How to get proper listening practice in

Quite often in the conventional language classroom listening "practice" involves listening to something and writing down answers to questions. In real life when someone is talking to you, you don't sit there and write down what they are saying, you respond by showing in some way or another that you have understood what they have said (or not), and you sometimes add to what they say to help the conversation flow. Therefore, listening is by no means a one-way process as the conventional listening "practice" tasks (which are basically tests) would leave you to believe.

In response to this, listening activities called information transfer activities have been developed that let you practice actual listening, rather than simply testing your comprehension or your ability to write information down. Essentially information transfer activities are when you get verbal instructions and respond by carrying them out. They can be done at any level, but since I teach elementary students I will use them as an example.

One really simple activity that my kids love is to have them describe and draw pictures to each other. This takes a little bit of instruction, but as it uses language the students know it's perfect for listening (and also speaking) practice. I simply write a chart on the board that has the order of adjectives in English before the noun (i.e. number, size, colour, noun; e.g. five big blue circles) and have the students use their colour pencils to draw what I have described, firstly orally but then visually on the chart if necessary. Once I have done this a few times and know the students have understood what to do, I let them do it in pairs and supervise. Then you can take this activity much further and have the students do it in front of the class, or to the teacher to make sure they have understood, and can also be understood.

In a way Simon Says is also an information transfer activity. I find if it's done the right way then children, even first and second graders, can learn the names of body parts quite effectively after about 10 minutes. I did this a few times yesterday with the first and second graders and it got to the point where I could just call out the commands and the majority of the kids knew what to do.

Information transfer activities are wonderful because there is a lot less pressure than conventional comprehension tests, and the kids know full well if they have understood or not. They are also much closer to actual conversation as comprehension can be seen through actions rather than the number of correct answers on a test.

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