At #nalasat, an MFL Show and Tell event held in Manchester on 9th November, I shared an idea for helping improve listening skills through reading, making a link between the sound and the look of a word.

In brief, this is the idea:

  • At the start of the lesson, give pupils the text you want them to listen to later on, but don’t tell them that is what is going to happen.
  • Give them a few seconds to look through the text.
  • Tell pupils that you are going to read the text aloud, and they should join in with you when they know what you are doing. Repeat this several times, changing the pattern each time. Suggestions are:
    • Read every other word
    • Read every third/fourth word
    • Start reading from the end of the text
    • Read the first word of each line, then the last word of each line
    • Read the first word of the text, then the last word of the text, then the second word of the text, then the penultimate word of the text etc
  • You can make it as complicated or as simple as your own brain can manage!
  • After a few minutes of fun, put the text away.
  • Later in the lesson, conduct the listening activity, without saying that pupils have already had access to the text.

If you would like a comprehensive overview of everything that happened on the day, you could do worse than read this post by Dominic McGladdery.


I heard it through the (grape)Vine

Since I first came across Vine just over a week ago, I’ve been mulling over the possibilities for use in language teaching.

Vine is brought to you by Twitter, and is an app (currently only available for iPhone and iPod touch – sorry Android users) which invites you to create a video of no more than 6 seconds, which then plays on loop after it’s been created.

Here’s my first attempt (created with my not-yet-fully-formed MFL idea in my head) to see how it could work (there is sound, so you may need to click the sound icon to activate it).

The ‘Vines’ are easy enough to create, and the fact that it runs on a loop means that you get a quick snatch of vocabulary which get repeated and repeated … until you hit stop.

There’s definitely something in there for vocabulary and language learning, and I’m thinking that pupils could listen to or create their own for revision etc.

Watch this space as I try to find more things to do with Vine.

Breaking Dawn – Biss zum Ende der Nacht

I was experimenting with something for work the other day, and ended up with these suggestions for use with the German trailer for the final Twilight film, due for release soon.  If it’s of any use to anyone, feel free to help yourselves!

Suggested activities

Don’t tell pupils what the film is – see if they can work it out before the trailer is played!

  • Sorting activity:
    • Either: give pupils the sheet (download below) and ask them to cut them up into tiles Or: cut them up yourself first.
    • Play the trailer without showing it (ie switch project/computer screen off). Pupils listen and organise the text pieces into the order in which they hear them spoken.
  • Ask pupils to use dictionaries to look up selected words.
  • Ask pupils to pick out things from the text, eg:
    • past participles
    • future tense
    • verb endings
    • adjective endings
  • Show the trailer with the sound muted and ask pupils to write what they think they would hear, or write subtitles.
  • Ask pupils to act out the text in time with the trailer.
  • Pupils write and act out their own scenes based on the characters from the film.

Here is the text sorting activity, and here is the full text.

Speaking and Listening – rising to the challenge

Since leaving the classroom just under a year ago, I find that when I am in contact with teachers now, it’s generally from the front of the room, with the teachers as my audience.

So I was delighted and privileged a few days ago to be at a presentation given by Rachel Hawkes – and anyone who has ever been in one of her sessions will know what an inspiration she is!

Her theme was “Creative speaking and listening ideas for the languages classroom”, and as someone who has always found it the most difficult thing to develop my pupils’ listening skills, I was keen to hear what she had to say.

Even from the second slide in, I knew I was going to learn something.


Rachel’s notes say:

Listening is vital for language learning.  It is a source of language input, the decoding of which is believed by most to account to a large extent for language acquisition.  But for learners it is often the activity that causes most anxiety.  You can often detect a powerful change in the atmosphere in a languages classroom when a listening activity is announced and then in progress.  So often students ask ‘is it a test?’ when you start a listening activity, presumably because this is how it feels to them.  I’ve never been asked that about a reading activity.

Rachel shared some wonderful ideas and links, which you can access from this page on her website (the June 2012 entry).  Definitely worth a peep!

IATEFL – Good at listening, or good at listening tests?

The International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) held its annual exhibition and conference in Glasgow this year, from 19th – 23rd March.  My Twitter feed had been building momentum for several weeks before, so this is obviously a big event.

But until I got there, I had no idea how big!

The exhibition was fairly compact, but there were a large number of sessions to choose from, and the rooms in which they were held were quite spread out.  This meant that I spent a lot of the time walking to and fro between sessions, and if I’m honest, it was quite difficult to chat to other delegates, or find people I wanted to meet up with, especially as I was only able to attend for one day.

However, one of the most interesting sessions I attended was by John Field, entitled “Good at listening, or good at listening tests”.

Helping my pupils improve their listening skills is something which I always feel is the weakest area of my teaching, and so I was keen to hear John’s views.  And even though the presentation was for teachers of English as a foreign language, there’s no doubting that the skills are the same, whatever language you’re learning.

So here are my bullet points from the session.

  • Listening is an internal process.  It can only be tested indirectly, by asking questions of the learning to try to establish what they have internalised.  In other words, it is not a real-world experience.
  • To combat this, there are (at least) 2 things which a teacher can do:
    • Ask ourselves “What signal is reaching the learner”?
    • Consider how we ask questions of the learner.
    • When setting tests or test questions which are eliciting information, there should be no possibility of subjectivity; there has to be an obvious answer.
    • The wording of descriptors often contains subjective words, ie normally / usually / generally
    • The descriptors define where students should end up if they have been successful, but do not tell us how they can get there.  A destination, not the journey.
  • Students often employ a ‘key-word’ strategy when listening; but the key word they decide to listen for may well be in the written question, and does not appear in the spoken answer, as the audio often uses a paraphrase.  This strategy is therefore counterproductive.
  • “Provide the task after a first playing of the recording and before a second.  This ensures more natural listening without preconceptions or advance information other than general context.”
  • Instead of asking students to give the required answer to a written question, ask them to report back what they heard.  If not distracted by a written question or prompt, students find reporting back an easier task, as their attention has not been divided.
  • Gap-fill activities.  Not necessarily easy, as students are effectively reading someone else’s notes and trying to fill in the other person’s gaps.
  • Multiple choice questions give the learner more to deal with, instead of making the task easier. 
    • John played an example listening text, and displayed the accompanying question.
    • In this situation, the listener is also trying to eliminate the incorrect answers as well as listen for the correct one.  This makes the task cognitively much more demanding, particularly for a less advance learner.
    • Therefore, may be a good ideas to test orally. Ask questions and get answers in the learners’ first language. That tests their listening, not speaking/writing.
  • Skilled listeners are able to handle information in a particular way [see image 1].  
    • Listener hears information (black box), then information relating to it (grey / blue boxes).  Recognises when topic has moved on (second black box).
    • Unskilled listeners create a more linear structure [see image 2 ] and find it less easy to identify when topic or perception has changed.
    • Therefore, structure-building tasks involving note-taking encourage listeners to identify what’s important, and how the content moves forward.

    Image 2