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Teaching Listening

Developing Listening Activities

As you design listening tasks, keep in mind that complete recall of all the information in an
aural text is an unrealistic expectation to which even native speakers are not usually held.
Listening exercises that are meant to train should be success-oriented and build up students'
confidence in their listening ability.

Construct the listening activity around a contextualized task.

Contextualized listening activities approximate real-life tasks and give the listener an idea of
the type of information to expect and what to do with it in advance of the actual listening. A
beginning level task would be locating places on a map (one way) or exchanging name and
address information (two way). At an intermediate level students could follow directions for
assembling something (one way) or work in pairs to create a story to tell to the rest of the
class (two way).

Define the activity's instructional goal and type of response.

Each activity should have as its goal the improvement of one or more specific listening skills.
A listening activity may have more than one goal or outcome, but be careful not to overburden
the attention of beginning or intermediate listeners.
Recognizing the goal(s) of listening comprehension in each listening situation will help
students select appropriate listening strategies.

Identification: Recognizing or discriminating specific aspects of the message, such as

sounds, categories of words, morphological distinctions

Orientation: Determining the major facts about a message, such as topic, text type,

Main idea comprehension: Identifying the higher-order ideas

Detail comprehension: Identifying supporting details

Replication: Reproducing the message orally or in writing

Check the level of difficulty of the listening text.

The factors listed below can help you judge the relative ease or difficulty of a listening text
for a particular purpose and a particular group of students.
How is the information organized? Does the story line, narrative, or instruction conform to
familiar expectations? Texts in which the events are presented in natural chronological order,

which have an informative title, and which present the information following an obvious
organization (main ideas first, details and examples second) are easier to follow.
How familiar are the students with the topic? Remember that misapplication of background
knowledge due to cultural differences can create major comprehension difficulties.
Does the text contain redundancy? At the lower levels of proficiency, listeners may find short,
simple messages easier to process, but students with higher proficiency benefit from the
natural redundancy of the language.
Does the text involve multiple individuals and objects? Are they clearly differentiated? It is
easier to understand a text with a doctor and a patient than one with two doctors, and it is even
easier if they are of the opposite sex. In other words, the more marked the differences, the
easier the comprehension.
Does the text offer visual support to aid in the interpretation of what the listeners hear?
Visual aids such as maps, diagrams, pictures, or the images in a video help contextualize the
listening input and provide clues to meaning.

Use pre-listening activities to prepare students for what they are going to hear
or view.
The activities chosen during pre-listening may serve as preparation for listening in several
ways. During pre-listening the teacher may

assess students' background knowledge of the topic and linguistic content of the text

provide students with the background knowledge necessary for their comprehension of
the listening passage or activate the existing knowledge that the students possess

clarify any cultural information which may be necessary to comprehend the passage

make students aware of the type of text they will be listening to, the role they will
play, and the purpose(s) for which they will be listening

provide opportunities for group or collaborative work and for background reading or
class discussion activities

Sample pre-listening activities:

looking at pictures, maps, diagrams, or graphs

reviewing vocabulary or grammatical structures

reading something relevant

constructing semantic webs (a graphic arrangement of concepts or words showing how

they are related)

predicting the content of the listening text

going over the directions or instructions for the activity

doing guided practice

Match while-listening activities to the instructional goal, the listening purpose,

and students' proficiency level.
While-listening activities relate directly to the text, and students do them do during or
immediately after the time they are listening. Keep these points in mind when planning whilelistening activities:
If students are to complete a written task during or immediately after listening, allow them to
read through it before listening. Students need to devote all their attention to the listening
task. Be sure they understand the instructions for the written task before listening begins so
that they are not distracted by the need to figure out what to do.
Keep writing to a minimum during listening. Remember that the primary goal is
comprehension, not production. Having to write while listening may distract students from
this primary goal. If a written response is to be given after listening, the task can be more
Organize activities so that they guide listeners through the text. Combine global activities
such as getting the main idea, topic, and setting with selective listening activities that focus on
details of content and form.
Use questions to focus students' attention on the elements of the text crucial to comprehension
of the whole. Before the listening activity begins, have students review questions they will
answer orally or in writing after listening. Listening for the answers will help students
recognize the crucial parts of the message.
Use predicting to encourage students to monitor their comprehension as they listen. Do a
predicting activity before listening, and remind students to review what they are hearing to see
if it makes sense in the context of their prior knowledge and what they already know of the
topic or events of the passage.
Give immediate feedback whenever possible. Encourage students to examine how or why their
responses were incorrect.
Sample while-listening activities

