ESL Listening Activities

Listening Activities are a great way to not only teach your students vocabulary and develop their listening abilities, but also to teach things such as culture and humor.  Encouraging note-taking for students to keep a written record of their work will result in the students being able to expand their vocabulary over the long run.  The listening activities that are outlined below are generally taught through a stage by stage process involving the following:

Stage One: General Discussion Question

This is a pre-learning activity that will establish the context of the lesson, activate prior knowledge of the topic, and invoke student interest.  It will also provide the students with speaking practice and peer to peer learning in regards to sharing vocabulary etc.  Activities that can be included in this part are brainstorms, conversation, and discussions.  Usually I start this topic off with a general discussion question that the students talk about in pairs first, and then as a class second.  Giving the students a chance to speak in pairs maximizes student participation whereas a whole classroom discussion will generally limit the amount students have to speak.  After the pair discussion, we reconvene as a whole classroom to give feedback about what was discussed in pairs. Generally, feedback should be kept brief and to the point as a whole class so that it doesn’t take an excessive amount of time  (this should go for about 3-7 minutes total).

Stage Two: Pre-Teach Vocabulary

Pre-learning activities such as pre-teaching vocabulary help further establish context and help in lowering the difficulty of comprehension of the listening activity to come.  They can also be a way to build the student’s vocabulary base if the students take down the vocabulary items as notes and if it is later reviewed via quizzes and other activities.

When teaching vocabulary it is always a good idea to elicit rather than explain (to engage the students and avoiding wasting time teaching something they already know).  Also, the meaning, pronunciation, and form (m,p,f) of the different words should be addressed (time permitting).  The vocabulary chosen can also be a way to establish context in the students minds of the listening clip to come, if the vocabulary is related to the topic.  Usually I look for words that are 1) difficult for the students to understand 2) important to understand the clip 3) important for the students to know 4) related to the topic i.e. the general discussion, main idea, detail, or further discussion questions.

Usually you will only choose 3-7 words to pre-teach.  Too many words will cause problems of overloading the students and taking up too much time while not enough won’t push the students in terms of developing a larger vocabulary base and might impede their ability in understanding the listening clip.

Stage Three: Listening for Main Idea

Main Idea Question: BEFORE you play the listening clip ask the students a general question about the main idea so that they can listen to the clip one time through without interruption.  It is always good practice to give the students a task to do with receptive (listening or reading) texts rather than to just tell them to listen without any purpose.

Prediction (optional): Before you play the clip you can ask the students to make a prediction or what they think the clip will be about or basically what they think the answer will be to a main idea question. Here is more information about doing a listening for main idea activity also known as a ‘gist task‘.

Play the clip once through without interruption and have the students answer the question.

Stage Four: Listening for Detail

Detail Questions:  Next, you play the clip a second time, but this time with questions focusing on more details of the clip. Like the main idea question, you should first give the questions to the students before having them listen (so they listen for the answers as opposed to listening to the clip, getting introduced to the questions, and then answering them from memory).

Time permitting, you can also play the clip another time, either all the way through, or by playing and then pausing after the answer is given in the clip and continue to do this for each question.

In terms of designing questions, I choose to ask them questions that test their bottom up listening skills (their ability to pick out individual sounds and words that might be difficult), ones relating to understanding jokes & culture, or relating to pre-taught vocabulary, as well as contextual information that might not be immediately obvious from the listening clip itself.

Stage Five: Speaking or Writing Activity

Using the topic of the listening clip or some context relating to it, give them a speaking or writing activity.  In this stage, it can be nice to include note-taking items such as mind maps, outlines, and other instruments to support the students in their activity.  All of the prior activities should be incorporated into this one i.e. the context should be such that it is centered around the main topic, could encourage the use of pre-taught vocabulary, and could be related to some of the questions of the listening.

Special Notes: All of the activities and stages mentioned above should be formatted to meet the needs of your students in regards to the curriculum that you are following and of course the level of your students. Lower level students can still deal with authentic materials (or materials made for native speakers and not modified for English learners) as long as you level the task making sure that the questions used will be within their capabilities to answer and also think of providing additional supporting tools to facilitate their understanding e.g. mind maps, fill in the blank, multiple-choice etc. Also, more focus on the context of the listening can help lower level students understand more challenging listening clips.  With more advanced levels, it can be nice to focus on expressions, humor, and cultural issues of which they might not be aware.  Also, activities can be adjusted to meet the needs of your particular students (e.g. focusing on the topics, vocabulary, contexts, practical needs etc. that are relevant to your students).

Shopaholic: Addicted to Shopping

This entertaining presentation clip is taken from the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009) and relates to the idea of shopping being affiliated with femininity (though perhaps there are some men that are just as addicted to shopping i.e. tall former NBA players).

Related Topics: Shopping, Gender, Femininity, Addiction

Stage One: General Discussion Question

1) Brainstorm with a partner: What are different things that you get addicted to?

After they complete brainstorming convene as a class and write the different things that men and women might get addicted to (can have students come to the whiteboard to write).

2) Brainstorm with a classmate: What are different ways to end an addiction?

