Teaching listening – tweaking the CELTA approach

Image under creative commons from: https://flic.kr/p/5LTdXV
Image under creative commons from: https://flic.kr/p/5LTdXV

In this post I wanted to look at the standard approach to a listening lesson which trainees learn during the initial teaching course, e.g. CELTA, and show what the potential problems with this approach are, and how we could tackle them. However, this post is not meant as a rant, criticising what trainees learn about teaching listening during the CELTA. Nor am I proposing to abandon this approach. To the contrary. My aim is to make you aware of the possible drawbacks and perhaps cause you to rethink and rework how you teach listening while still appreciating the advantages of the CELTA framework.

Let’s first start then with the CELTA approach. I subdivided it into 8 stages and gave the main aims of each. Please note that not all will always be present in every listening lesson. Some are optional, while others can be done jointly as one stage (e.g. 1 and 2). However, it is very likely that most listening lessons will follow the procedure below.

The standard CELTA approach:

Lettering “Celta” da UTD 592-002 - Régua

Stage and Aim(s)

  1. Lead-in – to get the students interested and engaged in the topic
  2. Text orientation – to prepare the students for what they’re going to hear and enhance their chances of understanding (NOTE: point 1 and 2 are often done in one go)
  3. Pre-teach lexis – to make sure difficult vocabulary items do not impede comprehension
  4. Listening for gist – to encourage global comprehension and to give a reason for listening
  5. Feedback – to check students general understanding of the text
  6. Listening for details – to promote listening for specific information
  7. Feedback – to check students detailed understanding
  8. Follow up speaking – to encourage a personalised response to the text and to provide speaking practice

Until I did the DELTA – 4 years after the CELTA – this was how I staged almost all of my listening lessons. However, the diploma course showed me that apart from the obvious benefits of the above staging, there are some perhaps less conspicuous, but very important disadvantages. For example:

Some disadvantages of the above staging:

  • little time is spent on actually listening to the recording
  • not much time devoted to identifying and analysing students’ difficulties
  • suggests there is only one right way of listening to a text
  • students are turned into passive listeners
  • the tasks do not highlight the link between listening and speaking
  • very often full and detailed understanding is expected by the teacher
  • the students do not take any responsibility for understanding the text
  • there is no reflection on the process
  • very often tasks are artificial and do not promote a natural response to the listening
  • often there is more testing than teaching going on

Based on G. White Listening. OUP 1998

Can you suggest any other drawbacks?

Frankly, I was quite shocked at the beginning when I was faced with so many drawbacks of an approach I had used so often. ‘Why hadn’t anybody told me before?!’, I thought. Although it might sound like a cliché, the answer is quite simple: I guess first we have to learn how to walk, before we start running.

Below then is a draft list of some of the easiest ‘tweaks’ you can use to tackle the above problems. Can you suggest any other solutions?

How to tackle these problems?

  • limit the time spend on pre–listening stages
  • build in reflection stages into your planning which will make the students more lesson in adversityaware of the listening process
  • encourage learners to identify problems (e.g. difficult lexis, information density, accent, speed, etc) and construct remedial activities which will home in on particular listening sub–skills
  • allow time for intensive re–listening of short passages which students identified as problematic
  • encourage learners to write down the words they do not understand, guess their meanings in pairs, make inferences and listen again to check against the recording
  • put the students in control of the CD player so that they can decide when to pause, forward or rewind
  • design tasks which imitate an authentic response to this particular listening text, by asking yourself: how would I listen to this listening text? (e.g. university lecture – note taking; conversation – asking for clarification)
  • encourage students to justify their answers and to disagree with other in pairs during feedback, and resist the urge to give the answers away immediately

More generally, when planning a listening lesson, ask yourself:

  • what is difficult about this particular listening?
  • how would you listen to this text? (e.g. as an eavesdropper, participant, general vs detailed understanding)
  • how can I develop learners’ ability with this particular text (e.g. informal chat) or way of listening (e.g. note–taking) beyond the class?
  • how can I design the tasks to reflect the above?

Please let me know if you find this post useful.

If you would like to find out more how to apply these ‘tweaks’ in practice, you might find these posts useful:

26 thoughts on “Teaching listening – tweaking the CELTA approach

    1. Thanks, Jonny.
      Good question. I don’t think there’s one right answer to it. On the one hand, pre-teaching vocabulary has the disadvantage that students might focus too much on these particular items, rather than actually listen. secondly, the students might get used to being told what the difficult words are and not be able to work out the meaning from context, or understand the gist of the message without understanding all the words. Having said that, if there are some words which will clearly block students comprehension and are key to understanding the emssage I would consider preteaching them.
      On the other hand, if your aim is to improve your learners’ ability to work out meaning of unknown words from context, I would not preteach any lexis, but teach this subskill.
      On the whole, although each listening and each class are different, I would probably more often go for not preteaching any lexis. How about yourself?
      I’ve actually read your post and used the idea there in my classes. It worked really well. I think it’s a briliant idea. And involves no prep!

