“I grew up listening to people speaking broken English. I probably picked that up. And I probably speak English almost as a second language.”
— Christopher Walken
Improving students’ listening skills in the classroom can be a challenging task for ESL teachers — especially if you are a new teacher dealing with a variety of student levels and range of abilities.
This article will outline a number of useful ESL listening activities that can be easily applied to any group of students whether they are beginners or have more advanced language skills. The classroom activities will use a variety of media options, including online content from songs, movies, TED Talks, and other external sources.
Four ESL Listening Activities for the Classroom
1. Song Lyrics Listening Activity
Using music in the classroom is both a fun and an effective way of improving students’ listening skills. You can use the activity with any student age group, and it is ideally suited for intermediate levels.
First, select a few songs on YouTube that you think the students will enjoy. Next, find the lyrics to the songs and create a blank-fill activity with the lyrics.
In class, have the students watch the song first, then play it a second time and they can try to complete the blank-fill activity while listening carefully to the lyrics.
2. Movie Dialog Listening Activity
Another listening activity that works well for both intermediate and advanced levels is one that involves paying close attention to what is said in movies. Browse free video sites, like YouTube or Dailymotion, that have some popular scenes from famous movies. Alternatively, you could try Netflix if you have an account to find great high-def content.
Once you have selected your scene, type out all of the dialog that is said by the characters and print it out. Next, cut the lines of dialog into small strips. Formatting it with a larger font may be a good idea if the students are younger learners.
In class, hand out the paper strips to the students, play the movie scene, and have them try to arrange the strips of typed dialog in correct order.
3. TED Talk Listening Activity
This is one of our favorite ESL listening activities. Using TED Talks in the classroom is a great way for improving listening skills. Generally, the content is best suited for adult students, though some higher level young learners may still be able to grasp the less complex content.
Go to TED.com and do a search for a topic that is related to the course work that you are teaching in your classes. Shorter talks (from 5 to 10 minutes) usually work best in most classrooms. Anything longer than that may cause some classes to “drift off” in the middle of the video.
Once you have found an appropriate TED talk, get the students to watch the first two minutes of the video and take notes. While it is playing, listen and jot down some questions based on the talk. Pause the video, board the questions, and have the students collaborate in groups for a few minutes to answer the questions.
Lead feedback, then play the rest of the TED talk using the same steps until the video has completed.
4. Movie Words Listening Activity
One more listening activity you could try in your classroom involves using distinct keywords from a movie scene that students must listen for specifically.
Find a movie scene that works well for your student age group and language ability. Before class, watch the scene yourself and type out any words from the dialog that you want to reinforce. Pick vocabulary that is challenging with a variety of verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. Print out your vocabulary list and cut out the words individually so they are all on separate little rectangular pieces of paper.
In class, for the activity, play the scene and the students must try to hold up (or check off) the vocabulary whenever they hear the characters say the words in the scene. Putting the students in teams can make the activity even more fun and engaging with the competition element added to it.
As an extension to this activity, you could familiarize students with common idiomatic expressions by watching popular movies and TV shows.
Well, there you have it. Those are four fun listening activities that will help make your classes a little more entertaining and educational for your students. Using a combination of these activities throughout the week will add more variety to your lessons and most students respond positively when alternating the tasks.
More ESL Listening Activities for Kids and Adults
For more detailed information on each of these listening activities, please visit our section on ESL Listening Activities for Kids and Adults on ESL Expat’s official website.
Did you find any of these activities particularly useful with your students?
Please comment below any share your thoughts and ideas.