Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Listening Post

Listening to English comes in many shapes and sizes for our learners: a teacher explaining an activity, a student listening to a guide on an excursion, watching a DVD or doing a test are just a few examples.

In this post, I’d like to focus on listening in the classic EFL sense as in an audio excerpt played in the classroom where the students have to listen and complete some kind of task.

There are various factors to consider when selecting a listening for a particular class, and some rules of thumb that I imagine most teachers usually apply.
Things to take into account include;
  •    The length of the excerpt
  •    The clarity of the excerpt
  •    The speed of the delivery of the speakers
  •    The subject matter
  •    The type of communication (monologue / dialogue, etc.)
  •    The strength of the accents
  •    The nationality of the learners
  •    The language level of the speakers

If we are using a coursebook then a lot of these factors have been decided for us i.e. low level books will have shorter, slower passages with the opposite being true of material from higher level equivalents.

It is only when we step away from our coursebooks and seek to source authentic material that more input is required from us as teachers.

The inexorable rise of YouTube provides a plethora of authentic listening material which can be both contemporary and fascinating and therefore extremely motivating for our learners. Hooray!

At the same time this material has, of course, not been edited for use in the language classroom. Clips that we would like to show to our students may be too long, be unintelligible, have long periods where nothing is said or indeed, no dialogue at all.

Upon finding a clip that contains too much information, I have a remedy that has so far proven successful. An example of this is this beautifully produced biography of Charles Dickens. My classes on the whole enjoy dipping their toes into literary waters and I knew this clip would be a perfect introduction to the life of one of England's finest writers. However, to expect a student to annotate the whole clip would be a big ask, while, at the same time, to miss any of it out would make the story of his life incoherent. 

So ...

I divided the class into groups of 4 and gave each of them a worksheet that focused on a single section of the clip. So student A focused on the first 40 seconds only, student B on the next 40 and so on. I informed the groups that they would be listening twice, after which they would reconstruct the story verbally at their tables. In doing this, I applied a certain amount of unspoken pressure on the students to perform, as all of them were dependent on one another for producing the complete story. I put the times the students had to listen to on each worksheet as well as the first and last words of their particular section. 

By tackling the listening like this students are also encouraged to help one another and, during the oral feedback, flesh out the details that one of their classmates may not have been too clear about. It also, of course, transforms a listening activity into an activity involving the 4 skills; listening, reading, writing and speaking. It’s a simple solution that I’ve used on numerous occasions when faced with a video I want to use that is too long or contains too much information. Do you do this? Are there any other workarounds to this problem that you know of?

Worksheet for Student A, with times and first and last words of the passage
If the pace of delivery is too fast, there is now the ability to slow the speed of the clip down on YouTube. Play the clip, click on the settings cog and then select either 0.5 or 0.25 from the Speed drop down bar. Obviously, slowing down the speed of the speech can make the clip sound rather weird, but it is something you may wish to try.

Slowing it down

As a footnote, I believe that there are times when we just need to relax and enjoy the classroom experience. After a period of time spent grappling with some of the more prickly aspects of English grammar (articles spring to mind!) it can be beneficial to allow the students to unwind with something less taxing. YouTube can be perfect for this, too. A YouTube clip that provides students with food for thought may not be particularly beneficial to them as language learners. It may not be beneficial to them as language learner at all, but, by providing them with a chance to relax for a few minutes and enjoy being in the classroom, certainly can’t do any harm. Indeed, by fostering a positive classroom atmosphere, learners who are generally reticent about academic life may come to look forward to learning (I did say may!). An example of a clip like this would be Where The Hell is Matt? or a relaxing music video information / karaoke sing-along worksheet. These kind of clips often produce a lot of classroom discussion, could lead on to further activities and leave our students with smiles on their faces.

Look! Matt is in Japan!

I'd love to hear about how you adapt YouTube videos (alternative sources of free video material are available - Videojug and Vimeo, to name just two!) to suit the needs of your learners. Any nifty ideas out there?

No comments:

Post a Comment