• Tom Garside

TEFL basics: How to teach listening: 4 stages for success


As one of the four language skills, listening (and often watching) is fundamental for language learners. Without good listening skills, in-class study becomes difficult. Effective listening can lead to a lot more independent study through films, music and other online media. So what can we do to ensure that our learners are getting the most out of the listening and watching resources that we use in class?

1. Choosing the right recording


The first step to using audio / video resources effectively is knowing how to choose clips and recordings that will work for your students. The chances are that if you are teaching a common ESOL context (shopping, animals, asking directions, etc.), there will be a lot of recordings available from published textbooks and online. Don’t feel that you are restricted to the recording from the book you are teaching - shop around and build a set of recordings that work for you and your learners.


Sites like 5minuteenglish, Cambridge English’s Virtually Anywhere, the British Council’s free listening resources provide a range of different topics and styles of listening that can be incorporated into different levels of class.


Whatever you choose to use in class, make sure that you listen to it yourself first, checking that speech is clear and graded appropriately for your class level, and that the recording is clean and manageable for class work.

2. Pre-listening tasks, Pre-teaching and Prediction


Once you have chosen a resource to use, listen to it again and make a note of some very broad points about the speakers, the situation they are in, and the purpose of their speech. This information can form the basis of some pre-listening tasks, to set the context for the listening and get learners thinking about the topic they will hear about.

Pre-listening questions could include:

  • Have you ever (been in the listening situation)?

  • What do people do (in the listening situation)?

  • How often do you (do what the speakers are doing)?

Another consideration when planning listening activity is vocabulary. Listening for vocabulary is challenging as learners may have seen the words in the audio written down, or come across them in a reading task, but may not know how they are pronounced. If an unknown word comes up in a listening task, it can be a huge barrier to understanding more generally, so it’s best to go through the recording (or the script if you have one) and highlight any words that you think may cause an issue for your learners. Take 5-10 minutes to go pre-teach the meaning, form and pronunciation of these words before you start the listening task, and you will set your learners up for success in the task.

Another effective way of engaging students in a listening task is to play the first 10-20 seconds of the recording, and stop to ask students what they think is happening, and what they think will happen next. This kind of prediction task engages learners in the listening setting and activates their listening brains to receive the information more effectively.

3. Setting tasks before listening

Once you are in class and ready to go, it’s worth considering how you will lead the listening task itself. Here, we have a basic choice. Do you want to give students some listening questions to think about before they hear the recording, or will you give the questions afterwards? Think about the. Which way do you usually present questions for listening?


The difference here is the type of listening skills that you would like students to demonstrate in the task. If you set question before listening, students tend to be able to listen for details more effectively and purposefully - they know what kind of information they are looking out for, so they will be able to pick this up more easily as they listen.


Giving questions after listening, however, is not usually appropriate for comprehension tasks. If students listen without knowing what information they need for a task, the questions become a kind of memory test rather than a practice of listening skills. If you give the questions after listening, you will probably need another ‘while-listening’ task where students take notes of fill in a table to record the information they hear. This is a much more effective way to engage learners in the information they hear.

4. Feedback and replaying

After listening, it is time to hear what the students got from the recording. This feedback stage can be tricky - for most questions based on listening, learners will either hear the answer or not. There is little room for prompting or eliciting correct answers if they simply did not understand the answer.


With this in mind, be prepared to go back to the audio and play key stretches of the recording again, to see if learners can pick it up a second or third time. Each time you play it, prompt with a little more information to get the students to the right answer. If they still can’t get it, write out what the speaker says, and play again. You can always focus on pronunciation here, if that was the issue.


So as we have seen, there is a lot more to listening than simply pressing play and giving out a worksheet. The process of selection, pre-tasks, while listening tasks and post-listening tasks is important to develop this important language skill.

Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.

If you are interested to know more about these qualifications, or you want take your teaching to a new level with our teacher education courses, contact us or see our course dates and fees for details.



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