The Internet TESLJournal

ESL Listening Comprehension: Practical Guidelines for Teachers

Justine Ross
Kyoto Sangyo University (Kyoto, Japan)
saritojustine [at]


Being able to listen well is an important part of communication for everyone. For our students, guided practice by a teacher is one of the best ways to improve this skill. A student with good listening comprehension skills will be able to participate more effectively in communicative situations. What follows is an exploration of areas that language teachers may find useful in their classroom and when preparing listening materials.

Teaching the skill of listening cannot be emphasized enough in a communicative classroom. For second language learners, developing the skill of listening comprehension is extremely important. Students with good listening comprehension skills are better able to participate effectively in class (Brown, 2001).

The Purpose Should Be Made Clear to the Students

When the learning objective of a language class is explained to students, they can better focus on specific vocabulary acquisition, grammar practice, listening for different purposes, and so on. This clear explanation by the teacher of a lesson's pedagogic goals will help learners to further develop specific objectives in a shorter amount of time. For instance, by informing students that the lesson will be about giving directions, they can consciously focus on remembering the vocabulary used in that activity.

Progression of Listening Comprehension Activities

This progression of activities allows the learner to use what they know, to go from being a passive learner, to an active learner.
  1. warm-up activity
  2. listening comprehension activity
  3. controlled practice
  4. open-ended listening/speaking activity

Example Lesson

If the objective of your class is to understand speech at different rates of delivery and the topic is daily life, here are some ideas for the suggested progression of learning activities.
  1. Warm-up Activity:  Ask students, "What do you do every day?"
  2. Listening Comprehension Activity:  The teacher could follow with a listening comprehension activity, such as two people having a conversation about their daily life. Students must answer true or false questions based on the previous listening activity.
  3. Controlled Practice:  Following this, an example of a controlled practice activity could be a drill activity that models the same structure or vocabulary. 
  4. Open-ended Listening/Speaking Activity:  After this, an open-ended activity could follow that allows students to have the freedom to practice listening comprehension and speaking, such as interviewing other members in the class about their daily life and asking for further information. This is an example of activities that build on each other and share the same objective. Communication and listening comprehension should begin with what students already know so that they can build on their existing knowledge and skills with activities designed on the same principle.

Design and Layout Considerations

A handout that is filled with too many activities may contribute to the learner feeling overwhelmed and unable to focus on the particular purpose of a listening activity. In addition, a worksheet that does not show examples of the response expected by the question may also lead to the student feeling confused and frustrated. This may also result in an inaccurate indication of the level of a learner’s listening comprehension skills as a consequence of their not being able to understand the worksheet, rather than because of the listening activity itself.

Teaching Methodology Considerations

If a teacher always uses the same teaching methodology, they may become predictable and, perhaps, less interesting for their students. It is important to vary techniques in order to challenge students. A variation on the "fill in the missing word listening activity" could be to use the same listening materials, but to set a pair work activity where student A and student B have the same worksheet where some information items are missing. The students must ask each other for the missing words in a song. That way, the students have to practice effective communication by accurately forming the correct question necessary to find out the missing word from their partner. To confirm that their answer is correct, the students then listen to the song.

Long Listening Activities

Another technique that can be used in a long listening activity is to assign students different comprehension questions. After listening to the activity and taking notes to answer questions, students then swap information to complete the "whole class chart," correlating what each student has heard to arrive at the big picture. If there are any questions that remain unanswered during the first or second hearing, and following the information swap activity, the whole class can listen to the tape again. The students will then try to find the answer to the questions that have not been previously understood, rather than the teacher providing the answers straight away. These techniques involve group work and problem solving. They also instigate further communication and facilitate listening comprehension development.

The Use of Authentic Listening Materials

Linguists like Porter & Porter (1987), Brown (2001), and Mangubhai (2002) recommend the use of authentic text to help students further develop their communicative skills. The use of authentic listening materials is an important factor to take into consideration when designing listening comprehension materials. By using such listening materials, the learner is given the chance to develop the skills needed to comprehend and to use language that is commonly found in real situations.

With the use of authentic listening materials, students learn to comprehend double meanings, predict meaning, make allowances for performance errors committed by other speakers, deal with interruptions, and so on. It is important, therefore, to take the opportunity wherever possible to expose students to examples of real language usage to help them become more communicatively competent.

The use of authentic materials stimulates and motivates learners to comprehend the content of an oral text because the practical benefits of understanding such authentic language material are obvious. Some examples of authentic listening materials are listening to a telephone message for the purpose of understanding a cancelled appointment, or listening to songs to learn more about well-known bands that sing in English. Such material is relevant to the students' life and areas of personal interest. By using authentic listening materials, students are motivated to improve their level of comprehension as they feel that they can achieve a level of proficiency that has meaning and adds value to their life when speaking English as a second language.


It is important to maintain an interactive and communicative approach for teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language. However, it is also important to vary the students' learning focus by concentrating on the skills needed to become proficient in a second language. Listening comprehension is such a required skill.

When designing lessons and teaching materials to further develop listening comprehension skills, students need to be motivated and stay motivated. This is best accomplished by determining the suitability of the listening materials, the techniques used in classroom teaching, and the use of authentic materials.


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XII, No. 2, February 2006