ELT Traveller box

about teaching English to young learners, web tools and iPad teaching

Teaching listening to teenage learners #3

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Approaches and activities

Black and White by @sandymillin (from #eltpics)

As outlined in the previous post, the context where prediction activities take place plays a key role. To address this issue, I would first introduce a classroom listening habit  in order to create a friendly atmosphere.Then I would gradually introduce different activities to enhance the students’ consciousness of prediction in order to form a natural and effective listening routine.

I would recommend approaching listening tasks using a direct approach. Thornbury and Slide (2006) states that the direct approach ‘involves understanding and planning a conversation programme around the specific microskills, strategies, and processes that are involved in fluent conversation’. This approach stresses the importance of listening to and ‘having conversations’, but it also presupposes the need of a ‘form-focused, instructional stage at some point in the lesson cycle’ (2006: 275). On the other hand, the indirect approach involves acquiring conversational competence through simply doing conversation. I believe listening and speaking skills are strictly related and the approach to teaching them should be linked.

From my experience, learners need to be trained on ‘having conversations’, which means they should be able to identify key strategies and forms that could help them while listening to and performing conversations.

All the coursebooks designed for Italian state schools I have looked at follow a standard receptive-skills procedure without noticing and training learners in specific subskills. Learners listen to recordings (usually a dialogue between friends) and then work on the text: answering gist questions, looking for detailed information (e.g. what music do they like?) or focusing on vocabulary. Once linguistic features are recognised, the teacher will present learners with the speaking task (e.g. talk to your partner about musical instruments) The activity is usually followed by a whole class check. No predicting content activity is planned. This is basically the approach taken in Kelly and Chiodini (2010), and Spencer (2007).


Interestingly Barker and Mitchell (2008) approach some texts with a short predicting activity. Having read the title (e.g. Have you ever swum with a crocodile?), learners are asked to look at the pictures before reading/listening to the text and try to predict what the text is about . This activity proved to be extremely useful in a young learner language classroom. Students started to be aware of a strategy they can rely on when listening to a text,  and this started to make them feel more comfortable while listening.

Moreover, since in my experience many young teenagers are mostly kinaesthetic and spatial learners, the use of pictures in predicting activities could help them to become involved in the activity.

As discussed earlier, many elementary learners have problems identifying connected speech or unknown words in English. In order to address these issues I would suggest to first build confidence by showing students that they are able to infer. eg by starting from reading (because it is easier) and showing them sentences with a word they know and which is inferable replaced by XXX, then doing the same with spoken sentences where the unknown word is replaced by a beep.

Other awareness and practice activities that could be useful to solve the issues presented before can be:

Vocabulary building: e.g. T gives the title of a famous story from a book or film previously encountered in the classroom (e.g. Twilight), students create a list of words related to it.

Rationale: Learners have the chance to work on vocabulary, they have time to think about the film/book and collaboratively recall keywords. In my experience this activity reduces the issues related to the real time nature of spoken language. In particular it will help to solve issues related to shared knowledge mentioned above – no specific cultural context is involved, the use of film stories already discussed makes the context understandable for all students.

Use of a reading text as model:  e.g. read the text ‘Great hobbies for teens’. Students are asked to read a text and to notice some grammar structures and lexical items by working on the text (e.g. underlining, circling etc.). The teacher could also provide students with the correct pronunciation.

Rationale: This activity will motivate elementary teenage learners and it will help them to understand and build up suitable language for the listening activity. It would also be a fruitful activity to solve the issue related to predicting grammar structure of spoken English. Learners notice the structure used, underlining it. They have the chance to see and work on a text with similar structure. It will make it easier to then recognise the same structure during listening. This activity will work as a preparation activity.

  • Barker, C. and Mitchell, L. (2008). Dynamic 2. 1sted. Oxford: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
  • Kelly, P. and Chiodini, G. (2010). That’s it. 1sted. Edizioni LANG, Pearson Italia
  • Spencer, M. (2007). Result!. 1sted. Oxford: Macmillan Publishers Ltd
  • Thornbury, S. (2006). How to teach speaking. Harlow: Longman.
  • Thornbury, S. and Slide, D. (2006). Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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