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Practical activities for balanced listening instruction (part 2)

This is the second blog based on Beth Sheppard's webinar about teaching listening. The first blog with the video itself is here. Beth works at the University of Oregon. The first blog post looked at what she calls "language-focused listening instruction". This post summarises what she says about meaning-focused listening instruction, strategies and fluency-building listening.


There are many levels of meaning in speech. Here are two types of meaning-focused activities:

a) Content reconstruction

Let's suppose students are asked to listen to a short talk. Ask students to take notes as they listen. You can scaffold this (scaffolding is defined here as providing a temporary structure to help students do something which they can later do themselves) e.g. provide a table or grid, a set of headings to divide the talk into sections or gaps to fill. From the notes students can then create a summary or correct a faulty one you provide. Alternatively they can simply paraphrase the talk orally or they could create comprehension questions of their own or answer ones you have given in the traditional way.

b) Content manipulation

In this case students listen with a specific purpose, e.g. they must put elements back in order, match titles to sections, do jigsaw listening (each half of a class gets a different passage, then the whole class puts them together). Students can react to the content, debate it, relate it to their personal experience or create interview questions based on ideas they hear.


These are techniques you use when it’s hard to understand. Effective listeners use these in challenging situations. Beth refers to this common categorisation:

a) Cognitive strategies

How we think while we're listening.

b) Meta-cognitive strategies

How we think about listening or how we think about thinking; how we think about trying to succeed.

c) Socio-affective strategies

How we encourage ourselves, work together with friends or ask for help.

She recommends providing a variety of such strategies. Here are some specific strategies:

1. Prediction and planning
Let's assume students have to listen to a talk about something. Show a title, play the first few sentences – what will the talk be about? Students can predict what words they will hear and consider what strategies they will use.
2. Monitoring
Teach students to make hypotheses as they listen, but then check them. Students often go wrong by taking forward the wrong idea. Get them to use hand signals as they listen, e.g. thumbs up, sideways or down. This gives you real-time feedback.
3. Problem-solving
The meat! Focus on key words, use context, forget what you didn’t get and focus on the present; ignore unknown words, make a guess and verify; the teacher pauses the audio and thinks aloud for class, helping them apply strategies.

Vandergrift (2004) suggests a 5 stage approach to listening – with 3 listenings:

1. Planning/predicting in groups
2. First verification stage
3. Second verification stage
4. Final verification stage
5. Reflection stage (talking in groups or writing a journal)


“Practising comprehension, not incomprehension” (Renandya and Farrell, 2011)

The principle here is to provide easy listening using as much language as possible that they already know.

Here are some approaches: 

1. Grading listening texts – include mostly known grammar and vocabulary. The teacher can tell a story from their own life or you can use published graded audio. Keep it easy.
2. Repeated listening – “Close your eyes and listen. Now you can understand it!”
3. Supported listening – make it easier by letting students read along, read the subtitles of a film, follow with pictures, watch gestures; use video rather than audio when possible.
4. Topic/genre-flooding – use familiar topics and do them repeatedly. It's then easier to use compensatory strategies. Focus on topics students are interested in, e.g. film, TV, internet

5. Independent listening – encourage students to use podcasts, songs, news. Students can keep a listening diary or do a weekly task.


Renandya, W. A. & Farrell, T. S. (2011). ‘Teacher, the tape is too fast!’ Extensive listening in ELT. English Language Teaching Journal, 65(1), pp. 52-59. 

Vandergrift, L. (2004). Learning to listen or listening to learn? Annual Review of
Applied Linguistics, 24, 3–25.


  1. Hi! I am currently a student at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. I am taking a Designs for Learning French course and exploring different ways to enhance Core French in the classroom. In 2013 B.C. underwent a curriculum redesign and there is much focus on experiential learning. Last week in class we were given the lyrics to a French song and asked to make a list of words that were familiar and foreign to us. I love how this post talks about "listening with purpose" and "closing your eyes" - I find that my skills in decoding the written French language are far better than my listening skills. The activities listed in this post give me hope that I as the educator can introduce to my learners strategies that work!


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