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Objectives and tips for using listening comprehension passages in class...
By:Jason Renshaw <jason.renshaw@gmail.com>

I recently wrote up a series of considerations and tips for using the listening strand in my Boost! series from Pearson Longman, but they can be used for any listening passages from any sources.

Hopefully the objectives and tips here could be of some use to you, no matter which materials you are using for promoting listening skills in your EFL/ESL classroom.

Tips for getting the most out of the Boost! main listening passages
By Jason Renshaw, author of Boost!

If you have started using the Boost! Listening strand, you may have already noticed that the listening passages are somewhat different from many other standardized listening course books – especially in terms of the pacing. Many course book approaches to listening slow down the listening input to make the delivery more salient, but in the end almost completely unnatural compared to natural delivery speed.

With Boost! Listening, from the start we wanted the listening passages to represent very close to natural English speaking delivery, to give the students exposure to more genuine-sounding input and challenge them to develop new and more effective strategies for handling it.

It is worth approaching listening comprehension classes with four ‘levels’ or objectives in mind:

1)Listening for gist / general comprehension
2)Listening to learn (content-based input and/or how natural discourse works)
3)Listening for skill application
4)Listening for precision and language development

The first objective in that list represents the purest of the “top down” approach to listening, where we want students to gain a broad idea or understanding of what they are listening to. The final objective is more “bottom up”, working with finer details as a basis. The other two objectives fall somewhere in between and to a greater or lesser degree incorporate both top-down and bottom-up processes.

It is important to keep these objectives in mind, because they will in fact be affected by the way(s) you choose to go about applying the listening passages with your learners in class. Just pressing ‘play’ on the CD player and moving directly on to the skills questions could result in your listening lessons finishing up very quickly, but also cause you and your students to conclude the listening material is beyond their level. As the writer, to me this is tragic because you and your learners have missed out on some fantastic chances to develop listening skills at multiple levels!

Tip 1: Use multiple listening opportunities – each with its own specific focus

I usually play the main listening passage in each unit 3-4 times to the class.

I ask the students to not take any notes at all during the first listening, but instead try to get a general feel about what the passage is about, or (in the case of dialogues) where and why a conversation is taking place and between who. I usually find it beneficial to link the impressions gained here with the pre-listening activity the students completed before taking on the main listening passage.

The second and third listenings are for note-taking and getting down as much relevant information about the passage as possible. I will often get the students into pairs or small groups at this stage, and let them compare and share their notes after each listening. Also, I watch the students’ note-taking strategies carefully during the second listening and may offer some practical strategies to them before listening again for a third time. For example, with the content-based passages, I may recommend concentrating on listing main ideas first, to which they can then add details during the next listening sequence. For the dialogues, I might show them how to draw a line down the middle of the notes section, and concentrate on putting each speaker’s input on either side of the line, blocked into ‘turns’. This will help them see how the conversation has developed overall, but also what each individual speaker had to say collectively, and how the various interactions flowed and worked with/from each other.

Note also that in many cases, the listening notes section is specifically formatted to help students target and absorb the information that will then be concentrated on in the follow up skill. It is important to point this out to them in advance, as they may not need to be getting down all the information from the passage in order to concentrate on a specific skill. In a comprehensive approach to listening (and this is often the way I go about it), I do general note-taking on a separate piece of paper first (as described earlier), then move across to the text-book and ask for note-taking specifically geared to the skill. Generally speaking, this allows me to hit the first three objectives in the list I outlined above (general gist, content or discourse-based information, then specific information necessary to apply the unit’s skill).

Last of all, the number of times I play the listening passage depends very much on an individual class and the learners’ needs. Some units benefit from up to 5 or even 6 repeats of the main listening input, while for other units it can be handled sufficiently with just 1-2 listenings. It depends on how familiar they are with the theme and direction of the information, and just generally how well they are managing with any given unit.

Tip 2: Add a bottom-up listening activity for language noticing/development

I generally find that the units in the Boost! Listening strand can go a little bit faster than units in corresponding levels for the other strands (writing and speaking in particular). The trick here is to not limit your listening lessons to just what has been sequenced and suggested on the textbook pages!

I do like for my learners to get practice with the ‘nitty gritties’ (fine details) of the language they are listening to, so towards the end of a class I often like to use the main listening passage again as a collaborative dictation activity. I will play the main passage and hit pause after each main sentence or utterance, giving the learners time to jot down exactly what they have heard. Once we have gone through the passage in this fashion, I ask the learners to share and compare their versions of the passage. We then listen to the main passage again 1-2 times at normal speed without pauses, during which time the learners can edit what they have written. After a final round of collaboration with classmates, I then distribute copies of the script and ask them to self-edit the versions they jotted down during the dictation sequence.

This is great for helping the learners ‘notice’ the differences between what they initially thought they heard and what was actually said. It shows them the words they missed, and also the grammatical forms and endings they may not have clued on to. For a teacher it’s pretty handy as well, as the students are helping each other and in the end editing their own work!

To create some extra variety, and also to cater to differing amounts of time remaining in lessons, I often apply this dictation approach with one of the other (shorter) listening passages in the unit (for example the passage used in Part B for skill noticing, the Pronunciation Focus scripts, and/or reading or listening passages from the integration pages).

This approach is great for very detailed and focused attention during listening, and caters to the fourth objective in the list mentioned above. It also adds variety to the lesson and places specific bottom-up style listening in what I personally believe to be the correct phase of a lesson: at the end, following things like listening for gist, listening for content/discourse information, and listening for application of specific skills.

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