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Level Up on Listening Activities in the ESL Classroom

February 23, 2022

When we picture an English classroom, we imagine students typing away on their computers or flipping the pages of a book. We don’t always think of students quietly listening as being hard at work developing their English skills. While listening is one of the four key domains for English learners, many educators take for granted that students are listening to English throughout the day and continually honing that aspect of their fluency. However, listening, like any skill, is one that must be intentionally practiced and developed. Here are three keys to consistently incorporating listening activities into your classroom.

  1. Use audio-only formats like podcasts.
    There are a number of narrative and informational podcasts that could fit naturally into a unit of instruction. In my ELD classroom, we listen to the Kid’s Listen podcast Six Minutes almost every day. The ten minutes it takes us to listen to the short episode and discuss it are a great start to the class and students are hooked to the story! I’ve also used one-off episodes as a way for students to practice skills like note-taking, developing inferences, collecting evidence, and more.While I often introduce podcasts by showing students a series of images related to the story and asking them to make predictions, I try not to include visuals so that students are focused on actively listening.
  2. Have multiple ways for students to process information
    Audio formats like podcasts open up a wide range of possibilities for what students can do as they listen. It’s important to set an expectation for what students should be doing throughout the process. They could be moving around the room, creating sketchnotes or traditional notes, or even just listening. It is important to plan moments to pause the audio and discuss what we’ve listened to so far to keep students engaged and on the same page, metaphorically speaking.
  3. Prioritize a diversity of listening activities
    When it comes to listening activities, the possibilities are endless. It’s important to expose English learners to a wide variety of types of speech that can help them in multiple contexts. This could include listening to someone give directions and drawing a map. It could be listening to a classmate and then reporting out what they said. It could be listening to a casual conversation between peers and then adding to the conversation. It could be taking notes on an academic lecture and then using the notes to paraphrase the information. All of these types of listening are valuable when it comes to students’ English language development.

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