How to Teach Listening Skills to Adult ESL Students

Written by karen farnen
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How to Teach Listening Skills to Adult ESL Students
(Jack Hollingsworth/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Strong listening skills will help your adult learners of English in their everyday lives as well as in their classes. Of the four language skills-- listening, speaking, reading and writing--listening is the one used the most. Help your students develop this important pathway to language acquisition by using a variety of listening activities. Both beginners and advanced students can listen and participate, whether by nonverbal responses, by writing or by taking part in conversations.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Choose listening materials that use real-life English and reflect adult interests, such as work, health, education, sports, recreation or family. Choose from a variety of sources including material you prepare, Internet ESL sites, radio, television, recorded lectures, textbook audio supplements and movie DVDs. Choose material that suits the listening level of the particular class.

  2. 2

    Prepare students for the listening activity. Introduce the topic by pictures, a reading, a discussion, a vocabulary presentation or a silent video. Give them the necessary linguistic and cultural information to understand what they will hear.

  3. 3

    Give students a definite task for listening and a specific manner to respond. Have them listen for the main idea, certain details or even an emotion, for example. Explain also how they should respond, whether by raising a hand, writing a list, choosing among multiple items, completing a chart, filling in missing words (a cloze) or finding the main idea. You also can have students engage in one-on-one realistic conversations with you, an aide or other students as partners.

  4. 4

    Present the listening segment or segments you have chosen. Depending on the nature of your material, use an Internet media player, play your DVD or CD, read aloud from a script or present it by other means. Repeat a second time, making accommodations if you ascertain by students' reactions that they are having difficulties. In realistic conversation practice, students will need to ask their partners to repeat. If reading aloud, make the task easier by speaking more slowly or with pauses. If you are using a recording, hit the "pause" button after an idea or sentence to allow the students to process what they hear. Repeat a third time if needed.

  5. 5

    Observe random students to make sure they have heard the listening material enough times. Then go over the results, calling on students or having them write on the board. Repeat the listening material one last time after everyone has the answers.

  6. 6

    Wrap up the lesson with a game, discussion or other activity, so students remember what they learnt. Use a different type of activity from your warm-up. Keep listening fresh and interesting so your students enjoy practicing this important skill often.

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