  1. Yes, this is very useful. Reflecting back on any situation brings new meaning to it. I was thinking about teachers who collect written work, edit or “correct” it, and return it. It is easy for students to just glance at these pages, then “file” them. Revisiting and reusing the task is important. So is giving students control of the listening task. Stopping, replaying, relistening and sharing ideas. Asking each other questions. Predicting solutions. Constructing meaning together. Soon, we could share a variety of listening tasks, asking students to use mobile devices. They do that in kindergarten classes. Watch two five year olds playing. There’s a lot of sharing of language, jointly naming meaning. I love it.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Pauline.
      You mention some very important points. I like the idea of jointly constructing the meaning, as well as using mobile phones. I’ll need to look into that in the future.

  2. Great stuff! I know how you felt when you discovered that the CELTA way wasn’t the absolutely correct way to approach a listening lesson.

    I’m just embarking on the DELTA myself and articles like these are really helpful. However, further exemplification of the ideas would be really useful for someone like me. For example, your second bullet point under “how to tackle these problems” – it sounds great, but I wouldn’t be able to use that until I read an example of how to exactly execute it.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Anthony. Glad to hear you’re doing the DELTA. It’s well worth the effort. You might want to take a look at some of the lesson plans in For Teachers, Some Practice, Receptive Skills. You should be able to link some of the activities there with the ideas here. Also, the post Teaching Listening – an example lesson and reflection might be useful. I linked it in the post above.
      But I’lldef take your comment on board and try to publish some more practical posts in the future. Or if I publish lesson plans on teaching listening, I will link them to the ideas mentioned here. Good lack with the DELTA! Check out Lizzie Pinnard’s guide to it – she published a series of posts on her experiences doing it. There are hundreds of useful tips.

      1. Thank you for the guidance – the ideas in Skills practice look great for use on my courses! 🙂

        Lizzie has a great site for delta stuff – I think many people like me are great people like you and her put together such great blogs.

        Did you do your delta distance or face-to-face?

        1. I’m glad you find it useful. Please do let me know how it went down if you use any of the materials. Would love to hear your feedback 🙂
          Yes, she does. I wish it had been up when I was doing my DELTA. Would have been so much easier!
          Face-to-face in IH Budapest. It was over 9 months. We did all 3 modules together. At first it didn’t sound like a good idea, but then it made a lot of sense – for example the work on theory for Module 1 complemented the practical things we were learning about for Module 2. I also liked that there was enough time for the information to sink in. A 2 months intensive course would be too much for me, I reckon. Of course we were teaching full time as well (well 18 hours, I think). If you haven’t started your DELTA, I couldn’t recommend IH Budapest more highly! And the city is great too 🙂
          How are you planning to do it?

    1. Thanks. You should – it’s worth it! Take a look at my comment above. Would definitely recommend IH Budapest. Apart from the advantages I mentioned above, it’s also incredibly cheap (at least 30% cheaper) than most places.

  3. Very useful thanks. I’m just finishing my first year of teaching EFL full time so have pretty much been following the CELTA technique but now feel confident enough to mix things up a little. I particulary like the idea of asking learners to write down unknown words and discuss with a partner/small group – I can see this this would really help with spelling, pronunciation, fully understanding the meaning of words whilst improving speaking confidence by making and initiating converstaion with others. Thank you!!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Susannah.
      Another idea: Dictate chunks of connected speech to learners that appear in the recording. You can actually tell them that the chunks are not real English words. Sts write them down however they can. Then play the recording and students tell you to pause it when they think they’ve heard that chunk. Zoom in on that particular bit, replay it several times until the students realise what words are actually in the chunk. It’s usually an eureka moment for many, and can really improve their listening.

  4. Hi Marek
    It’s interesting how far CELTA (and DELTA) courses and trainers lag behind current thinking. I think your list of disadvantages could do with an addition: there is no evidence that this approach to listening actually helps develop students’ listening skills. If you haven’t done so already, I’d recommend that you read John Field’s ‘Listening in the Language Classroom’ (CUP, 2009) and Steven Brown’s ‘Listening Myths’ (University of Michigan Press, 2011).

    1. Hi Philip,
      Thanks for your comment.
      That’s a very important addition. There are many things about language teaching for which there is very little evidence. For example, I read a study (can’t remember the author now) which undermined the use of learning lexis in sets. It turned out it was actually less effective than learning random items. Nevertheless, presenting and teaching vocabulary in lexical sets is still something that is so deeply ingrained and seemingly so logical and intuitive that it would be difficult to abandon it for a different approach. What do you think?
      Thanks for the titles. I’ve heard of Field’s book but haven’t read it yet. Will need to get hold of it. Never heard of the one by Brown, but the title looks really interesting. Just downloading it now 🙂

      1. Yes, there is some evidence that, at lower levels, teaching vocabulary in the usual sets is not a good idea. Old ideas die hard. And many have a very lively rigor mortis.

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