Listening is one of the most difficult skills to acquire in a new language. Fluent speakers of a language tend to speak very quickly, use abbreviated words, slang, and less than perfect grammatical constructions. Add into this factors that can make it difficult for native speakers of a language to understand one another (ie: accent and cultural differences), and listening becomes quite a challenge indeed! It is for these reasons that I like to provide my students with as much authentic listening practice as possible,
As a language teacher, I am very cognizant of how quickly I speak, my grammar usage, and my enunciation. On the one hand, this is great for my students. They can more easily understand me, and that means they learn more quickly. On the other hand, this is not so great for my students. They become used to listening to me speak, and can experience frustrations when they go out into the real world and try to interact with other native speakers. It is my job to prepare them to interact in English in the real world, not just the classroom, and to do this I need to provide them with exposure to more speakers than myself.
One of the ways that I do this is the use of video in my classroom. I like to use short clips from movies to introduce lessons. A great source for these clips is Class Hook. Class Hook is a website that has clips from movies and TV shows. The clips are organized and tagged by topic and skills (I used Class Hook to help me find videos for my similes and metaphors activity, described in A Grinchy Christmas, Part 2). Another way I incorporate video in my lessons is via YouTube. I will find a short video explaining a grammar topic, or a fun music video about the skill we’re practicing, and show it as part of our lesson. This not only exposes students to another English speaker, but allows them to hear a slightly different explanation of the topic we’re studying. A few of my favorite YouTube channels are listed on the Helpful Free Resources document I give my students each semester (you can get your own free copy from the link above, or from the link in my blog post Student Reference Tools).
Another way I provide students with exposure to more speakers (and specifically accents), is through the use of both commercial and non-commercial listening activities. Three of my favorite commercial resources are:
- Timesaver by Scholastic: I have both the Elementary and Intermediate books
- Listening Extra by Cambridge
- Adventures of an Australian English Teacher by Leigh Salter (This book seems to be out of print now and may be hard to find.)
For non-commercial listening activities, there are many different podcasts, news sites, and other sources, but my students’ favorites are those I make myself. Their all time favorite is probably Who’s On First. I play the recording from YouTube and challenge students to try and complete the graphic organizer (available for free from the link above). I usually play the video three or four times as Abbott and Costello speak very quickly, and the students spend a lot of time laughing. A Google Slides version of the activity is also available for distance learning or assigning as homework.
The most frequent authentic listening practice we do though is TED Talk comprehension guides. These are simply Word or PDF files that have a link to a TED Talk and a list of questions for students to answer. I try to include questions from the various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, but the number and variety of questions varies from guide to guide. Sometimes we will work through these guides together as a class, but mostly I assign them as independent work. TED Talks are great because they are all different lengths, on a variety of topics, and have authenticated closed captions and transcripts in multiple languages. When using them with beginning level students, I encourage them to turn on the closed captions, or read the transcript, in their native language. For my intermediate students, I encourage them to turn on the closed captions in English, and refer to the transcript in their native language if necessary. When teaching advanced students, I challenge them to use only the English subtitles and transcript. I really appreciate that I can trust the translations, and these supports are built right into the website.
Currently, I have 18 different comprehension guides, but I’m always adding more. They are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store as individual guides, or as a bundle (link above). My current plan is to add two more guides to the current bundle and then start a new one. If you’re looking to save money, you’ll want to buy the bundles when they are smaller. Each time a guide is added (I plan to have 20 guides per bundle), you’ll get an email telling you the bundle has been updated, and you can download the new guide for free. In other words, you’ll pay less and get more, because each time a guide is added the price goes up by fifty cents (individual guides are seventy-five cents each).
Listening may be one of the hardest skills to master, but it is also one of the most valuable. In today’s global society, it is more important than ever to expose our students to multiple accents and styles of speaking. I hope you’ve been at least a little inspired to add more listening practice to your classroom. Happy teaching, everyone.