Let’s bring back the TAPEs

Once upon a time, over the hills and far away, there existed the formidable and ancient race, called by the barbarous foreigners: the TAPEs. In that dim and distant past the TAPEs were so widespread that their voices resounded in all four corners of the Earth – in every house, school and every English classroom. But then a disaster struck. TAPEs’ omnipresence sparked envy and hatred. Outnumbered, cornered and overrun, TAPEs fell into oblivion.

It’s incredible how quickly things are forgotten. Some of my former students who are only a few younger than me (I’m 26) would look at me totally befuddled when I told them I used to listen to music on a Walkman… The word TAPE sounded Greek to most of them, and so made things no clearer.

This little TAPE nostalgia moment got me thinking. Also, I’ve recently started teaching a 1-1 student who would like to improve her listening skills. I decided, then, it was a good time to sit down in the Winni-the-Pooh pose for a bit and cogitate.

Too often, the listening activities we do in class are designed to test rather than teach the (sub)skills involved. As a result, bad answers trigger students frustration, anger and resignation.

So, with no further ado, I’ve decided to read up on listening and do some research, to see how I can TEACH it better.

In this first post on the topic I’d like to share with you a few simple ideas on how to instantly make your listening classes more practical and useful for the students by giving them the tools and skills necessary to better tackle their weaknesses in listening in the future.

But what happened to the TAPEs from our story?

They’re coming back stronger than ever!

Before you plan your next listening lesson, think back to this dim and distant, yet glorious past, when CDs and mp3s were inconceivable. Dig out an old TAPE from your drawer, look at it, and think about the significance of the seemingly outdated four letters:


  • our goal should be to equip learners with techniques and strategies they’ll be able to use beyond the class to become better listeners
  • ask yourself: what techniques can the learners be taught to better attack similar type of texts? (i.e. note taking, predicting content, guessing meaning from context, relying on visual stimuli, etc.)


  • as much as possible use materials which are natural and authentic, and which resemble real language use 
  •  HOWEVER, even more importantly, design the tasks so that they are authentic – i.e. what is a natural response to this particular type of text?, e.g.  a lecture – note taking; a dialogue – asking for clarification


  • tasks you give should be clear and achievable
  • they should have an obvious sense of purpose to the learners and fit into your overall lesson aims


  • select texts which your learners need to listen to outside the class
  • ask the student which topics they’re interested in
  • when designing the tasks build engagement with every activity, and always allow for a personalised response to the text

9 thoughts on “Let’s bring back the TAPEs

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