Skip to main content

Paired listening gap-fill

Here's a simple brief, low preparation pair work task with a focus on listening. Partner A is given a gapped text at the right level (about their current level of competence with little or no new vocabulary). There should not be many gaps, say about one missing word every sentence or two. Partner B has a list of words which can fill the gaps, but the words are not listed in the same sequence the gaps will be heard. You could add distractor words to the list (words will will not be used). See the examples below.

Partner A reads aloud at a slowish pace the text, pausing when there is a gap. Partner B then chooses a word from their list which could plausibly fill the gap. Partner A then re-reads the sentence to include the new word supplied by Partner B. Then partner A reads on to the next gap, and so on. If the text is relatively short, I'd suggest that when Partner A re-reads, they go back to the start of the text. In this way Partner B gets to hear the input several times, and partner A gets several opportunities to read aloud. You may need to insist on this point to avoid students rushing.

When the text is finished and all the gaps filled, the pair can discuss the answers briefly together. Or the teacher can display a correct version on the board. The whole task may take no more than five minutes, so you could supply a couple more examples.

The partners can then swap roles.

So this is effectively a simple oral/aural gap-fill task with options which could be used as a starter, filler or plenary. Gaps could be chosen on the basis of key vocabulary content words (focus on lexical retrieval) or, say, grammatical features such as verb tense (focus on grammatical parsing). Both lexical retrieval and parsing are important elements in the listening process. If gaps are placed near or at the end of sentences, students can also bring their predictive skills into play, anticipating what word is likely to come next.

So here's a simple example with a focus on vocabulary retrieval:

Partner A's text

Pendant mes vacances l'année dernière à Barcelone j'ai fait beaucoup de _______. Par exemple, je me suis baigné dans la piscine, j'ai fait les magasins et j'ai visité des ________ avec mes parents. Un jour il y avait un grand marché dans la ville et j'ai acheté un T-shirt et des sandales pour la _______. Il a fait beau presque tous les jours, sauf un jour jour où il y a eu beaucoup de _______. Ce jour-là on n'a pas pu aller sur la plage. Pour moi le meilleur moment était quand on a visité le parc aquatique. Je suis allé au moins vingt fois sur le ________. L'année prochaine je voudrais bien retourner en _______, parce que les gens sont sympa et il y a du soleil tous les jours.

Partner B's word list

soleil (distractor)
hotel (distractor)
France (distractor)

And here's one with a focus on grammatical awareness, in this instance tense usage:

Partner A's text

Quand j'étais toute petite j'allais à l'école primaire près de chez moi. Je ______ beaucoup avec mes camarades de classe, par exemple nous jouions à cache-cache dans la cour. J'adorais mes maîtresses et je ne voulais pas vraiment _____ au collège. Maintenant je vais au collège et je ______ beaucoup. Je fais beaucoup de matières différentes et en plus il y les devoirs à ______ tous les soirs. C'est pénible. L'année prochaine je ______ en seconde au lycée. Ce sera un peu différent, je crois. Je vais me concentrer un peu plus sur les maths et les sciences.

Partner B's word list

concentre (distractor)
fait (distractor)
passais (distractor)
travaillais (distractor)
joue (distractor)

You could of course work this type of task into a lesson sequence. You take one of the completed texts after the exercise, and use it as the basis for further exercises to provide more repetitions. For example, you could the "disappearing text" technique, gradually removing more and more words from the text as students attempt to recreate it orally. Texts could also be the basis for paired dictation or teacher-led "delayed dictation" (see my previous blog).

The above examples suit low intermediate level students, but the technique could be used at any level. With beginners and low intermediates you'd want to be confident in the reading aloud abilities of the class.


  1. Hi,
    Sorry, I couldn't find any way to contact you. Anyways, I wanted to introduce which is a website used by language teachers for creating gap-fill exercises like you advocate in this article. You can then see how well the students performed by either having them login or just recording anonymous answers. You can also embed sound files directly into the website. There are also other quiz types available like drag & drop, dropdowns, etc.

  2. Happy to check it out, though it’s not very useful for the specific exercise above.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…

Five great advanced level French listening sites

If your A-level students would like opportunities to practise listening there are plenty of sources you can recommend for accessible, largely comprehensible and interesting material. Here are some I have come across while searching for resources over recent years.

Daily Geek Show

I love this site. It's fresh, youthful and full of really interesting material. They have an archive of videos, both short and long, from various sources, grouped under a range of themes: insolite (weird news items), science, discovery, technology, ecology and lifestyle. There should be something there to interest all your students while adding to their broader education. Here is one I enjoyed (I shall seriously think about buying tomatoes in winter now):

France Bienvenue

This site has been around for years and is the work of a university team in Marseilles. You get a mixture of audio and video material complete with transcripts and explanations.This is much more about the personal lives of the students …

Responsive teaching

Dylan Wiliam, the academic most associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL), aka formative assessment, has stated that these labels have not been the most helpful to teachers. He believes that they have been partly responsible for poor implementation of AfL and the fact that AfL has not led to the improved outcomes originally intended.

Wiliam wrote on Twitter in 2013:

“Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching".”

For the record he subsequently added:

“The point I was making—years ago now—is that it would have been much easier if we had called formative assessment "responsive teaching". However, I now realize that this wouldn't have helped since it would have given many people the idea that it was all about the teacher's role.”

I suspect he’s right about the appellation and its consequences. As a teacher I found it hard to get my head around the terms AfL and formative assess…