Home » How to Use While-Listening Activities in the ESL Classroom

How to Use While-Listening Activities in the ESL Classroom

while-listening activities

In a previous blog, we showed you how to use pre-listening exercises to activate student schema prior to listening lessons. In another blog, we showed you post-listening activities for checking listening comprehension. Today, we’ll share ideas for the not-so-well-known while-listening activities.

These exercises can help you determine if learners are following along correctly. And, they’ll help you pinpoint where class members may be having difficulties.

While these are not lessons in themselves, they can be used greatly to facilitate and round out listening lessons.

When combined with pre-and post-listening activities, you can have a complete listening lesson from beginning to end. So, check out the while-listening ideas below to learn more.

Read: Why Asking Obvious Questions Is Useful in ESL Classrooms

While-Listening Activities

Before we begin, a little review is in order to know more about what while-listening activities are.

What Is While-Listening?

While-listening, sometimes known as during-listening activities, are methods English language teachers can use to monitor and facilitate student listening comprehension. They can be used with top-down and bottom-up listening approaches.

And, they 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.

The end result is we’re actively guiding learners and correcting their apprehension of spoken discourse. This in turn enables them to more accurately interact in English language environments.

While-listening activities can also help teachers and learners verify predictions from a pre-listening prediction activity. They can help determine if guesses were accurate or not. Often, while-listening exercises will involve listening for the gist of spoken discourse, sequencing or ordering events, and listening for details.

They can even help learners realize when they need to ask for help understanding something. Additionally, they challenge listeners to listen for key points and structure within spoken discourse.

Finally, while-listening exercises help learners focus or pay attention to the listening activity. This is needed because at times, listeners can drift off. Perhaps, much of what we perceive as limited listening skills, may simply be a matter of attention on the part of individual class members. While-listening activities can help confirm or disprove our suspicions.

Read: Using the Top-Down Approach in ESL Listening Lessons (Part 1)

TESOL expert program OnTESOL graduates-While-Listening

Some Ideas

There are numerous possibilities for while-listening activities. However, for today’s blog, we’ve narrowed the list to ten.

1. Gap Fill Exercises

These 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 like the sample below:

Oscar and _ went to the . They had planned to go for _ . But when they arrived at the , they discovered they had both forgotten their . “Oh no,” ___ cried. “What will we do now?!”
It’s probably best to start with words only. If you task learners for long phrases, they may not be able to keep up—would you be able to?

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, as in the examples below:

  1. Oscar was with __.
    a. Mary
    b. Tom
    c. Mickey
    d. Carrie
  2. They had planned their activity for __.
    a. 5 months
    b. 5 minutes
    c. 5 weeks
    d. 5 days

You get the idea.

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 and TOEIC.

Become an IELTS Teacher!

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.


As mentioned, there are a number of possibilities for while-listening activities. Do a search for ‘ESL while-listening exercises’ and you should find more than enough to satisfy your curiosity. But you won’t have to do that right away. That’s because we’ve given you ten ideas to experiment with first to see what fits your classes.

Read: Teaching Listening: The Basics of the Bottom-Up Approach

Wrap Up about while-listening


Now you have a better idea of what while-listening exercises are. We’ve also provided you with a better appreciation for their benefit for teaching and learning.

Finally, you have ten examples of while-listening exercises that you can use in your listening lessons. Give them a try and tell us how it went. We’d be glad to hear from you.


And remember, you can learn more about listening lessons as well as speaking, reading, and writing lessons in our 120-Hour Advanced TESOL certificate program. You’ll be trained by experienced teachers on how to be more effective when teaching English language classes.

Once completed, you’ll be a well-trained and certificate-wielding teacher qualified to enter an ESL classroom.

Related Articles:

Top-Down Approach In ESL Listening Lessons (Part 1)

Communicative Approaches To Teaching Listening

How To Create Listening Lessons Using ELLLO Mixers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *