Teaching Listening Skills: Two Solutions

I’ve been reading JJ Wilson’s How to Teach Listening and finding that much of what he writes mirrors my own experience teaching advanced students. It also touches on what we want to accomplish with American Voices. Wilson writes,

“Although there is an abundance of authentic material on the Internet, most of it doesn’t come in a pedagogical framework (preview questions, comprehension questions, discussion points, etc). This means the teacher may need to spend a considerable amount of time preparing authentic materials for classroom use.”

This certainly rings a bell. Often I would be listening to a radio story in the evening and think, “This piece would be perfect for my 4th-year group – we’ve been talking about a similar issue, this would be a great way to bring in what native speakers are saying about it. I’ll just need to make a list of vocabulary to pre-teach.. and some comprehension checks, and discussion questions… and maybe a transcript with the url of the original piece to take home…”

But when it’s 11:00pm, and there is homework to correct, and another lesson to plan, and… – never mind. Yet another potentially useful resource slips past.

It shouldn’t have to be that way. So in American Voices with each story I provide pre-listening material, post-listening comprehension checks, questions for discussion, and links for further exploration. I also post word lists keyed to each story on Quizlet so students can practice new vocabulary later. The aim is to provide a solid amount of supporting material for each story.

Wilson continues:

“Furthermore, there is no guarantee that authentic materials may be more interesting than scripted materials.”

This is where the idea of a curated selection of audio material comes in. I listen to dozens of stories before choosing one for our next issue. One test I apply is to ask, “Is this piece compelling enough that I’d tell a friend about it?” And I do often find myself telling friends or family (who have no interest in ESL!) about a piece we’re using, just because it’s that good. Such pieces are called “driveway moments,” which the urban dictionary defines as “the inability to leave one’s car after arriving at the destination because of the riveting nature of a story you’re listening to on the radio…”

Topics of past issues have included travel stories, family relationships, marine biology and pollution, food and culture, music, innovative views of historical events, and more. We’ll be emphasizing stories of broad human interest, but we’re also looking forward to hearing from you, teachers and students of English.

What kind of material would you most like to hear? Let me know in the comment form below!


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