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.
In this article I intend to 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
- While listening
- Applying the framework to a song
- Some conclusions
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, contextualisation, 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 contextualise 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 an 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 listenings 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.
Applying the framework to a song
Here is an example of how you could use this framework to exploit a song:
- Students brainstorm kinds of songs
- Students describe one of their favourite songs and what they like about it
- Students predict some word or expressions that might be in a love song
- While listening
- Students listen and decide if the song is happy or sad
- Students listen again and order the lines or verses of the song
- Students listen again to check their answers or read a summary of the song with errors in and correct them.
- Focus on content
- Discuss what they liked / didn't like about the song
- Decide whether they would buy it / who they would buy it for
- Write a review of the song for a newspaper or website
- Write another verse for the song
- Focus on form
- Students look at the lyrics from the song and identify the verb forms
- Students find new words in the song and find out what they mean
- Students make notes of common collocations within the song
- Focus on content
Within this article I have tried to describe a framework for listening development that could be applied to any listening text. This isn't the only way to develop our students listening or to structure a listening lesson, but it is a way that I have found to be effective and motivating for my students.
Nik Peachey, teacher, trainer and materials writer, The British Council
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