listening with visuals

filling in graphs and charts

following a route on a map

checking off items in a list

listening for the gist

searching for specific clues to meaning

completing cloze (fill-in) exercises

distinguishing between formal and informal registers

7 Types of Activities for Listening with a Purpose

1. 1
Listening for the Main Idea

The purpose of this type of listening is to train students to grasp the main points or
general information presented in the audio. Students often get stuck on a detail, a word
or phrase they dont understand and fail to see the bigger picture. So, this is a great
exercise for this type of student.
Listening Exercise: Choose a short audio track that presents information that may be
easily summarized, like a news report. Breaking News English offers some excellent
audio tracks for different levels, like this one for example on bilingualism. Have
students summarize the main points in one or two sentences. It is important to clarify
that students arent expected to deliver details, like numbers, names or statistics but
rather express the main point in a concise manner.
2. 2
Listening for Detail

Here, the purpose is to train students to grasp specific information, details that are
relevant, important or necessary. The goal is to help students obtain the detailed
information they may need like hours, dates, names, etc
Listening Exercise: Biographies tend to have lots of great details. Choose an
interesting one has several in their People page, as well as cool
Places to learn about. Prepare a short list of questions they must read before listening,
of the what, when, where, how type. Students listen for these details, then report their
answers after the listening.
3. 3
Listening for a Sequence

Quite often, students receive instructions in English, information they will need to act
on or orders they will need to follow. It is vital that they get the order right, that they
understand the sequence correctly and what each step entails.
Listening Exercise: VideoJug has great how to videos, like How to Clean Your
Microwave with a Lemon or this interesting one on How to Stop Being Lazy. Have
students listen as they write the series of steps, or give them the steps and have them
put them in the right order.
4. 4
Listening for Specific Vocabulary

Listening activities offer great opportunities to teach new words or review vocabulary
previously taught. Here, the purpose is to identify and remember a series of words,
which are usually easily categorized, like types of food, sports, animals, etc
Listening Exercise: Choose an audio track or song that lists words that may be
included in a category, like Ylvis The Fox (great song for young learners and teens!)
You can ask students to listen and write down all of the animals they hear mentioned,
as well as the sounds they make. Or create a matching exercise.
5. 5
Listening for Cultural Interest

With a carefully selected listening activity, you also have the opportunity to teach
students about a special holiday or tradition that is popular with another culture. The
purpose is to expose the class to this cultural aspect through a listening activity.
Listening Exercise: Choose an audio track that speaks about a popular American
holiday like Thanksgiving. Have students listen and answer some comprehension
questions. Then ask: Is this holiday celebrated in their country of origin? If not, is
there a festivity that is similar in their country?

6. 6
Listening for Attitude and Opinions

Sometimes students have to listen for what someone is really saying, not what theyre
literally saying, but what they actually mean. Attitudes, opinions and feelings can all
be conveyed in varying degrees from strong disagreement to mild criticism. Advanced
students should be able to discern different attitudes and positions, as well as identify
how the speaker feels.
Listening Exercise: Listen to this conversation regarding a mans personal problem.
Apart from the actual loss of hair, what else concerns him? (Enduring ridicule, not
being accepted as he his, being made fun of, etc) How does his friend react to this
problem? (Shes not concerned, doesnt think its a big deal, etc)
7. 7
Listening for Functional Language

Very often, we teach functional language in the ESL classroom, expressions students
can use to accept/decline invitations, give suggestions, give advice, etc The purpose
is to show students how these expressions are used in a conversation.
Listening Exercise: Listen to this conversation between a man whose father has
passed away and a friend. What words/expressions does the woman use to express her
condolences? (Im really sorry to hear about your dad) What else does she say?
(My heart really goes out to her.) After the listening, students can practice these
expressions in similar conversations.
In most cases, every listening exercise you give your class has its own purpose.

But in most cases, this purpose is clear to you and you alone. Make sure you share what the
purpose is with your students. It will give them a fresh outlook on the whole listening

Selecting and Developing Teaching/Learning Materials

Kenji Kitao, Doshisha University (Kyoto, Japan)

kkitao [at]
S. Kathleen Kitao, Doshisha Women's College (Kyoto, Japan)
kkitao [at]
Why do We Use Materials/What are Materials for?

