How to Activate Listening Strategies

“We have two ears and one mouth, so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” (Epictetus)


Last month’s post dealt with strategies that good listeners use. This month, we’ll look at activities that can be used to practise listening strategies in the classroom.


Strategy 1: Make a plan to listen actively

Comment: Before listening, be prepared for the type of content you’ll hear and what you have to do with it. This involves activating the schema – recalling previous knowledge and making a mental model of the topic.

Activities: (1) Students fill in the first two columns of a KWL chart (Know/Want to Know/Learned) based on what they know about the topic and what they want to know. They complete the Learned column after listening.







(2) Students are told they’ll need to write an ending to a story they hear. Alternatively, they write a version of what they heard, but in a different genre. For example, they turn a story into an interview or a monologue into a news report.


Strategy 2: Use visual information to predict content

Comment: Before listening, use physical clues, e.g. facial expressions, locations, images.

Activities: (1) Students make guesses about a partner’s photos, e.g. family and places, and then listen to their partner to confirm.

(2) Students watch part of a film clip with the sound turned off. They make guesses about what is happening. Afterwards, they watch the clip with the sound.


Strategy 3: Evaluate content

Comment: Listen critically, in order to say whether you agree or disagree.

Activities: (1) Students listen to a description of a Top 5 list (films, books, holiday destinations, restaurants, etc.) and decide if they agree. The description can be by the teacher.









(2) Students listen to dilemmas and problem stories such as and Judge Judy episodes on youtube and make a judgement.


Strategy 4: Focus on key words

Comment: The most important words, or words that contain new information, are often stressed (they sound longer and louder). Word stress also indicates the start of a new sentence or thought group. This knowledge can help us get back on track if we become ‘lost’.

Activities: (1) Students raise their hands when they hear a word on a list provided by the teacher or written on the board.







(2) Students grab the words on cards when they hear them. This is done in groups as a race. The words are content words like nouns and main verbs.


Strategy 5: Use what you hear for productive purposes

Comment: Do something with the information you hear. This reflects most listening in real life: we listen to take notes, follow instructions, catch a train, etc.

Activities: (1) Students solve a problem that they hear about.

(2) Students learn how to do something new, e.g. cooking or playing a sport or game.











Strategy 6: Collaborate with others to check information

Comment: Check that your interpretation of events agrees with others’. This socio-affective strategy mimics what we often do in real life.

Activities: (1) Students write down three new facts learned while listening. Afterwards, they compare in groups.

(2) Students do a jigsaw listening. They listen to different versions or parts of the same story, and collaborate with a partner/partners to piece it together.


Strategy 7: Tolerate ambiguity

Comment: Learning to cope with temporary gaps in our understanding is an essential strategy. As we persevere, things become clearer because new information clarifies problem areas.

Activities: (1) Students listen to a recording in parts. Then they predict what comes next based on the partial information.

(2) Students listen and draw. One student describes a work of art which is hidden from his/her partner. The partner tries to draw it.








Strategy 8: Form images as you listen

Comment: Make a physical representation of the input. Creating a mental model is a subconscious reaction to input, but making images is a conscious strategy.

Activities: (1) Students make a visual representation of the passage, e.g. a diagram, a drawing, a chart.

(2) Students mime actions as they listen, as in Total Physical Response or create a tableau of a scene they have heard about (see “gamesercises” from Games for Actors and Non Actors by Augusto Boal).










Should we teach strategies explicitly? The research is inconclusive. But we do know we should provide a variety of listening activities that incorporate diverse strategies. These expand our students’ range of listening subskills, as well as increasing motivation. And motivation, of course, is the key to everything.

2 Comments on “How to Activate Listening Strategies”

  1. Daniel says:

    Dear J.J. Wilson
    We are a group of four students of the B.A in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from Universidad de Guadalajara. As part of a school assignment we are required to make a small interview to an author in ELT that has impacted us. This interview is to be published in the Mextesol journal. We were wondering if you could take a few minutes of you valuable time to help us out; they are just a couple of simple questions that you can easily answer. We know you must have a super busy agenda and we would really appreciate your participation.
    Awaiting for your replay
    Best wishes
    Luis Miranda.
    Belén González.
    Jorge Vázquez.
    Daniel Rodríguez.

    • JJ Wilson says:

      Hi all,
      Thank you for the invitation. I’ve already promised to be interviewed by another student from your university. Sorry! Good luck with your project and with your studies.

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