Listening skills – making use of global knowledge

Disclaimer: This is more of an idea than a lesson (however, I am going to give you some materials at the bottom that you can use to turn it into a lesson should you so desire).

It’s an answer to a question and the question is one that my students ask me over and over, again and again.

Teacher, why can’t I understand the news and the radio?

The answer is very simple: you just got her and you don’t know enough of the back story to have a hope of making head nor tail of a complex news story.

Realising this, I have over the years done virtually the same lesson with a variety of different news stories. It’s simple and it only has 4 steps:

  1. Test: play a radio / news story about something complex and topical. Ask the students how much they understood. Usually, to their dismay, not a lot.
  2. Teach: Break out a lovely article from a current newspaper on this topic and do with it what you will. Perhaps some vocab, a bit of a discussion, general and specific comprehension…all the classics. (see here for tips on using articles in class).
  3. Test: Replay the original story.
  4. Reflect: How much did they understand now? What did they use?

This is a simple formula but it has a number of benefits:

  • Encourages students to use what they know about the world when engaging with listening texts. Instead of just waiting for information to reach their ears and make sense. It’s all about being pro-active listeners.
  • Can foster an interest in the culture and society of the language they are learning.
  • Leaves students with a sense of accomplishment.
  • It can be applied to any topical story.

 

So, as promised, here is a link to a news story. It’s a little old but it’s one that works and usually leads to some interesting discussion. The article you can use is below.

Material: living wage

Home made listening texts

So, earlier this year, quite a while ago now, we spoke at IATEFL and also watched a number of other talks, which was fantastic.  One thing that we noticed in our speech was how the audience got excited by the idea of making their own listening materials and so here are ideas based around doing that.

Something we’ve long felt to be true was that students need to be given access to listening materials that push them and that are also true to how people speak outside of the classroom.

One of the most interesting talks I went to was by John Hughes, you can find a link to his site at the bottom of this blog.  He spoke about setting up a situation with people and then just recording it and seeing what functional language came up.  In the spirit of investigation, and also as I think it really fits into the sort of thing we do, I have tried it a few times.  Guess what? It works really well.

So the idea is this.  Decide on a piece of functional language you want to teach, e.g. directions / buying things in a shop and just ask two/three people to have a conversation and record them.  I found giving the people realia, e.g. items in a shop situation, made it more natural.  This way you get all of the wonderful features of natural speech, fillers, false starts, discourse markers.  Rather than making it more difficult for listeners these often help in my opinion.  For more on listening definitely check Field’s excellent book, Listening in the language classroom.

Procedure:

  1. decide on situation
  2. record speakers, first recording is good, you want it to be natural
  3. listen for which language is used
  4. write a couple of basic gist questions
  5. set checking questions for grammar / vocab
  6. you can then get students to make their own recordings using the target language

E.g. what language was used to ask for directions “could you tell me where … is please?”

Other really useful things for lower levels could be questions about how many people are speaking, this can be really good for low levels.  I tend to subscribe to the view that grading the task not the text is equally appropriate for listenings, after all in the big wide English speaking world, students are not going to have things graded for them by native speakers!

http://elteachertrainer.com/

Grammar Girlfriend: The future

Grammar girlfriend is my made up girlfriend that I use to tell stories to introduce language points. The idea is simple: your telling your students a story so there is a clear context for the language, it’s nice exposure for them to natural speech and story-telling and because it’s you and it’s “personal”, your students are much more engaged and invested than if it was written in a book or some random recording.

This is a very quick story that I use to examine how we express the future in English. Feel free to steal, adapt or just to take the basic idea of having a made-up grammar partner.

So my girlfriend (Actually my ex now) came home one day with a picture she’d bought at a market somewhere. She came in all happy and pleased with herself and tried to show me the picture. Now, I was playing Xbox so didn’t really pay much attention (maybe that’s why she’s now my ex). Anyway she asked me to hang the painting on the wall for her.

A few days later she comes home and there’s the painting lying against the wall where she left it. “David!” she says, “David! My painting!”.

Now at this point I have three things I can say to my girlfriend:

  1. Don’t worry, I’ll hang it tomorrow.
  2. Don’t worry, I’m going to hang it tomorrow.
  3. Don’t worry, I’m hanging it tomorrow.

At this point I display these three options on the board and explain that each of them is grammatically correct, each of them is possible in this situation and in each one the result is the same, the painting will be on the wall tomorrow but that each one gives my girlfriend different information.

The task for the students is to discuss each of them, decide what information each one tells her and which one I probably said.