After they complete the brainstorm, convene as a class and go over some different ways to end addictions.

Stage Two: Pre-Teach Vocabulary

Here are a few words that the students might need help with from the listening clip.

Vocab: Sheen, silk, draped, mannequin, rush (adrenaline not being in a hurry), soul sister

Go through and elicit the meaning, pronunciation, and form (m,p,f) of the different words.

Stage Three: Listening for Main Idea

Main Idea question: What is she addicted to and do you think it will end?

Play the clip once through and have the students answer the question Answer: shopping and no.

Stage Four: Listening for Details

Detail Questions:

1) What are put there to enjoy?

2) What things motivate her to shop?

  • The _______ of _________
  • The smell of _________  __________ shoes
  • The _______ you feel when you ________ your card

3) “…makes you want to shout in front of the  __________ ___________

4) What adjectives does shopping make you feel like (4 different ones)?

4) “My __________ is strong, my _____________ is closed. I do not _______ to shop.”


Friends: Joey is a Woman

This clip is taken from the popular TV series of Friends (1994-2004) and is an entertaining listening that will teach the students cultural issues relating to gender in the U.S. in addition to the normal vocabulary and listening skill development that comes along with listening activities.

Related Topics: Gender, Masculinity, Femininity, Roommates, Apartment

Stage One: General Discussion Question

Brainstorm with a partner: What are some things that are found in a masculine room?  What are some things that are found in a feminine room? Discuss.

Write on the WB some different things found in masculine and feminine rooms.

Classroom Discussion Question (building context): How would you feel if your roommate was a member of the opposite sex and decorated your apartment according to their gender preferences?

Stage Two: Pre-Teach Vocabulary

Vocabulary: Potpourri, sweetums, post-apocalyptic, galaxies and curling iron.

Stage Three: Listening for Main Idea

Main Idea question: Do you agree with Chandler criticism of Joey’s apartment? Why or Why Not?



Stage Four: Listening for Details

Q#1: … in a post __________ world for the control of the __________ last remaining resources.

Q#2: Chandler says: “if you let this go you are going to be sitting around with your fingers ___________ in stuff”?

Q#3: Chandler says to Joey, “Be a ______!”

Q#4: Chandler says to Monica, “Be right there _________?”

Q#5: What things does Joey complain about to his girlfriend?

A picture of an unknown cute _______________

A watering ___________________

A curling ________________.

Q#6: What does Joey say about the Potpourri?

It’s like _______________   _____  ______   ____________________

Q#9: Joey’s roommate has an accent. Do you notice something special about how she pronounces a particular consonant sound? Which consonant sound does she pronounce differently?

Consonant Sound: __________

Q#10: According to Chandler what’s wrong with Joey? (4:20)

He is ___________  _________  ______  _____________________

Q#11: (4:48)  Joey tells Chandler, “That’s just ______” and “it’s not what you said it’s just the _____ you said it”?

Stage Five: Speaking or Writing Activity

Activity: Reaction to the Listening Clip

Directions: Discuss these questions in pairs or a small group.

Q#1: Chandler starts off by saying, “I was wondering if you’d be interested in battling me in a post apocalyptic world for the control of the galaxies last remaining energy source”. Why is the word choice considered funny? What do you think he was referring to?

Q#2: What was Chandler referring to when he said, “if you let this go you are going to be sitting around with your fingers soaking in stuff”?

Q#3: When Chandler says to Joey, “Be a man!”, what is he suggesting for Joey to do and act like?

Q#4: Why is it funny when Chandler says to Monica, “Be right there sweetums?”

Q#5: What is funny about the towel situation? What does what Joey say about the towel symbolize about men’s behavior?

Q#6: What’s funny about Joey giving Monica tips about flowers?

Q#7: Joey tells Chandler, “That’s just mean” and “it’s not what you said it’s just the way you said it”? What does that say about the stereotype of women’s behavior?

World’s Toughest Job

This clip relates to the job that mothers do.  It is a great clip to invoke interest in your students and to discuss the gender issues relating to mothers and the difficulty relating to raising children.

Related Topics: Mothers, Work, Family, Mother’s Day

Stage One: General Discussion Question

What do you think the world’s toughest job is?  Discuss in partners.

Feedback: Classroom discussion of pair answers.

Stage Two: Pre-Teach Vocabulary

Vocabulary: Director of Operations, Culinary Arts, Exert, Mobility, Negotiation, Interpersonal Skills, Work Load, and Constantly.

Stage Three: Listening for Main Idea

Now stop the listening and ask the students (2:50):

1) Would you take this job offer?

2) Who do you think holds this type of position currently?

Have them discuss in pairs before playing the clip again for them to listen for more details.

Stage Four: Listening for Details

1) What’s the job title?

2) What’s the first requirement?

3) What will the job require?

4) Fill in the blanks:

Constantly on your ___________

Constantly bending ___________

Constantly __________ yourself.

5) How much break time do you get?

6) It requires excellent __________________ and _______________ skills.

7) What kind of degrees do you need to have?




8) When does the workload go up?

9) How much will the salary be?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *