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Listening and elementary learners
- Why we listen
- Our students' interests
- Allowing students choice
- Getting feedback
Why we listen
Just the other day I listened to the BBC radio news online. I wanted to hear the swimming results from the Olympics. I specifically wanted to hear whether a British swimmer had got a medal in the men's butterfly. Swimming is a sport that I'm very interested in, as I swim myself, and as I'm British, I am particularly interested in the results from the British team. In other words, I had quite a bit of personal investment in my listening. I listened to all the news, but I can't tell you what I 'heard,' apart from the fact that yes, a British swimmer did win a bronze medal in that race.
Now it seems to me that the experience described above is not unusual.
- Firstly, when we listen to something as native speakers, we almost always have an intense, or at least fairly strong, interest in what we are listening to.
- Secondly, we usually choose which specific piece of information we are interested in.
- Thirdly, we are able to 'blank out' or ignore the other information so that we don't even hear it.
When I think about my elementary students, I feel that I'm asking a lot if I make no effort to find out what their interests in the texts are and ask them to register information from different parts of the listening piece, without allowing them to 'blank out' or ignore what doesn't interest them.
Our students' interests
I always like to gather information about my students' interests. What do they like to do in their spare time? Sports? Play or listen to music? Politics? Chess? Fishing? Secondly, what do they listen to most in their own language?
One way of gathering this information is by using a questionnaire at the beginning of term. Though my students are sure to have varying and different interests, this information helps me to cater to individual interests better. I can then start looking out for appropriate listening materials, and even recording them.
Allowing students choice
I believe that we listen better if we have a personal investment in what we are listening to, as in my example above. This would be easy to create in the classroom, if I knew that all my students were interested in swimming or urban music, but this is unlikely. What I can do, however, is to allow students to choose which piece(s) of information they would like to listen for from any given listening task.
Here is a possible sequence for doing this pre-listening with upper elementary students who can already write simple questions. I have chosen the news as an example.
- Brainstorm content of listening from topic 'Today's News'
- Elicit list of possible content and write on board e.g. Elections, Sport results, Weather etc.
- Elicit possible order of content.
- Make groups of four, with one 'chairperson.'
- Each student has to choose one topic from the list and think of 2 things they would like to know. They write questions. (teacher monitors)
- Students listen to the text and answer Qs.
- Listen again if necessary.
- Individual members of the group tell the chairperson the answers. (teacher monitors)
- Chairperson collects all the information and gives feedback to class.
A more controlled way of allowing choice with lower level students is to prepare a set of questions yourself, write them on the board, and get them to choose the two questions they would like to know the answers to.
This is fine with authentic listening taken from radio or other sources, but what about course book listening material? Here also you can give students an element of choice. Below is something I do with a short flight departure announcement from a well-known elementary course book.
- Collect some pictures of the cities mentioned in the announcement.
- Students look at them in groups and try to work out which cities they are.
- Write up the names of the cities on board.
- Each student has to choose one city s/he would like to visit. Why? Give three reasons.
- Then write the name of the city on the form below.
- Pre-teach airline names
- Students listen and complete the information they hear in the departure lounge announcement on the form.
This is a very adaptable piece of material. With very low level students you can just collect the basic information. With slightly more advanced students you can expand on the discussion about the cities. If your class is not too big, you can actually place the 'gates' on posters around the room and students can then actually go to the right gate for their destination.
As I've already mentioned, it's important to get feedback only on what a student has listened for, not on every detail of the listening piece. This selection really helps the student to zone in on information he or she is interested in, thereby mirroring what we do in real life. Different feedback from different individuals needn't be problematic. One way round it is to use the group format suggested above.
If we can create an element of 'personal investment' in listening, either by tuning into our students' interests or by giving them some choice, I believe that they will have more and better reasons to listen. The result of this will be that their listening skills will improve.
Sue Leather, Freelance trainer and writer