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:
Stage and Aim(s)
- Lead-in – to get the students interested and engaged in the topic
- 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)
- Pre-teach lexis – to make sure difficult vocabulary items do not impede comprehension
- Listening for gist – to encourage global comprehension and to give a reason for listening
- Feedback – to check students general understanding of the text
- Listening for details – to promote listening for specific information
- Feedback – to check students detailed understanding
- 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 aware 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:
- ‘Teaching listening – example lesson and reflection’.
- 15 practical tips for teaching listening (you can find the post here).
- Making the tasks more authentic and natural: ‘The real deal’
- Making your listening classes Task-oriented, Authentic, Purposeful and Engaging in ‘Let’s bring back the TAPEs’
- Listening lesson plans can be found here.