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James Taylor: Encouraging students to do a deep dive
If you grab a coursebook near you and open it at a random and take a look at a listening activity, you will almost definitely find the following formula:
1) Pre-listening task to make the students familiar with the topic
2) A question so the students get the general idea about the listening
3) Some questions so the students get more detailed information from the listening
4) Follow up work on a grammar or vocabulary point.
5) Some follow up questions to discuss the topic which aim to recycle the target language.
Which is fine, but it seems to me that texts are much richer in content than coursebooks have time to go into, especially the more advanced your students are. If you listen to a CPE level listening, you will find enough content to potentially support hours of lessons. There is a huge range of vocabulary to investigate (particularly collocations, metaphor and allusions); interesting grammar choices and sentence structures used; tone, intonation and register; organisational choices (how the information is presented and sequenced) among other items.
The problem, of course, is that we probably don’t have the luxury of spending those hours even if we want to as we have a limited amount of time with our students and a syllabus to follow. So even if we recognise the potential in the listening text, we probably don’t have the time to spend investigating it further. So what I try to do is to encourage my students to do a ‘deep dive’ into the listening using the transcript at the back of their coursebook. This begins in the classroom, after we have completed the usual activities in the book.
Firstly, I divide the text into chunks depending on the size of the class and the text. I give each student their own section to investigate, asking them to concentrate on the things they think are most useful for them. Often students concentrate only on unknown vocabulary but I think that is too limited an approach, so I ask them to think about NU language instead:
N = new
U = useful
(This is not my idea, but unfortunately I can’t remember where it came from)
I ask them to concentrate on language which they would like to use in their own English. Part of this is dealing with unclear elements of the listening, of course, but it can also involve ‘stealing’ things which they would like to incorporate into their own speaking. I want them to analyse these passages of the text and try to understand what it is that they can learn from it. It’s essentially asking them to concentrate on bridging the gap between their passive knowledge of what something means and their ability to reproduce it naturally themselves when they need it.
The students then get to work on their analysis of their part of the text, using their dictionaries and asking for my help to check meaning and use. They then share their findings with a small group, explaining why they think they think they are interesting. Group members are encouraged to make a note of what they hear from other members.
This is a time consuming activity, but I think it’s crucial if we wish for our students to become autonomous and self-reliant learners. These procedures can be used by the students at home, and I encourage them to do a deep dive whenever we do listening (or a reading, as it works just as well for that too) in their own time.