Four Tips to Help Students Develop Listening Skills


Ask the clerk where to find it


Electronic section

I have to smile when I remember the day I went into a department store abroad and asked the clerk where I could find some electronic devices.

I specifically described what I was looking for and how it would be used. The clerk seemed to listen, carefully watching my gestures. He nodded and quickly sent me to a section at the back of the store. I did not find electronics. Instead I found potted plants! I had to laugh out loud even though it was not really a laughing matter.

This kind of thing happens all the time and it is not because you are not speaking the same language but rather because whatever you said was incorrectly interpreted.

Potted plant section

The listeners did not listen accurately. Additionally, they may have wanted to save face or felt it was embarrassing to ask questions or admit that they didn’t understand you.

This not only happens with speakers of different languages but even with speakers of the same language! It happens within families and communities. In fact there seems to be a plethora of misunderstanding going on at any given moment worldwide. Often it’s because the initial statement or question wasn’t specific enough, but it’s usually a matter of incorrect listening strategies.

Among teachers, when we are dealing with speakers of other languages we often refer to this as, “lost in translation.” And it’s a serious problem that cuts a big chunk out of communication and makes efficiency seem like a rare occurrence. 

We have ears but we don’t seem to be using them for the purpose of listening!


Listen to all comments

We cannot correct this problem in the world because we have no control of other people but we can certainly do a lot help our students become better listeners because we do have a certain amount of control in the classroom. By helping students become better listeners we not only help them in their language development but also in their lives. For without listening, what hope is there in the world?

All people need good listening skills and the key factor falls in one category:  

following are four tips to make your students accountable for what they hear:

  • 1. Hold all students accountable for everything said in class. Ask for their comments and opinions after any contribution. This includes presentations, questions or comments that occur in class. Right afterward, ask another student what was said, what opinion was just given and what reaction they have to what was said. 

Students will listen more carefully if they know you’ll hold them accountable.

  • 2. When students give presentations make it a requirement that they write at least three questions about their presentation.
    speak, ask questions, listen

     These can be submitted to you the day before the presentation so you can check on their accuracy. When you give these questions back to the presenter they will know if they have posed their questions correctly and they will feel confident in asking them to the class at the end of their presentation. This accomplishes some very important things. First it hones students’ ability to ask questions correctly. Asking questions incorrectly is rampant worldwide even among the best of students. Secondly, when the class knows they will be asked questions after a presentation, they will listen more carefully. It makes them accountable not only for their own work but for the work of other students. 

Students will listen carefully if they know you’ll hold them accountable.

  • 3. After a presentation make sure to call on students randomly to summarize what was said or a certain part of what was said. This is not only good to test listening skills but is also very valuable for scaffolding grammar. The student presenting may be speaking in first person but when the class is asked about the presentation they may have to move from 1st to 3rd person in their description. “I bought my car at a used car lot.” becomes “He bought his car at a used car lot.” or “She bought her car at a used car lot.” For more advanced students: “The Paparazzi were taking pictures of the celebrities,” becomes “He/she said The Paparazzi were taking pictures of the celebrities.”

Students will listen carefully if they know you’ll hold them accountable.

  • 4. Tardiness happens! So when a student arrives late for class, have another student summarize what was covered before the arrival. Then ask the rest of the class if anything else was covered. If the student missed an important part of the summary, the rest of the class can fill in the additional details. This not only holds the class accountable for listening but serves as a review of things that were covered. Some students may miss things, so the summaries scaffold what they missed. As formative assessment, this also provides the teacher with insight on student comprehension. 

Students will listen carefully if they know you’ll hold them accountable.

    Students often address their presentations directly to the teacher. They may ignore the rest of the class and look and speak only to the teacher. When this happens the rest of the class is ‘left out’. Additionally, the presenter often only speaks loud enough to reach the ears of the teacher, who may be seated at the front of the class. This causes the other students to daydream or tune-out during the presentation they may be unable to hear. Presentations like this are completely ineffectual.
  • Keep your distance from the presenter. Stand at the back of the class during the presentation. This forces the presenter to look at the entire class while looking at you in the back row. Plus, they will speak louder to make sure you can hear them.

4 thoughts on “Four Tips to Help Students Develop Listening Skills

  1. Fatma Al Harthi

    Presentations are very difficult tasks for my students, as most of them are low level English learners and this is due to their remote area and limited services. Presentations help them to improve their vocabulary and speaking skills. I should increase the amount of questions next time to improve their listening skills as well. Thanks Leona for the tips 😊

    • I’m glad the tips were helpful to you Fatma and good luck! If you have any questions be sure to let me know.

  2. I love this idea of accountability! I think it is a great idea to make all the students take a turn at doing things in the class that require them to listen well.

    As you said, getting students to summarize what the lesson was about is a great way to encourage them to listen to the whole class.

    This is great stuff, Leona. Many thanks!

    • Thanks and in fact without accountability there is no engagement and without engagement there is no motivation and without motivation there is no significant learning.

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