TEFL Worksheet Generator - make your own worksheets

The 3 Best Activities to Improve Your Students’ Listening Skills

By Armando Pannacci
Encouraging your students to actively listen will not only help them with learning English but can also make your job as a teacher so much easier

Helping your students develop strong listening skills can be one of the more challenging tasks you’ll face as an ESL teacher. When working in schools, much of the pre-set curriculum is based on developing other skills, like reading and writing. Even passive listening skills, where students are expected to remain quiet while a teacher reads, are often emphasized more than active listening skills, where students actively listen for what the teacher is actually saying.

Encouraging your students to actively listen will not only help them with learning English but can also make your job as a teacher so much easier. With that said, here are the top three active listening activities that have helped me in teaching listening skills to my students.

Vocabulary Bingo

One activity that has always been very popular with my students is Vocabulary Bingo. To carry out this activity, you have to have some prior knowledge of how the traditional game of Bingo works. This one is not much different, other than the fact that the students’ Bingo cards contain the vocabulary words you aim to teach them, and you’re reading a story instead of simply calling out the words.

Because you’re reading a story and they’re listening carefully, this not only builds listening skills and knowledge of new vocabulary words but also works perfectly as an engaging activity where students are more likely to pay attention to what you’re saying.

The following steps should help you prepare and carry out your first game of Vocabulary Bingo:

1. Create, Adopt, or Adapt a Story

As this activity involves reading a story, you can choose to create, adopt, or adapt the story based on the vocabulary words that you’re trying to teach to your students. Of course, creating your own story from scratch can take up a lot of time, so if you can find a story that already incorporates some of the vocabulary words, that’s always better.

If you’re unable to adopt a story in this way, then you can always adapt a story by changing parts of it to accommodate the vocabulary words.

2. Create Bingo Cards with Target Vocabulary

After you’ve created or chosen a story to read, the next step is to create Bingo cards that include the target vocabulary words, plus non-target words that are either new to students or, preferably, words that they have already learned from previous lessons.

You can find many free printable Bingo card templates online and can then edit them by adding all your words before printing them out. Remember, this is a Bingo game, so each card needs to have the target words in a different order or sequence so that you don’t have more than one winner at a time.

To make things easier for yourself and to ensure that all the cards are made correctly, I recommend using one of the many available Bingo card generator websites online. With these sites, you can simply provide the generator with all of the words you’d like on the cards and the generator will then create the cards, at which point you can print them.

You will also need game pieces for students to use with their cards so that they can mark off words as they hear them, though tiny pieces of paper will normally suffice for this.

3. Introduce the Target Vocabulary to Students

Now that you have your story and Bingo cards ready, you should introduce the target vocabulary words to your students so that they have some familiarity with them before the game begins.

I’ve found that writing the words on the chalkboard for all to see and then holding a brief warm-up discussion about them normally works well. However, it’s up to you how you introduce the words to the students, depending on how much time you have, the age of your students, and other factors.

4. Read the Story Aloud While Students Play the Game

Now comes the fun part where you read the story aloud, and while doing so, students should be listening carefully for the vocabulary words in the story while placing game pieces over any words they hear.

In my experience, you have to be very careful when it comes to this activity and younger students, because it’s easy for some of them to miss a word or two in the story, and they may then become upset later on if they realize that they missed this.

For this reason, you may want to help them out by putting emphasis on the words as you come across them in the story by saying them in a different tone or by briefly pausing the story so that you can call out these words in the same way that one would in a traditional Bingo game.

Watch and Listen

Watch and Listen, which is an activity based on contextual listening, can be very fun for students of all ages when videos are used as the medium, and it involves three skills: listening, memory, and attention.

With this activity, you’ll be playing a video for students while they listen for target vocabulary words. You will then ask students if they heard the words and they will have to recall both what they heard and who said it.

It may be difficult to find a video that incorporates all of the vocabulary words you have in mind. Instead, you may want to find a video on a specific topic that you’re teaching and review the video beforehand to put together a list of words from it that you can teach to your students.

After you’ve chosen an appropriate video, you can conduct this activity as follows:

1. Review the Words That Students Are Listening for

The first thing you need to do before you begin the activity is to prime your students’ listening skills by briefly reviewing a list of words related to the video that you’re about to show them. If the topic of the lesson is animal habitats and you’re about to show them a video on animals, you can discuss words like ocean, desert, and mountain with them beforehand. They need to know what words they should be listening for.

If it’s a long list of words or if the students are very young, you should have the list written down somewhere where the students can see it while they’re watching the video, preferably on sheets of paper that they can have at their desk so that they can reference it at any time.