  1. Don’t worry, I’ll hang it tomorrow. – I’ve only just decided about this and I hadn’t given it any thought before this moment.
  2. Don’t worry, I’m going to hang it tomorrow. – I thought about it before now and made the decision to hang it tomorrow.
  3. Don’t worry, I’m hanging it tomorrow. – Don’t worry darling, I thought about this before now, I’ve organised everything, I’ve bought a hammer and a nail and got my spirit-level out and all that jazz, it’s happening tomorrow…worry not my dear. 

Above is the info you’re looking for from the students, and obviously the answer is number 3. This usually leads to a discussion about the future in English and how it’s all about what the speaker wants to express to the listener and by using “will” alone, the learners are limiting themselves. You could also look at the fact that I said 3 but 1 was probably the truth.

Enjoy.

You’ve got Voicemail

So this lesson is based on something I did for my DELTA many years ago.  Back then I had to phone each of them and leave them all a little voice mail message.  Now, just create a what’s app group and share it.  Much easier, and less time consuming.

Why make it a voice mail, well a lot of the listening practice that we do as teachers involves us playing the text to them, in the real world they normally only hear things once, unless watching T.V. The exception is voice mail, I think everyone has had to listen to a voice mail a few times to get a long number or to catch a name.  So in this lesson, students can listen as many times as they want, the power is in their hands. Literally!

The context for this is looking for a flat, which is something many students may have had some personal experience of, especially living abroad.  One of the main focuses here is on prediction and script work, getting students to think before listening about what information they really expect to hear.

Also be prepared for the fact that a lot of house vocab can come up in the discussion stage, monitor and board the language that you think would be beneficial for the whole class.

  • Time: 30-60mins + follow on activity
  • Level: Int +
  • Aim:  To help students listen better for specific information in a natural context
  • Sub aim:  To raise awareness of stressed and weak forms in natural speech patterns.

 Procedure

Before going into the classroom you will need to have recorded the text, either yourself or using someone else – it is important to make sure it is natural sounding.

1. The context: Explain to students that the context is that they have contacted an estate agent looking for a flat for them and a friend. They have been told about two, property A and property B.  You can show them the details to the property at this point and ask them to discuss with partners what they think and which place they would prefer to live in and why.

2. Prediction: Tell students that they are going to get an answerphone message in a minute about another house on their phones.  Get them to predict what might be said, what vocab they expect to hear and also if there is any grammar that they think will be used in the recording.

3. Strong and weak forms: Write the first line of the message on the board

“Hi , this is (name) calling from Fairhouse”

Ask the students, in pairs/groups, to think about which words they would expect to hear clearly, if you have done some work with them previously, they should be able to identify them, if not, then give them time and help when monitoring.

Play the 1st line of the recording only and ask students to see which words are stressed

Hi , this is (name) calling from Fairhouse

Say only the stressed words and ask if they can understand the meaning of the sentence

Hi, (name) calling Fairhouse

Get the students to reflect on why those words are stressed and why the others aren’t – ie, it gives meaning, the others don’t.

Tell students that it will be important to listen out for only the key information while doing the task.

4. Note taking: Get students to reflect back on what information they expect to hear and then share the message with them using what’s app or another similar method.  Hand out the questions on the worksheet and let them listen for the answers. Give them 3-5 minutes, remember the whole point is that they can listen as many times as they want.

Hand out the final property information sheet (C) and now ask the students if they would change their first choice of property and in pairs/groups ask them to discuss this and why?

5. Language focus:  Ask the students to listen again and make a note of any grammar structures they hear used.  They should hopefully notice the repeated use of conditionals.

Then ask if they can write them down – a bit of dictation.  Encourage them to listen only twice and then try to reconstruct the rest of the conditional with a partner (dictagloss).

Then pass on the small section on function or put the information on a board.

(this section is short as I don’t want conditionals to be the focus of the lesson, if you want, feel free to go into much more detail on them)

6. Pronunciation: Ask students what happens to the first ‘I’ in if when saying a conditional.

Write this on the board

/faɪ wə juː/

explain that the first sound often vanishes when native speakers talk quickly.  Highlight the fact they therefore need to be prepared for this while listening.

Get them with partners to practise the pronunciation of the three conditional sentences or drill chorally, whichever you prefer or more importantly your class respond best to.

7. Reflection: Place students in small groups / pairs and ask them to think about what different aspects of listening skills they have focused on and why.  Then share as a group discussion.

Optional

8.  Follow up: Ask students to make notes for a reply to the estate agent explaining which house(s) they would like to view and putting forwards ideas for a time. Remind them of the use of conditionals for giving choices. Once they have ideas, get them to record it, don’t worry about mistakes at this point.

Ask them to listen, focusing on their pronunciation and get them to think about two parts they could improve.  Ask them to record again, trying to improve those two things. When they have done this and are happy, ask them to send the recordings to you.

Listen to them, make some notes on the different recordings and work on any issues in forthcoming lessons.

 

Materials:

Property details

worksheet 1