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9 ESL Listening Games & Activities To Practice

By VIPKid  |  March 9, 2018

Many online English teachers, especially the new ones, often consider speaking and writing the most important elements of the English language and therefore, focus solely on that. As a teacher, you need to remember that English has four basic elements;

  • Speaking
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Listening

In order to make sure that your students, who are learning English as a second or foreign language students, are able to communicate fluently in English, it is important to focus on each of these elements equally.

Without developing proper listening skills, your students will not be able to carry on effective two-way communication – if they are unable to understand what the other person says, they would not be able to give relevant replies and continue the discussion.

Moreover, listening skills are extremely important for non-native English speakers living in native-English speaking countries to learn new things and progress in their professional, academic and personal life.

Benefits of practicing learning skills through activities

When it comes to learning listening skills, I strongly believe, your students should have a positive attitude towards learning. Instead of boring them with text-based tips and tricks on how to become better listeners you can use interactive activities to get the following benefits;

  • They keep the students interested – Speaking activities or games add an element of fun to the learning process, which keeps the students interested and it allows them to enjoy their lessons.
  • It allows the students to retain more information – When students enjoy their lessons, they tend to memorize more. Why? Because when they are enjoying they are paying attention and who doesn’t remember the time that was filled with fun and excitement!
  • Teach more in a shorter period of time – Games and activities can allow you to cover more learning material in a relatively shorter period of time. Since students do not have to learn any text or memorize any rules, you can move from lesson to lesson at a faster pace.  

ESL listening comprehension activities are as important as speaking games and reading comprehension activities.  These listening activities help boost retention.

However, traditional ESL listening exercises may sometimes be boring for your students, as they use mostly artificial speech. A possible solution will be to add more true-to-life speech to your lessons, especially when you have some free time remaining at the end of the class.

In this article, we are going to discuss some exciting listening games that can engage your ESL students.

These are the best ESL listening activities and games

Watching short movies or movie/TV show abstracts

esl listening

You can pick movies that are related to the lesson topic and watch them together with your students. For example, if your topic was food/cooking, then you can watch an abstract from some movie about food and/or cooking. You can use English subtitles as a teaching aid with beginners and intermediate learners and turn off the subtitles for advanced learners. At the end of the ESL listening activity, you can discuss the main characters and their personality traits. It is also possible to dedicate the entire lesson to watching and discussing a longer movie.

Listening to podcasts

A podcast actually combines the reading and listening activities, as it is possible to read the audio transcript while listening. You can listen to podcasts together with your students in a classroom. You can also give podcasts as a homework assignment. Some popular podcasts for English language learners are The English We Speak by BBC and Elementary Podcasts by British Council. TED Talks is another podcast that is suitable for ESL listening activities.

Watching the news

Similar to reading ESL news articles, watching and discussing the news is another helpful ESL listening practice. You can watch the latest news in the classroom and organize a discussion afterwards, to see how the students have grasped the new material. You can also ask the students to present the news in the classroom to report on the information they learned from watching the news.

Click here to learn how news articles can help ESL students.

Listening to music and singing

Music is a great way to liven up the atmosphere in the classroom and of course practice ESL listening comprehension. The simplest music-based ESL listening game is to hand out the song lyrics, play the song, and encourage the students to sing along. To make the activity more difficult, you can remove some words from the lyrics and ask the students to fill in those blanks by singing the missing words.

Reading aloud to each other

During this ESL listening game, you should split the class into pairs and hand out the printed texts, like abstracts from books, to each pair. The first member of the pair should read the text aloud, while the second member of the pair should listen and try to write it down. Then the pair members switch places.

Using ESL listening apps

Students often enjoy engaging with ESL apps, and there is a wide variety of apps with listening games for students that you can use to enhance the ESL listening comprehension for your students.

Letter sounds scavenger hunt

This ESL listening activity is a perfect option for younger learners and beginners. This is how it works: the teacher calls out a letter and the students should search the classroom for objects that begin with this letter sound. For example, “ch” – “chalk.” Remember to pick up only the sounds that correspond with the objects in the classroom. A more advanced variant of this listening skills game is calling out the entire word and asking the students to find an object beginning with the first, middle, or last letter sounds.

Passing the message

Secretly give one of the students a phrase to repeat. That student should then whisper the message to the next person, and the next person passes the message to another person. The process continues until everyone has heard the message. The last person should write what they heard on the board.

Distinguishing between similar words

Some English words are tricky because they have different but similar spelling and pronunciation, so sometimes it is hard to understand which word is being spoken. The examples are ship/sheep, live/leave, fill/feel, etc. A listening game can help your students distinguish between these words. Have a set of cards printed out with these words. Divide the class into two teams and place the two cards on the desk in front of the students: live and leave. Say one of the words out loud: leave. If the student chooses the right card, the team will get a point. If the student can come up with an example, such as “The train leaves at 10”, then the team will get another point.

Using these ESL listening games, whether you’re thinking about becoming a teacher or you’re already in the classroom or teaching English online at home, can go a long way to help students develop listening skills.

ESL Listening Activities

Things to consider while using listening activities

Yes, ESL listening activities have many benefits, however, if you do not organize these activities properly then you may not be able to achieve your objectives.

Here are a few things you need to consider while having ESL listening activities in the class:

Keep your class in order – This is quite important! You will have to make sure that your classroom is in order and there is no excessive noise otherwise your students will not be able to listen to the listening material. This will affect their outcome and ability to learn.

Keep the exercises simple and easy – Since your students are just learning to develop their listening skills, therefore, they may not be able to recognize words that are too complicated or understand complex sentence structures. That is why you should keep the activities simple and easy for them. Once your students enter the advanced learning phase, you can increase the difficulty level of your exercises.

Have real-life conversations – Yes, listening to audio CDs can help develop listening skills of your students, but to give them real practice you should hold real-life conversations with them as well. This will allow them to use the acquired knowledge of the English language in a real-life situation. Moreover, they will also get the confidence to speak to another person and hold longer conversations.

Start with a clear accent – It is true that your students will have to deal with different types of accents in real life, however, in the beginning they need to be given listening activities that have clear accents. This will allow them to understand the language and develop beginner-level listening skills.

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