TESOL 2015: Focus on Teaching Listening, Part 1

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TESOL 2015 Convention Blog Post

This past week I attended the TESOL International Convention in Toronto, Canada. It was an amazing time filled with the sharing of new ideas, confirmation of tried-and-true ideas, and testing out of unconfirmed ideas. Now that I am back at work in New York City, I miss the invigorating environment of the conference, but it is good to be home to digest and reflect on what I learned.

For this conference, I did something a bit different—I decided to attend as many sessions on listening as possible to get a greater feel for what is happening in the field and to help clarify my own teaching practice for this skill. I was able to attend sessions focusing on a variety of English language teaching contexts (teaching young learners, EAP, adult ed, EFL, ESL, etc). As a teacher trainer, I wanted to get a feeling for the field as a whole and not only focus on one teaching context. This would help me better prepare my preservice teachers for whichever listening teaching context they wanted to explore. I’m going to cover the top four sessions I attended, and I hope you can use the tips, strategies, and activities I learned in your teaching. Here are the first two.

1. Teaching English Through International Children’s Songs: a Global Approach
presented by Dr. Joan Kang Shin

This session was on the benefits of using songs with young learners and an explanation of Dr. Kang Shin’s global approach to using songs.

One of my main takeaways from the session was Dr. Kang Shin’s explanation of the “expanding circles of English speakers.” There are many more speakers of ESL in the world than there are native speakers of English. And so, taking into consideration that most young students will need to speak English with other nonnative speakers more than with native speakers greatly affects how and what should be taught to children—they need global knowledge and global language!

Therefore, Dr. Kang Shin developed the International Children’s Song Approach:

  • She collected children’s songs in the native languages of a variety of countries from around the world.
  • She analyzed them for common features (shared themes, shared vocabulary, shared melodies, shared rhythms, etc).
  • She translated the words into English and adjusted the melodies and rhythms to fit the new English versions of the songs.

This encourages teachers to teach language and culture in a fun and meaningful way to the students. I think the idea of using a variety of authentic content and not only native-speaker focused authentic content is a very valuable takeaway.

Dr. Kang Shin has many videos on this topic through the National Geographic Young Learners YouTube channel.

2. Listening With a Purpose
presented by Rob Jenkins and Staci Johnson

This session focused on the idea that students are always listening, and so there are many listening opportunities to exploit in the language classroom. According to one of the presenters, Rob Jenkins, this means that modeling natural language as much as possible while teaching is, in fact, also a great way to improve students’ listening skills.

However, before you start making every opportunity a learning opportunity, your students should be aware and involved in the process. Make sure your students understand the following as best they can:

  • When listening, the students do not have to understand everything being said. Rather, they should use a variety of listening strategies to help them when they can’t catch every word.
  • Learning is a process. It takes time and requires a lot of patience.
  • Learning English is a skill. Students should also see learning listening as a skill. It is something that can get better, but it requires focused practice.

Students should visualize what it means to be a “focused listener.” When students know what they are trying to hear, it is like turning on a switch. If they can predict or pay attention to one thing while listening, it will help train their ears to recognize key information even though they can’t catch every word.

Here are a few requirements of focused listening:

  • The text should be at a natural pace.
  • The students always have a task to do while listening.
  • The students should know the context of what they are listening to and the purpose of the task.
  • The students should clearly understand what they are listening for (i.e., the type of information—you can give the students tips to help them notice the key information).

Here is an example of a focused listening task:

  • Numbered pictures—this is scaffolded focused listening. The presenter modeled this activity in depth.  The teacher should prepare six pictures of people doing jobs. Each picture should have a number from 1–6.
    • First,  set the context with the students (listening for jobs) and elicit each character’s name and job. Clarify any job-related vocabulary if necessary.
    • Tell the students to hold up the number of fingers showing which picture you are referring to when you say the job of the character. Say the jobs of all the pictures randomly until you have finished.
    • For the next task, the students should continue to hold up their fingers, but this time the teacher should say words associated with the jobs. For example, if the picture shows a carpenter, the teacher could say wood, hammer, and house, but not the word carpenter.
    • The students continue to do the same task, but this time the teacher will say a full sentence about each picture. For example, “Judy is working on the roof today because it needs a lot of repairs.”
    • The students do the same thing again, but this time the teacher should say a paragraph about each picture.
    • The final step is for the teacher to tell a story at a normal pace involving all the characters in the pictures and using a combination of keywords and names. Each time you refer to one of the characters, students show a number of fingers to identify which picture you are referring to.

I hope these ideas are helpful! I have a few more ideas to share, which I will present to you in my next post: Focus on Teaching Listening, Part 2.

About Autumn Westphal

Autumn Westphal
Autumn Westphal has been working in the field of English language teaching since 2007. She has taught English to speakers of other languages in the US and in South Korea. She became a teacher trainer with the WL-SIT Graduate Institute in 2010. She currently works as the deputy head of teacher training at Rennert New York, where she is responsible for training teachers, developing teacher training curricula, and delivering professional development workshops to Rennert teachers.
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