Teaching Academic Listening

To show my methodology for teaching academic listening, I've outlined some basic types of listening activities I use regularly to help students grasp the main ideas and supporting details, make inferences, and develop critical thinking skills.

Identifying Main Ideas and Supporting Details
Class Activities My Textbook Review
  • Q: Skills for Success (Oxford) – We just switched to this series in January. So far I like the skill-building activities, vocabulary, student online practice that I can check, and variety of listening material. Not impressed with the assessment bank as much.
  • Face the Issues, Consider the IssuesNumrich (Longman) – I taught for four years from this book. Pros include authentic NPR listening material. Cons are vocabulary lists that are not important AWL words, topics a little dated (eg, radio call-in show for dating). Most importantly, the book lacks sufficient skill-building activities.
  • Northstar (Longman) – I use Northstar Advanced occasionally as a supplement. The listening passages are very authentic, but I find that some of the topics are too difficult and far removed for my students (for example, Workplace Privacy, Tipping Point, etc).
  • Contemporary Topics (Pearson Longman) – Great ESL note-taking book. I used this as a regular supplement. I like the variety of questions in the student book to assess students' notes, including an audio quiz, where the questions are recorded on the CD, requiring students to listen to the questions rather than read them.
  • Lecture Ready (Oxford University Press) – Another good source for note-taking practice. The assessment questions aren't as developed as those in Contemporary Topics, though.
Main Idea Questions
  • Answer questions individually and compare with a partner
  • Summarize main idea in a sentence
  • Books closed, orally give students main idea questions; discuss in a group
Detail Questions
  • Listen in groups and assign each person a different question
  • Underline important words to listen for
Worksheet Exercises for the Computer Lab Main Idea Questions
  • Type the main idea
  • Record an oral summary of the main idea
  • Do worksheet and discuss answers with a partner
  • Do worksheet using online chat to review the answers in groups of 2 or 3
  • Partial Transcription: Fill in the missing words from the transcription
  • Do a complete transcription from an online video (eg, video.about.com); check with a partner, then with the original transcript if posted
Developing Critical Thinking Skills
Oral / Written Summary and Reaction

I have my students either choose their own listening passage on a certain topic or I just assign everyone the same passage. The summaries and reactions can be either written (printed out or posted on the discussion board) or oral. I like to challenge my students and have them record the assignment using Audacity. They can then post their mp3 files onto the discussion board, where we can all listen and evaluate them.

  • Include source information
  • State main idea
  • Describe most important points/ideas
Reaction Paragraph
  • State overall reaction
  • Describe how it relates to background knowledge and experience
  • Support with examples from the listening
  • Provide some kind of conclusion
Synthesizing Two Passages Summarize two passages and then write a synthesis paragraph.
  • What common themes do you see in both passages?
  • What would the two speakers agree on?
  • What would they disagree on?
  • Which position do you take on the issue?
  • How does the material relate to your prior knowledge and background experience?
Lectures & Note-taking: Preparation for Mainstream Classes
Lecture Videos Mainly using note-taking textbooks, such as Lecture Ready (OUP) and Contemporary Topics (Pearson Longman), I have them take notes using various methods: outlining, Cornell Method, etc. To assess, I like to give them quizzes where they use their notes to answer questions about the material. It helps motivate them to take good notes, compare with a partner, and organize/revise them.
Guest Lecturers From time to time, I invite professors and staff from other departments to come into my ESL advanced listening class and give a 30-45 minute presentation on a topic in their field. This has been a wonderful experience for my students to get a taste of a real university class, as well as practice taking notes. Some top lecture topics have been:
  • Organic Chemistry — Nanochemistry
  • English and Philosophy — Introduction to World Literature
  • Molecular Biology — Neurological Basis of Epilepsy
  • Marriage and Family Therapy — Cognitive Distortions
  • Communications — Intro to Public Speaking Class

Student Assignments: The following class day, students hand in a typed summary and reaction to the lecture, as well as an organized copy of their notes. I let them have time to rewrite their notes in an organized fashion before handing them in for a grade. This helps them take this seriously and as a learning experience. Overall, they seem to enjoy these lectures.

Class Visits I also require my students to audit a different mainstream university class four times throughout the semester. Each time, they are to email the professor for permission, attend the class, and take notes. Afterwards, they hand in their notes and a typed reaction.
Research Projects

I usually assign students a topic, such as an endangered species, or a type of automobile. Then, they use the computer lab time to research their topic using specified web resources, such as online videos on National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com).

Presentation of information

  • Prepare a presentation of the highlights
  • Record an audio summary of the information
  • Videotape students giving the summary

Further listening practice

  • Have students create a 5 question quiz based on their presentation, recording, or video
  • Have students take notes while listening to other students' presentations