Developing ELL Listening Skills for Social & Academic Purposes

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  • 2:23 Teaching Listening Techniques
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Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

It's difficult to overestimate the importance of listening skills for English Language Learners (ELLs). This lesson outlines instructional techniques teachers can use to help develop ELLs' social and academic listening skills.

Listen Up

While it can sometimes be lost among all the vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciations that English Language Learners (ELLs) must learn, the development of listening skills are an essential aspect of learning English. Active listening involves paying attention to a speaker to comprehend meaning and make appropriate responses. ELLs rely heavily on listening, even if they're not aware of its importance.

One of the best things you can do to help your students listen more effectively is to create an environment that helps them concentrate. To accomplish this, try to eliminate distractions when you or a student is speaking. Establish a few listening rules that students should follow in the classroom. Rules could include:

  • No talking when the teacher is talking
  • When a classmate is speaking to everyone, look at the speaker and listen
  • Be prepared to summarize or repeat what others have said

If possible, post these rules somewhere in the classroom so that they're visible to all students. You can also ask students to create their own class rules to be voted on and adopted if a majority of the class agrees to them.

The primary difference between academic and social listening is that the listener has different intentions and obligations depending on the situation. Academic listening involves students hearing information that needs to be analyzed and recalled for assessment purposes. Because academic listening requires a focus on details and retention, it's important to help students establish a relationship between listening and note-taking. Sometimes it can be difficult for ELLs to do both at the same time. You can help students by providing them with note-taking templates and encouraging them to come up with personalized note-taking shorthand so they can focus both on what's being said and what they're writing down.

Social listening involves recognizing and responding to social cues, both verbal and nonverbal. Examples of nonverbal communication include eye contact, gestures, and vocal tone. In many social situations, students listen to another person to develop an appropriate response. Responses may include asking questions to encourage someone to say more in conversation or paraphrasing what someone has said to ensure understanding. This is unlike an academic situation, such as a lecture, when the student is expected to listen only and not respond.

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