmation and discuss if needed. Then, stop for the next exercise.]
  2. What do you think Oscar will do?
    And it continues like that for several rounds. This is a sure way to get learners focused.

7. Order the Words

For this while, you can give learners a list of words. They’ll then number the words or phrases in the order they heard them. This compels them to listen carefully and helps them grasp sequencing words better.

8. Similar Meanings

This is a little more challenging and may be more appropriate for advanced levels. You’ll ask learners to listen to the audio then group words with similar meanings. They’ll have to listen carefully.

A twist to this is that you can give them prompts such as:

9. Grammar Corrections

You can use while-listening activities to reinforce a grammar point or to evaluate their grammar skills. Have learners listen to an audio (or watch a video) and ask them to identify a specific number of grammar errors.

Alternatively, you can give them a list of types of grammar errors to listen for. You can have fun with this since listening for errors approaches listening activities from a different perspective.

10. Listen for Details

One final activity you can do is listening to classes in request details. This is a useful while-listening activity for use in bottom-up approaches. Have learners listen to a news report, for example, and have them provide details.

You could request the following information:

You can continue with as many specific details as you see fit. As an added bonus, you can ask them to summarize the news report. This would help them incorporate the information and order it into a speaking activity.

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