The teaching of listening comprehension
As listening is an integral part of language as a system of human communication, it should be a compulsory and integral component of any language teaching syllabus . The ELT syllabus should focus on the teaching of real-life listening strategies that are involved in daily human interactions. For procedural purposes listening comprehension lessons should follow the steps below:
The teacher is invited to select only one or two sub-listening skills as suggested in the syllabus. For the effective achievement of the goals stated for listening comprehension, the teacher should be aware of what each sub-skill is and what is involved in its teaching. Focus on one sub-skill at a time ensures the spiral progression of the practice of the sub-skills.
The listening comprehension lessons should follow three main stages:
The main objective of the pre-listening stage is to activate the students’ schemata and make them ready for the listening activities. Activating background knowledge should be taken as a listening sub-skill in itself. For this reason, ‘activating background’ knowledge should be an integral part of every listening lesson. The teacher is invited to vary the strategies used to activate the learners’ background knowledge from lesson to lesson. Pre-listening activities include:
- Group brainstorming.
- Pair-work interactions (on a topic related to the topic of the listening lesson).
- Whole class discussions/debates.
- Poser sessions.
- Portfolio discussion.
- Oral presentations.
- Video-watching , etc…
Any of the activities above could serve as pre-listening activities for the listening comprehension lessons.
This stage should deal with the development of the target competency. Each listening comprehension lesson focuses on training the learners on one or two listening strategies. Being aware that listening skills, like reading skills, cannot be developed over one session or even one year of instruction, it is preferable to state the objective of the listening comprehension lesson in the form of a ‘training’ objective. That is to say, the teacher can say, for instance: ‘by the end of this lesson, the learners will have training in scanning for specific information / skimming for the gist.
It is assumed that strategy training should be the main focus of each listening-comprehension lesson. Therefore, the learners should be instructed on how to practice the target skill. For this to happen, the teacher is invited to move from simple skills to those which require more cognitive involvement on the part of the learners.These steps can be followed for strategy training in listening comprehension:
- Select one listening comprehension strategy at a time. (e.g. in Unit 1: making predictions about the listening passage/ scanning).
- Name the target strategy and state it as the objective of the listening lesson.
- Model it using the same listening passage or a different one.
- Allow the learners to practice it.
- Provide scaffolding to the learners as they are practicing the strategy.
- Allow the learners to independently practice the strategy.
‘Making predictions’ should be taken as a listening skill. In fact it is a real-life skill; whenever we are listening to someone speaking, we make predictions about what he/she’s going to say later. So, the learners should be trained on how to use the given clues to make predictions about subsequent details in the passage being listened to. In video-viewing, using images and the sequence of events can help the learners further predict what’s coming next.
‘Skimming’ is an authentic skill which is frequently practiced in real life. ‘Skimming’ is when the learners identify the main idea of a spoken/written text. While trying to identify the main idea of a spoken passage, the listeners do not have to listen to all the details in the text. The main idea (the gist) can be understood from the first sentence(s) or from the first part of what is being said. In video-watching, images are sufficient to provide the learners with the main idea. So, the teacher should choose the most appropriate part of an audio/video track which would allow the learners to get the gist of what is being listened to.
In unit 2 of the textbook, for instance, the target sub-skill is ‘scanning for specific information’. In this this strategy, the learners try to locate specific details in the text. Specific information can also be understood using video images as support. A detail can be names, dates, figures, numbers, percents, amounts of money, etc. So, as a strategy, the teacher is advised to train the learners on how to locate specific information in an audio text usually through directing them to where the detail is being discussed without having to listen to the whole text.
The post-listening phase of the lesson should be devoted to discussing the importance of the strategy dealt with in understanding the text . During this phase, the teachers can also further exploit the content of the text. If the audio/video text is about a topic related to ‘family’ or ‘friends’, for instance, the post-listening stage can be devoted to a speaking session in which the learners talk in groups or give a short talk to the class about their families or relatives. In this stage, the teacher can also link the listening class to a ‘reading comprehension’ or a ‘writing’ class, making the topic being discussed as a starting point for the coming lesson. Other activities that can be dealt with after a listening lesson include:
- Pair-work on the ideas dealt with in the listening audio/video.
- Group work discussion on an aspect of the text.
- Short talk/presentation related to the topic.
- Paragraph writing about the topic (about my family, for instance).
- Story-telling in reaction to the topic.
- Role-plays (imitating the people in the video).
What do you think?