2. Explain the Characters and Play the Video

If the video or movie you’re playing doesn’t make it abundantly clear who the characters in it are, you’ll want to introduce these characters to students beforehand as well. Provide their names and a little background information about each character so that students can gain familiarity.

If possible, provide students with the names of the characters, along with images of what they look like, on a sheet of paper or the chalkboard. Next, play the video and instruct students to listen carefully to what is being said.

3. Ask Questions During or After the Video

While the video is playing, you may want to pause it every now and then to ask students whether they heard the target words or not and who said them. Younger students may struggle to remember things from the video if you wait too long to ask them about specific scenes.

You can even have your students write down who said what if you’ve provided them with a sheet of paper that has the characters and the correct spelling of the words on it. If your students are older or more adept at listening, it’s normally better to wait until the video is finished.

I’ve found that older students, such as those in secondary school, often have fun trying to recall who said what in the video.

Running Dictation

For younger students who respond well to hands-on activities or those that involve physical movements, Running Dictation is always a great option. Running Dictation may sound complex but it’s actually a very simple activity that involves having one student read and repeat words or sentences while the other listens and writes.

Here are some steps for an easy Running Dictation activity that I frequently use:

1. Prepare Your Classroom and Group Students into Pairs

Before you can begin the activity, you’ll have to come up with some words or sentences that you’d like your students to learn. Write these down on sheets of paper, then tape these papers or place them in locations in the room that are far enough from where your students will be so that they can safely run to these locations.

Have a way to distinguish the papers by color coding them or placing large numbers above them so students know which ones to go to in sequence. For example, when you begin the activity, your runners will all be running to the same paper, so you may want to designate that paper by placing the number one above it, while the second paper they should all run to could be designated with the number two above it.

To ensure safety, make sure that there are no desks, chairs, or other obstacles in the way. If the classroom is too small for this type of activity, you may need to do it outside the classroom if possible. Next, you should group students into pairs, and while this is the ideal size for each team, larger groups can work as well, as long as there’s enough time for each student to play in both the writer and runner roles, which I’m about to explain.

2. Model the Activity and Explain Runner/Writer Roles

Now that you have your classroom set up for this activity and your students grouped together, you should model for your students how this activity works by showing them how to perform their roles.

As for their roles, one student will now run to the first paper taped up, they will read the word or sentence that you’ve written on the paper, and they will then run back to say this word or sentence to the other student, who is the listener/writer and will then write down what they’ve heard.

After a pair of students finish writing down what is on the first paper, they will switch roles for the next paper so that the writer in the last round now becomes the runner and vice versa.

3. Walk Around to Review and Assist (But Not Too Much)

To review your students’ performance and to check for accuracy, you should be walking around to review what’s being written down while it’s happening, and it’s a good idea to award points for each group that successfully finishes each round. Based on the age level of your students, you may also need to walk around to assist both the runners and the writers.

The runners may have difficulty when it comes to reading a word or sentence, so you may need to walk up to those who you see struggling to help them. If you think that many of your students may struggle, it may be wiser to stick to single words rather than sentences or put students into larger groups so runners can have another student there to assist.

The writers may have difficulty as well with either the listening or writing process, so they may need a bit of assistance, though you don’t want to help too much with the listening process, as this can make the game unfair for others and you should be encouraging your students to develop independent listening skills.


Listening Skills Extend Far Beyond the Classroom

Always keep in mind that while passive listening is important so that students don’t interrupt you, it’s active listening that leads to language acquisition. Not only will students learn how to pay attention to what you’re saying when you teach, but they will also become more active in listening to English in other contexts, such as movies, marketplaces, or other scenarios outside of the classroom.

Written by Armando Pannacci for Tefl.NET August 2022
Arm is a Canadian ESL teacher with over ten years' experience teaching English in Thailand, Korea and Canada. He has a bachelor's of social work degree and received his certificate in TESOL from TESOL Canada.
© Tefl.NET

One Comment

  • Marcus Gohar says:

    Interesting but I think there’s room for improvement. First, let’s say listening, like reading, is a “receptive” skill not a “passive” one. For a language learner, processing an incoming stream of connected speech is never “passive”. Secondly, it appears that vocabulary is assumed to be single words. I am with Michael Lewis in believing that it is largely pre-fabricated lexical chunks, AKA formulaic language, which should be leaned as chunks. This includes their pronunciation in connected speech. Field, (2008) goes further, saying that weak forms of function words (articles, pronouns etc) should also be taught. Teaching pronunciation is not about “accent reduction”. It is about recognising known lexis (and grammar) in normal speed connected speech.

Leave a comment




Tefl.NET : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Listening Ideas : The 3 Best Activities to Improve Your Students’ Listening Skills