Language instruction has five important components--students, a teacher, materials, teaching

methods, and evaluation. Why are materials important in language instruction? What do
materials do in language instruction? Can we teach English without a textbook?
Allwright (1990) argues that materials should teach students to learn, that they should be
resource books for ideas and activities for instruction/learning, and that they should give
teachers rationales for what they do. From Allwright's point of view, textbooks are too
inflexible to be used directly as instructional material. O'Neill (1990), in contrast, argues that
materials may be suitable for students' needs, even if they are not designed specifically for
them, that textbooks make it possible for students to review and prepare their lessons, that
textbooks are efficient in terms of time and money, and that textbooks can and should allow
for adaptation and improvization.
Allwright emphasizes that materials control learning and teaching. O'Neill emphasizes that
they help learning and teaching. It is true that in many cases teachers and students rely heavily
on textbooks, and textbooks determine the components and methods of learning, that is, they
control the content, methods, and procedures of learning. Students learn what is presented in
the textbook, and the way the textbook presents material is the way students learn it. The
educational philosophy of the textbook will influence the class and the learning process.
Therefore, in many cases, materials are the center of instruction and one of the most important
influences on what goes on in the classroom.
Theoretically, experienced teachers can teach English without a textbook. However, it is not
easy to do it all the time, though they may do it sometimes. Many teachers do not have
enough time to make supplementary materials, so they just follow the textbook. Textbooks
therefore take on a very important role in language classes, and it is important to select a good
The Role of Materials in Relation to Other Elements

Since the end of 1970s, there has been a movement to make learners rather than teachers the
center of language learning. According to this approach to teaching, learners are more
important than teachers, materials, curriculum, methods, or evaluation. As a matter of fact,
curriculum, materials, teaching methods, and evaluation should all be designed for learners
and their needs. It is the teacher's responsibility to check to see whether all of the elements of
the learning process are working well for learners and to adapt them if they are not.
In other words, learners should be the center of instruction and learning. The curriculum is a
statement of the goals of learning, the methods of learning, etc. The role of teachers is to help
learners to learn. Teachers have to follow the curriculum and provide, make, or choose
materials. They may adapt, supplement, and elaborate on those materials and also monitor the
progress and needs of the students and finally evaluate students.

Materials include textbooks, video and audio tapes, computer software, and visual aids. They
influence the content and the procedures of learning. The choice of deductive vs inductive
learning, the role of memorization, the use of creativity and problem solving, production vs.
reception, and the order in which materials are presented are all influenced by the materials.
Technology, such as OHP, slides, video and audio tape recorders, video cameras, and
computers, supports instruction/learning .
Evaluations (tests, etc.) can be used to assign grades, check learning, give feedback to
students, and improve instruction by giving feedback to the teacher.
Though students should be the center of instruction, in many cases, teachers and students rely
on materials, and the materials become the center of instruction. Since many teachers are busy
and do not have the time or inclination to prepare extra materials, textbooks and other
commercially produced materials are very important in language instruction. Therefore, it is
important for teachers to know how to choose the best material for instruction, how to make
supplementary materials for the class, and how to adapt materials.
What are Characteristics of Materials?

Littlejohn and Windeatt (1989) argue that materials have a hidden curriculum that includes
attitudes toward knowledge, attitudes toward teaching and learning, attitudes toward the role
and relationship of the teacher and student, and values and attitudes related to gender, society,
etc. Materials have an underlying instructional philosophy, approach, method, and content,
including both linguistic and cultural information. That is, choices made in writing textbooks
are based on beliefs that the writers have about what language is and how it should be taught.
Writers may use a certain approach, for example, the aural-oral approach, and they choose
certain activities and select the linguistic and cultural information to be included.
Clarke (1989) argues that communicative methodology is important and that communicative
methodology is based on authenticity, realism, context, and a focus on the learner. However,
he argues that what constitutes these characteristics is not clearly defined, and that there are
many aspects to each. He questions the extent to which these are these reflected in textbooks
that are intended to be communicative.
In a study of English textbooks published in Japan in 1985, the textbooks were reviewed and
problems were found with both the language and content of many of the textbooks (Kitao et
al., 1995).

