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Exploiting listening texts with modelling in mind, not testing

One of the staples of language lessons is the listening lesson based around an extract of audio or video text. With a focus on comprehension, common ways of exploiting such material are by setting tasks such as:

- True/false/not mentioned
- Tick the correct statements
- Multiple choice questions in L1 or L2
- Questions in L1 or L2

These are all well and good if the focus is on testing comprehension. Such activities can be frequently found in text books which are often written with a particular assessment regime in mind, e.g. the GCSE examination in parts of the UK. But if you would like to design your worksheets with a greater focus on intensive listening and “listening as modelling” you can consider a different range of exercises. Here are some, along with a justification for their use.

Classic gap-fill

This requires closer listening than that which may involve mere word spotting for comprehension. Gaps can be chosen with different goals in mind. If you wish the focus to be on phonics, then omit single letters or syllables. If the focus is on lexical retrieval, omit key meaning words. If it’s parsing you wish to prioritise then omit parts of verbs, whole verbal phrases or parts of sentences where the syntax plays a role in creating the meaning (e.g. use of the passive voice).

Gap-fill summary

In this case write a paragraph or set of sentences which are a reasonably close to the original text, but where a degree of extra reading comprehension or grammar manipulation is required. This adds an extra level of interest and challenge for students.

Sentence completion

This is a variation on the above. Provide starts or ends of sentences which students must complete by close listening.

Correct the transcription

Provide an imperfect transcription of the text. Students have to underline where they hear a discrepancy, then write in the correct original version. This requires picking out individual words or short chunks from the sound stream. Typically you design the faulty transcription to contain synonyms or near synonyms of the original. This requires retrieval of already known words and deeper processing of vocabulary. Alternatively, at a more difficult level, students may need to underline a longer chunk, rewording it with different syntax, thus building parsing skill.

Complete a glossary

Provide a lost of L1 words the translation of which must be found from the text. To make the task more difficult supply a list of words which are synonyms or near synonyms of the words they need to find from the text. The focus here is on lexical retrieval.


Students have to listen closely to make detailed notes in L1 or L2 on factual or other details from the text. Notes can be fed back orally or in writing to a partner or the teacher.


At intermediate level this requires close listening, note taking, then adapting or simplifying the source text. Students must summarise the content, using their own language as far as possible. By doing this students develop their skill with vocabulary and grammar, and ultimately therefore, their ability to listen successfully.

Translation into L2

Provide a list of L1 sentences which students must translate by locating them in the text. To make it harder, make sure students have to adapt the source text a little. The stress here is is on vocabulary, morphology and syntax.


Short texts can simply be transcribed as if students were doing a dictation. The emphasis is on phonics, but also involves knowledge of grammar and vocabulary.

Note that with all the above tasks you or the students can play the text as many times as needed. If any parts of the audio or video are particularly tricky, you can slow them down either by reading them yourself or using a facility such as that offered by YouTube. Crucially, if the text has been chosen to be largely comprehensible all students should be able to build their confidence and achieve success. It may be that any of these tasks are more productive than the one suggested in your text book.

Finally, if the source text is longer than you would like to exploit it intensively, then adapt or shorten it as necessary. In essence, as soon as you feel the source is becoming overwhelming for classes, do it differently. By adopting this approach over a period of years your students will be more able to cope with some of the challenging listening exercises they may encounter in examinations.

Sources of authentic audio and video

Finding authentic sources at an appropriate level is a challenge, but here are a few suggestions which may help you.

- The site has many hundreds of short audio clips (largely under three minutes) in multiple languages recorded by native speakers. Pick and choose carefully for content and audibility.

- If you search carefully you will find a range of easier video recordings such as individual YouTubers’ clips, commercial uploads, very simple cooking recipes, TV adverts and short but easy news items. I’d stress, however, that it’s wise to be very choosy and stick to the most comprehensible source material, scaffolding nay tasks as much as necessary to ensure students can process the language.

- Cartoon videos for very young native speakers can be a useful and enjoyable source. The humour, familiarity and relatively easy language makes some suitable for intermediate learners. Again, pick and choose carefully, favouring those with the easiest vocabulary. I suggest Peppa Pig which is translated into many languages and easily available online. Providing a glossary can compensate to some extent when you think the level is a little above what you would like. Don’t forget that the best listening tasks have input which is highly comprehensible.

So, in sum, there’s loads more you can do to go beyond that text book exercise if it’s not focused enough on the process of listening for your taste.

For lots more ideas on how to get the best out of lessons with a focus on listening, look out for the book called Breaking the Sound Barrier which Gianfranco Conti and I shall be publishing soon.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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