Teaching Listening to ESL Students

In this section, you will find information to help you teach listening to ESL students

As we know English is a subject that is made up of four different skills, we have to place emphasis on speaking, writing, reading, and listening.

Each one of these particular skills has different ways to be taught. Listening is a receptive skill so the way we teach this skill is similar to the way we teach reading. In fact, there are many techniques and approaches that overlap with both of them.

There are different frameworks to teach a listening lesson. The most common framework to do it is the PDP approach.

The PDP approach is made up of three essential stages. Every listening lesson should have pre-listening activities, activities that you have to complete as you listen to the passage, and post-listening activities that help students use the language and structures aimed to be learned in class.

Stages of a Listening Lesson

So we usually start the lesson by implementing some pre-listening activities to activate background knowledge, these activities are usually used to set the context, motivate students, help teachers know what students know about the topic, and prepare students for the vocabulary and language structures that they will find in the listening passage. 

While- listening activities help students to identify what is important in a passage, keep students concentrated throughout the listening task, and show understanding of what was heard.

Post-listening activities provide the opportunity for students to show what they have learned. This stage is usually about proving that you understood the class by completing writing or speaking tasks which are in essence freer activities compared to the ones from the previous stages.

Teaching Listening in the Modern Era

The process that has been summarized above is usually left out during a listening lesson so first and foremost we have to prepare students for what they’re going to do before, during, and after they listen to a passage.

We cannot forget about this important process despite the fact that we are in a modern age.

Now with technology, we can maximize the learning experience. I think that now we can help students to prepare better for the listening task.

We can use videos taken from the internet and we can also get beautiful images to illustrate our topic so the opportunities to help the learners activate background knowledge are in a way limitless, less time-consuming, and less expensive.

When it comes to the listening task, I think that we can do better by forgetting about playing a tape recorder in front of the class and expecting all students to get it right after two or three times.

I think that a more effective way to accomplish that is by providing the student with the opportunity to listen to a passage more than three times. 

We can give them the file audio file and students can simply rewind and replay it as many times as they want if necessary.

I have applied that in classes and to my surprise and the students engage more because they’re using their mobile phones in the classroom. 

 When it comes to the Post-listening stage, we can apply activities with the help of simple technology. we can tell his students to write a similar passage to the one that they heard during the listening task, we can tell students to create an online whiteboard using tools like Padlet that includes images and text about the listening lesson topic or we can ask them to create a conversation with a classmate using recording web applications such as Vocaroo and share the link with the rest of the class.


I think that in this age, we have to be careful about one thing and that is the use of authentic material in the classroom since those resources sometimes have complex language that students are not prepared for.

Sometimes we have topics that we can easily prepare listening material for and sometimes not.

Let me use an example to illustrate my point, if you have to prepare a topic about family members I bet that those listening resources are not so hard to find because there is a wide variety of listening resources to use in a lesson as simple as that however the same thing cannot be said about a topic such as describing arts and billboards with simple adjectives, The resources for the latter simply don’t exist and looking for these are usually time-consuming.


So my recommendation for syllabus designers is to try to create listening resources that match the topic and also the level that students are supposed to have in a specific class.

We cannot teach listening to students who have an A1 level with material that has been designed for B2 Students and not expect some sort of frustration from the main actors of the learning process.

Now with the advancements in technology, we can use text-to-speech tools to create listening resources that are better suited for the learners that we have in the classroom and that match the target language covered in the lesson.

Solutions like notevibes.com and other text-to-speech tools can help us create listening resources with ease. 

I have used notevibes.com and I think that the listening passages created with it are quite optimal for my learners. Another option is to create those resources yourself with the help of another person with an intelligible pronunciation.

Modern Listening Lessons: Our Role

I think that a lesson can be computerized but these will always have to be prepared by knowledgeable teachers and the outcome which is always a freer speaking and writing activity will have to be assessed by a language teacher.

So to summarize my ideas we cannot throw away what we know about how to teach a listening lesson but we have to make the listening lesson more delightful by implementing a variety of tools.

Since a listening lesson is more than just listening as I covered in the beginning of this post. We can use a wide variety of tools to create aids to help maximize the learning experience.  

Further Reading: How to Teach Listening

  1. What’s bottom-up and top-down processing?
  2. What types of listening are there?
  3. What criteria do you use when choosing a listening passage?
  4. What are the three stages of a listening lesson?
  5. What activities would you use to activate background knowledge?
  6. What are five reasons why we have to do pre-listening activities?
  7. What are some consequences of not doing pre-listening activities?
  8. What are some good examples of pre-listening activities?
  9. What are while listening activities?
  10. What are some good examples of while-listening activities?
  11. What are post-listening activities?
  12. What are some good examples of post-listening activities?
  13. What are the two common forms that post-listening tasks can take?

More Teaching Listening Articles


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