When it comes to listening, teachers usually use pre-recorded audio files such as coursebook tracks or any authentic materials. However, another type of listening — live listening — can be used in the classroom. Live listening is listening to the teacher or a guest speaker in a face-to-face situation, rather than using a pre-prepared recording. In today’s article, we’ll talk about the benefits of live listening and ways of using it in the lesson.
Live listening is sometimes frowned upon because it is supposed to increase the teacher’s talking time. However, listening to the teacher speaking at length provides students with a chance to hear all the features of natural spoken English (hesitations, false starts, connected speech etc). Also, it allows the teacher to continuously monitor the listeners’ interest, attention and general understanding, adding any necessary repetitions or reformulations. All in all, there is very little to be afraid of. Among some possible benefits of live listening are the following:
- If you opt for live listening, you might adapt the text to the level and needs of your students. You can include any necessary vocabulary or exclude something you don’t need. Also, you can vary the pace.
- There will be no problems with the quality of the recording, faulty equipment or uncharged devices. All you need is just your voice and memory.
- Live listening might offer interaction. Students can react to what they hear or even ask for clarification. The ability to use mimics and gestures can be beneficial too.
- Students are usually intrinsically motivated to listen to someone they know rather than to a stranger.
Basically, the teacher can act as a source of live listening in various situations, from reading out the text if a gadget is glitching to incorporating a bit of story-telling into the lesson. Here are some activities to try:
Provide an example
Sometimes students need a model answer, especially when they are getting ready for an exam. Instead of listening to pre-recorded speakers, they might listen to their teacher instead.
Choose the questions that you are planning to practise. Then, answer any of them paying attention to the time limit, task requirements and grammar/vocabulary needs. You can ask the students to assess the speaking using exam criteria. This should help them see how to structure their talk and what things to address first.
Do language work
This activity was described by S. Thornbury in his ‘How to Teach Speaking’. It combines the authenticity of live listening with the benefits of a recording.
‘The teacher introduced the topic of his brother by showing a family photograph. The students were invited to ask one or two questions and established the brother’s name, job, and so on. The teacher then announced that he was going to tell the class a story about his brother. He told the story using natural language and occasionally stopped to check understanding or to explain a term. During the telling of the story he used a number of time and sequencing expressions, such as once…, eventually…, all of a sudden…, as well as other story-telling devices and some evaluative language’.
(from ‘How to Teach Speaking’ by S. Thornbury, Pearson, 2009, pp. 56-57)
The story was recorded. In the end, the teacher asked the learners to remember any of the time and sequencing expressions he had used. After a couple of answers, he played the recording and asked the students to listen to it paying attention to the language. Such activities can work really well to focus the students on any aspects of vocabulary and grammar that were outlined before.
This activity was described by Ken Lackman in his article ‘The teacher as input’ for English Teaching Professional, (48), January, 2007. It looks very much alike to the ones above and will help your students notice target vocabulary and put it into practice.
First, choose and announce the topic. It can be linked to the topic of the unit, the exam questions, or any speaking activity. Next, get pairs of students to make questions about the topic on strips of paper. The strips of paper are then gathered up and randomly divided among the students so that each one had an equal number of questions to ask. Then, speak for a few minutes on the topic yourself and invite the students to ask their questions when appropriate. Assist the students in the identification of useful language chunks by signalling with your hand, for example. You can also record the answer and ask the students to relisten to that, writing the chunks down in a more focused way.
‘The last stage is basically a repetition of the first, but this time pairs of students have a conversation on the topic using the expressions on the board. This stage not only satisfies the need for controlled practice in the lesson but it emphasises to the students that the point of listening for the expressions is so they can use them in their own communication’.
(from ‘The teacher as input’ by Ken Lackman, ‘English Teaching Professional’ (48), January, 2007)
It might seem that live listening requires more work than just playing the recording. However, at times it allows the teacher to tailor the material to the students’ level, needs and expectations. Also, you can plan and run it quite fast. A guest speaker in the classroom can add variety in terms of accent and speaking manner and make the lesson more lively too. All in all, why don’t you give it a try?
Both beginners and experienced teachers have probably heard from their students that «listening tasks are always hard to cope». The online course «How to Teach Listening» from Skyteach School helps teachers identify and deal with the students’ fears and make listening tasks clear and interesting.
Also the course will teach you:
— how to quickly prepare listening lessons with any material
— to help students overcome psychological blocks
— to pick out materials and teach students different types of listening