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.


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.


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.



Property details

worksheet 1


Cats in the Cradle (Listening + Pronunciation, the inexorable link)

Once upon a time I worked in a school and I thought I taught my students how to listen in English. Oh, I gave them wonderful advice such as: listen to the radio every day, watch DVDs in English, listen to people on the bus and tube…all of it utter rubbish if I do not give them the tools to actually decode what they hear, if I don’t prepare them for what they’re going to hear, which was probably why my students did absolutely awful in all of their listening tests but great in everything else. I wasn’t equipped to actually teach listening, the forgotten skill. Then I discovered John Field and developed a little crush on him and his book and I actually started trying to teach my students to listen.

The following lesson gives you some ideas of how you can start doing this. It’s based on three simple assumptions:

  1. If students don’t know something is possible, they WILL NOT HEAR IT! Have you ever learnt a word in another language and then suddenly started hearing it everywhere? It’s probably unlikely that people all of a sudden started using the word more often, it’s much more likely that because you no knew it was possible, you were able to hear it.
  2. If we don’t let students know how words/phrases will actually be pronounced in the real world, they will not understand them. English language learners will often build their sentences one word at a time, however, as native speakers we speak in chunks and use connected speech. By raising our students’ awareness of this fact, they are much more likely to understand an English speaker.
  3. Skills lessons need to involve one of more reflection stages. As teachers we have a tendency to be very sneaky and practise lots of different sub-skills in one lesson but if we don’t actually raise the students’ awareness of what they’re doing and how it can be applied to their real life, it’s all for nought.

Age: teenagers – Adults

Level: Pre-intermediate upwards.

Time: 90mins – 3hours (depending on your choice of activities)



  1. Opening discussion questions: do you use English songs to learn English? What makes them difficult? Are there any negative points to using songs? – Aim: to get students thinking about how helpful music can be / to address any worries they might have about songs containing “bad” English / to raise awareness of the fact that songs often contain spoken English.
  2. First listening: Play the first 26 seconds of the song as a dictation. Prepare students by telling them it will be difficult but to write any word they hear and not to worry as they will hear it a number of times. Play this section as many times as you like, allowing the students to compare with each other after each play.
  3. Focus on weak forms: Hand out the lyrics and ask students to check their answers. Ask them to compare with a partner and to circle the words they didn’t hear. In pairs, discuss which words they heard and which they didn’t hear, and why that might be. – Aim: to raise students’ awareness of the fact that in English, content words are pronounced in their strong forms and very often the “grammary” words around them are weak forms. 
  4. Focus on weak forms 2: Students listen to the first verse again and listen out for how the words they didn’t hear were actually pronounced. As a class discuss the difference between how students expect the words to be pronounced and how English speakers will pronounce them. – Aim: to raise awareness of the schwa and it’s prevalence in weak forms. 
  5. Practice: Students look at the chorus and, in pairs, mark where they think there will be schwas and weak forms. Students then listen and check. Afterwards they discuss whether or not they were correct and if they were able to hear the weak forms at all. – Aim: to put into practice what students have noticed and to show improvement. 
  6. Raising awareness of context and prediction: Play the 2nd verse for the students without any discussion or preparation. Ask them to fill in the gaps. Afterwards ask them how they did. They probably won’t have done very well. Tell them that what you did was very unfair and you really should have allowed them some time to prepare.
  7. Preparation: Ask students to reread the song so far, discuss the story, check what types of words could fill the blanks and what tense any verbs would be. As a class, get a list of three to four possibilities on the board for each space. Replay the second verse and students can check their predictions. (Note: I would be surprised if anyone short of upper int or advanced got the first gap – turned – but if they got the meaning and said anything like came or became or was, you can highlight the fact that it’s not important to hear every word as long as you understand). – Aim: to show the importance of preparation. 
  8. Put it into practice: Direct the students attention to the next verse and ask them to do the same as before. Prepare to listen. Students will undoubtedly do much better this time when you play the verse. – Aim: to show improvement
  9. Reflect: ask students to discuss why they understood the 3rd verse more easily than the 2nd. Ask them if any of the skills they have talked about today could be put into use in their daily lives. – Aim: To encourage students to apply their skills in the real world.
  10. Engage with the text: Play the whole song for the students. Afterwards ask the students to discuss the story of the song, whether or not they liked it and to write one sentence outlining the message behind the song.
  11. Optional follow-up activities: See the materials above for optional vocabulary and grammar activities that can be done in class or for homework.