Strategies for English Learners in Listening & Speaking

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.

When it comes to teaching English learners, there are many elements to keep in mind. This lesson narrows that focus by providing teachers with specific strategies for teaching listening and speaking to English learners.

Teaching English Learners

There is a lot that goes into teaching English learners that differs from teaching native speakers. For one, you can't assume that English learners possess the same vocabulary and grammar knowledge that their native English-speaking counterparts possess.

However, this is not always a disadvantage. Depending on age, many English learners possess the maturity and cognitive skills to approach language critically, process information in a timely manner, and engage more deeply with the material.

Another advantage is a student's self-motivation and desire to both study and excel that can contribute to outstanding results. As you assess and employ the following strategies for English learners in listening and speaking, be sure to keep in mind that even though the language knowledge of your students may be lower, their abilities may surprise you.

Listening and Speaking Strategies

The listening and speaking strategies you use in the classroom should be applicable to a variety of subjects and curriculum. They should work equally well in an English class as they do in a science or history class in which English is being used.

If you teach multiple subjects, be consistent with your use of strategies to help students develop good listening and speaking habits, which will benefit them in a variety of academic disciplines.

Frontloading Vocabulary

One of the first strategies is frontloading vocabulary, or having students preview vocabulary before a lesson or presentation. This should be key words that students will need to know.

Next, ask students to listen carefully as you read out the list of words. As you say the words aloud, students should write down the words as they hear them. This will help with both active listening and the development of spelling skills. You can also ask individual students to read back the words to you as a speaking exercise.

You can continue this exercise by putting students into small groups and having them collectively come up with definitions for the words you provided based on their prior knowledge. After a few minutes, have the members of each group read out their definitions aloud for the class. This will give each student a chance to speak aloud and practice word pronunciations.

Finally, allow the groups to use a dictionary to look up the formal definition of each word, which they can then check against the group-generated definitions.

Predictive Brainstorming

Another strategy is predictive brainstorming, which involves providing students with the topic of an upcoming lesson or presentation. By providing the topic and a few prodding questions, students will have to rely on their prior knowledge. Because predictive brainstorming needs to incorporate listening and speaking strategies, this process should be accomplished as an entire class. For example:

  • Topic: US History 1840-1945 (written on blackboard)
  • Teacher question: What major events took place during this time? (This type of prodding question will encourage students to first listen carefully and then speak appropriately.)

Have students ask questions about the upcoming material and share their predictions aloud in small groups or to the entire class to further increase the amount of time they practice speaking. To bring in a listening component, each student who offers a prediction should receive at least two feedback statements from fellow students. For example:

  • Student 1: I think we will discuss World War I and World War II.
  • Student 2: I agree. I think we will discuss a lot about both of these wars.
  • Student 3: Isn't World War II more important than World War I?

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account