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Teaching speaking and listening skills

In this article you will find a few tips to get you started with teaching speaking and listening skills to young learners. The aims are:

  • To think about what you say in class and to make your language more accessible to your young learners
  • To think about how you can make listening fun and easy, not hard and boring

The tips below are for your classes with 5-7 year olds although you can use similar principles when teaching older primary age (8-12).

Listening - Instructions

  • Remember you are their model so always think about how you are going to introduce an activity before you go to class. Writing out instructions as part of your lesson plan will really help you to notice what language you are using with your young learners. You may find that your language is too complex for the beginner pupils.
  • Imagine yourself as a beginner learning a new language and see if what you say is too difficult to follow. You may need to modify what you say. Instructions, if well thought out and accompanied always with demonstration, can be communicated purely in English.

Listening - Class management

  • Don’t panic if you don’t speak the children’s first language. This won’t prevent a bond forming between you and the children. If they know you as the person who only speaks English then they will always want to communicate with you as much as possible in English.
  • Discipline can be easily understood by young children through your facial expressions and smiley/cross faces drawn on the board.
  • Feedback can also be understood clearly when you use your face to help express whether or not you are pleased with the work they produce.

Listening - Using a song

  • Prepare the learners before they listen to anything.
  • Show them pictures of characters from the song.
  • If it’s a song about teddy bears then bring in some teddy bears to show them. If the teddy bears sing sections of the song then use them as puppets and make them actually sing the song.
  • Use actions as much as possible to accompany songs so that the children can participate. This will help build their confidence, increase their enjoyment and give them extra clues as to the meaning of the words they are listening to.
  • They should predict, ‘imagine’, what they are going to hear. Again, sticking with the teddy bears, ask them if they think the teddy bear is happy or sad.
  • When they are listening they should always have something to do. They need a reason for listening. You could allocate part of the song to a small cluster of children so they have to listen out for their part and sing along to that part only.
  • Use the same song again and again. Listening is a difficult skill so building their confidence is vital at all stages of language learning. If they recognize the words they will be much more motivated. This is valid not only from a language point of view but also from a logical point of view. Listening to a song you know and like is always an enjoyable experience. Familiarity helps children feel secure.

Speaking - Songs and chants

  • Using songs and chants in class gives the children a chance to listen and reproduce the language they hear. They are working on the sounds, rhythm and intonation.
  • Remember when you speak or sing keep it simple but very importantly, natural so that when they copy what you say they can have a chance of sounding natural.

Speaking - Whole class chorus drills

  • If you have a large class make sure the language they produce is not just confined to stilted whole class repetitions of sentences produced by you. If the class tries to speak at the same time they automatically slow down and the intonation and rhythm are lost. Whole class repetition does of course have its advantages as it allows weaker students to build confidence with speaking without being in the limelight. Do chorus drills as described above but limit them and always move on to letting individuals speak.

Speaking - Real language

  • As with listening, make sure they always have a valid reason for speaking. The more realistic the need for communication, the more effective an activity will be. In other words get them to ask their neighbour ‘Do you prefer chocolate or strawberry ice-cream?’ rather than saying; ‘What’s my favourite food?' This last question is just asking the children to guess rather than think. Avoid getting them to repeat sentences such as; ‘What is my name?’ or ‘Is this a book?’ Not only do you know it’s a book, so the interaction isn’t very interesting, unless the book is hidden in a bag and they are having to work out the contents, but also the response is limited to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Closed questions are ok to lead onto something more with low level learners but be aware of not using them too often.

Speaking - Further suggestions

  • Vary the types of speaking and listening activities you do. Keep them interested by introducing new approaches to speaking in class. This could mean talking to different people, talking to different numbers of people, speaking as a whole class, half a class or in small groups.
  • For different levels in the same class you can ask them to listen for different things. Ask the weaker ones to tell you how many teddy bears there are in the song and the stronger ones to tell you what the teddy bears are doing in the song.
  • To make one activity suit all levels ask them to practice saying between five and ten sentences. This way the quick finishers have more to do and the weaker pupils still feel they have achieved the task if they have practised only a few sentences.


  • - teddy bear song
  • - lots of free downloadable song lyrics
  • - a welcome song for the start of class.



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