Teaching Listening Strategies for ELL Students

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.

The development of listening skills is sometimes underrated in an ELL (English Language Learner) classroom. This lesson provides teachers with tips and advice on teaching listening strategies for ELLs.

Listening is a Skill

Of the four primary English language skills (speaking, reading, writing, listening) that ELLs (English Language Leaners) focus on during the course of their education, listening is perhaps the one that is most often ignored or underdeveloped. This is not necessarily the fault of the student as few students are taught the difference between hearing and listening.

Hearing is the act of receiving sound whereas listening is the process of consciously processing the sound that is being heard. This simple distinction can mean a world of difference for how people process language and develop comprehension skills. ELLs are already at a significant linguistic disadvantage when the majority of their coursework and assessments are delivered in English. But if you can provide them with guidance based on appropriate listening strategies, they'll be better poised for success.

Listening Strategies

Before deciding on which listening strategies will work best for your ELLs, it's important to ask yourself a few questions.

  • What listening skills do my students currently possess?
  • How well do my students absorb and retain new information?
  • What specific aspects of listening would I like my students to improve?

Your answers to these questions can serve as a guide for selecting the most appropriate listening strategies to employ with your students.

Active Listening

Active listening is an essential strategy for ELLs. While the mechanics of active listening can be fairly in-depth, it's helpful to focus on these keys skills.

  • Active listening occurs when:
    • A student listens to what is being said instead of waiting to speak.
    • A student asks follow-up questions to check understanding.
      • So you're saying/what you mean is…
      • Let me make sure I understand you…
      • If I understand correctly, you mean…
    • A student refers to what others have said when speaking.
      • As Jenny mentioned…
      • When Sasha said…

When students converse with you or others in class, encourage them to ask follow-up questions in order to check understanding and reinforce comprehension. Summarizing or otherwise referring to what others have talked about can also be a great way to demonstrate active listening.

Focused Listening

Focused listening is a particularly useful academic skill because it encourages ELLs to listen for and record detailed information. It may be helpful to think of the student's role as that of a transcriber. Some useful classroom exercises that can help students practice and develop their focused listening skills include:

  • Having students transcribe recorded conversations
  • Showing short video clips and then asking students to repeat the information
  • Requiring students to summarize or repeat the key points another student gives during a presentation or speech

Focused listening takes practice and can be a great help academically, but be careful not to use it exclusively. When academically based listening exercises are overused, students tend to zone out. Try to thinking of listening like speaking. You probably wouldn't ask an ELL to speak for twenty minutes, so don't ask them to listen for extended periods of time either.

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