English textbooks should have correct, natural, recent, and standard English. Since students'
vocabulary is limited, the vocabulary in textbooks should be controlled or the textbooks
should provide information to help students understand vocabulary that they may not be
familiar with. For lower-level students, grammar should also be controlled. Many textbooks
use narratives and essays. It would be useful to have a variety of literary forms (for example,
newspaper articles, poetry, or letters), so that students can learn to deal with different forms.

Information on Culture

The cultural information included in English textbooks should be correct and recent. It should
not be biased and should reflect background cultures of English. It should include visual aids
etc., to help students understand cultural information.
From Learners' Viewpoints

Content English textbooks should be useful, meaningful and interesting for students. While no
single subject will be of interest to all students, materials should be chosen based, in part, on
what students, in general, are likely to find interesting and motivating.
Difficulty. As a general rule, materials should be slightly higher in their level of difficulty than
the students' current level of English proficiency. (Exceptions are usually made for extensive
reading and extensive listening materials, which should be easy enough for students to
process without much difficulty.) Materials at a slightly higher level of difficulty than the
students' current level of English proficiency allow them to learn new grammatical structures
and vocabulary.
Instructional issues. English textbooks should have clear instructional procedure and methods,
that is, the teacher and students should be able to understand what is expected in each lesson
and for each activity.
Textbooks should have support for learning. This can take the form of vocabulary lists,
exercises which cover or expand on the content, visual aids, etc. Traditionally, language
teaching materials in Japan are made up mostly of text, with few, if any, visual aids. However,
with the development of technology, photos, visual materials and audio materials have
become very important components of language teaching materials, and they are becoming
easier to obtain. Teachers need to learn how to find them, and how to best exploit these
Materials are getting more complicated, and instructional philosophy, approach, methods, and
techniques are getting more important. Teachers need to be able to evaluate materials
involving photos, videos, and computers now.
How Can We Learn About Materials?

There are various ways to get information about textbooks and other teaching materials. Many
materials are published by publishers and developed and distributed by commercial
companies. Thus, publishers are useful (if not entirely unbiased) sources of information and
advice about what materials are available and what materials are appropriate for various
purposes. Many publishers provide sample copies on request. Bookstores that carry textbooks
are another possible source of information. Clerks at such bookstores may help you find the
materials you want. In addition, publishers' displays at conferences are useful. They usually
have the most recent materials, exhibitors are willing to help you and answer your questions,
and in some cases, you will have opportunities to meet and talk with the authors. Colleagues
and friends who are teachers are also good sources of recommendations of textbooks and
advice about how to best use them. Finally, there is information from computer mailing lists
and web pages on the Internet. Lists on language teaching often have discussions on

materials, and you can ask questions and may get good feedback. Many publishers have www
pages and e-mail addresses, so you can check with them and also ask questions about the
How do We Get Materials?

In addition to publishers, there are many possible sources of materials. There is a lot of
material available on the Internet. You can search for materials when you have free time, and
store them for your future classes.
Many teachers go abroad during vacations these days, and they can collect materials in
English-speaking countries. TV and radio are good sources. They provide a variety of
materials. The information is current and the language is natural, but the content has to be
chosen carefully. Newspapers, magazines, advertisements, and other types of printed material
are very useful. Teachers can take photos, make video tapes or record audio tapes. If they
make plans before they go overseas, they may be able to make good video or audio programs.
Even in your home country, you can browse the world wide web and search for useful
materials for classes. There are lots of sources of materials and photos on www.
Concerns About Materials

The market of language teaching materials are fairly large, and many companies are
competing. They produce new materials and promote them with many advertisements and
through their salespeople. You need to be careful about what they tell you. You always need to
examine their materials carefully from the point of view of what is appropriate for your
students and the classes you are teaching.
Another concern about materials is that the copyright issue. Many teachers violate the
copyright laws every day. We cannot copy any copyrighted materials. Of course, we cannot
copy them and distribute them to our students in the class. We need the permission from the
publisher to do so.
Summary and Conclusion

Though there are five elements in language instruction, and learners should be the center of
instruction. However, materials often control the instruction, since teachers and learners tend
to rely heavily on them. Materials that are appropriate for a particular class need to have an
underlying instructional philosophy, approach, method and technique which suit the students
and their needs. They should have correct, natural, current and standard English. Teachers
need to look for good materials, both commercial and non-commercial, all the time. They also
need to be aware of commercialism and copyright issues concerning materials.