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Sondos Awadallah-Was it a Lame Joke, or a Lame Listening Skill?

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Have you ever prepared a joke to share with your students and expected them to burst into laughter, but ended up merely hearing crickets? I bet you felt embarrassed and thought what a lame joke that I shared! Believe me your joke was so funny, but students who did not laugh or react did not get your message. In other words, these students struggle with listening skills.

Most English teachers turn a blind eye to teaching listening skill. It is not because they underestimate this skill but rather because they lack professional development to maneuver listening skill in their lessons. Others might be reluctant to incorporate listening skill in their lessons due to their misconception that it is a complicated process. Being in the 21st century where students have more access to social media than books, it is very important to enhance students’ listening skills and assist them to progress from simple listening comprehension into critical listening where they analyze and evaluate communicated messages. 

Being an English teacher for 15 years, I do believe that listening skills must not be taught detachably from the other language skills but rather should be integrated with all skills. In this blog, I will share with you my techniques of integrating listening skills in my lessons to leverage its learning benefits. All the listed ideas below can be delivered to students whether you are teaching face-to-face or virtually.

  1. Podcasts: Podcasts have become more popular in education recently. Whether listening to thriller podcasts or news podcasts, both will be a win-win situation for you and your students. Allocate a day per week for listening to a podcast after which students are involved in whole class discussions. 6 Minute English podcast by BBC is a great tool to use in your class and offers a wide variety of interesting topics. Provide students with a graphic organizer for main idea and details and ask them to fill it in based on the podcast that they will listen to. 
  2. Live Broadcast: Play the radio for 5-6 minutes and ask students to identify the topic that the speaker is talking about. Encourage students to make further discussion about the topic. 
  3. Songs: Provide students with 2-3 songs to listen to and ask them to think about a theme that these songs share. You can also assign students a vocabulary task by defining some new vocabulary words based on their context in the songs. 
  4. Audiobooks: Many stories and novels have published audiobooks. Provide students with pre-listening questions and then let them answer the questions based on their comprehension of the audiobook. 
  5. Documentaries: Students are excited to watch documentary films in class. Instead of wasting your students’ learning time by watching a documentary for no purpose, prepare for them a bank of questions to answer based on the watched documentary. To differentiate this activity, allow students the opportunity to pick the questions they are more confident about. This will reduce their stress level toward listening skill.

Some Important Tips:

  1. Provide students with background about the materials they are going to listen to. Give them access to the questions they will answer before sharing the audios.  
  2. Expose your students to different accents. Do not limit your students with listening only to native-speaker accent. Use some audios that are recorded by bilingual speakers. This will give your students the chance to experience real life situations where they will listen and interact with different accents. Eventually, this will boost their confidence in such situations. 
  3. Give students the chance to replay the audio. This is so critical especially for ESL learners. Allow students to double-check their answers and to discuss their response with their classmates before sharing with class. 
  4. Make teaching listening skills a routine in your class. You can tailor your bell ringers with listening materials that are somehow short and interesting. Being consistent about teaching listening will help students achieve more progress.
  5. Record your class announcements or feedback and share with students as voice notes instead of typed messages. This will provide students with more access to practice listening skills. Virtual teaching platforms made this easier for teachers as these platforms provide tools for recording messages while chatting with students.

Finally, listening skill is not merely a learning skill that students need only in classroom but rather a life skill that they definitely need for communication. Next time you share a joke in your class, I assure you that the good listeners will crack up.