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Livening up listening

I've been watching this excellent presentation to English language teachers in Palestine from 2014 by Nick Bilbrough. It would be worth showing at a professional development meeting. If you don't have the time to watch it, here are some of the key points he makes.

His main thesis is that listening need not be a passive test based on audio material, it can be two-way, interactive and really enjoyable. Here are two examples for intermediate to advanced level.

1.  "Physicalise" a story

You tell a story while students stand and act out what is happening, e.g:

“I was walking through a forest, I saw a box on the ground, I picked it up, I slowly opened the lid, (shriek) a bird flew out, and hit me in the face, I looked inside, wow!, it was full of treasure, I filled my pockets as fast as I could, oh no, someone was coming, I turned around and ran..."

You first narrate the story slowly, the a second time much faster. Nick makes the points that we help store memories through our bodies. Not only do students listen intently, but there is fun in the acting out. If any students are uncertain the can watch others and work out the meanings through their movements.

After the story has been acted out, you provide a gap-fill on the board and recreate the story orally, either in pairs or led by the teacher.

2. Mouse story

Nick offers the audience a choice of two stories (which in itself engages them more). He tells this "horror story" about a mouse and his family. (The other story is about a worm which inadvertently falls in love with itself.)

Once upon a time there was a family of mice who lived in a hole next to kitchen. One day, the son went out into the kitchen to explore. Suddenly he saw something which terrified him and he ran back to the hole. He told his mum - " Mummy, I saw this huge creature, it had long legs, a long tail, huge sharp teeth and long sharp claws. I was really scared" - "Ah," said the mummy mouse. "Don't worry... listen!"

The mummy mouse crept over to the doorway which looked out on to the kitchen. But she didn't show herself. She then called "woof, woof"! On hearing this the cat ran as fast as it could out of the kitchen.

Mummy mouse went back to her son and said: "Now you know why I've always told you how important it is to learn another language!"

Nick describes other interactive listening tasks which really engage the students in authentic language, tailor-made by the teacher, with built-in repetition and gesture.

Advantages of such activities include:

  • Students can visualise events themselves and psychologists say visualising images (using the imagination) is important in children's development.
  • A physical element is fun and an aid to memory.
  • Students see such listening tasks as enjoyable activities, not a test.
  • Students get the opportunity to interact.
  • There is often a visual element which assists with grasping meaning.
  • The teacher can provide models for subsequent output activities.
  • Students listen because they are genuinely interested.
  • The teacher can provide in-built repetition, as required by the class.
  • Tasks like this are often very low preparation.
Do take a look at the presentation, it's worth it.


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Listening (Foundation/Higher) (Foundation/Higher) (Foundation/Higher)