Listening skills are important.
I know it. You know it. Your students know it.
But how can you make listening practice engaging?
The key is to spark your students’ interest with something more exciting than those dull-as-dish-water dialogues.
A fantastic way to do this is with audio short stories.
They’re versatile, accessible and—you guessed it—short: all factors that make them extremely useful in the world of ESL.
Why Use Short Stories for ESL Audio?
In using short stories, students will gain much needed exposure to English conversation, boosting their confidence when it comes to putting language knowledge into practice.
A gripping topic or juicy storyline will ensure students’ investment in a listening exercise. If they want to know whether Manny gets back from the moon or if Jane and Larry will get together again after their disastrous first date, then they’ll have to concentrate! So choose something relevant and fun, and even those adolescent learners will be begging to hear how the story turns out.
Unlike movies and TV, audio short stories don’t give students the luxury of being able to infer meaning from visual action, gestures or lip movements. And unlike listening dialogues, audio short stories have a proper plot, providing invaluable practice in understanding a situation and events, all based solely on aural comprehension.
The subject matter of an audio short story can be tailored to suit the interests of your students, and can be used to promote and spark discussion of a particular topic.
Students play apps, read magazines, listen to songs, go on social networking sites and use interactive websites to practice English in their spare time. So why shouldn’t they listen to short stories too? By using audio short stories in class, you’ll show your students that they’re relevant and engaging, and can have your students listening away in no time.
There are countless stories available to download from the internet, suited to all ages, levels, personalities and interests. Students can access them on their own as a brilliant way of practicing listening skills outside of the classroom. Listening to an audio short story is perfect for those busy students on the go, who can simply listen while out and about. That’s right, their listening practice potential need know no limits!
Why Audio Short Stories Are Perfect for the ESL Classroom
While audio short stories are an awesome way for students to practice listening at home, they’re also the perfect tool for any ESL classroom. Here’s why:
- They provide a natural voice, complete with natural intonation and expression.
- There are stories to be found that are appropriate for all learners.
- Most audio short stories are under fifteen minutes long and therefore can easily be incorporated into any lesson plan.
- The grammar, vocabulary or content of the story can be gleaned and a lesson subsequently created around it.
- There are tons of free audio short stories online to choose from.
- They can be used as a starter to lead-in to the topic of the lesson, or at the end as a wind-down or reward.
ESL Listening Activities Using Audio Short Stories
There are countless activities that can accompany an audio short story, to be completed individually, in small groups or as a whole class.
Here are a few examples:
- Fill in the Blanks: Using an audio short story that comes with a transcript, remove approximately one word from every other sentence, leaving blanks in their place. If the class is lower level, you can provide a word bank at the top of the sheet. Pass out this worksheet to your students, and give them a few minutes to read it before you begin listening. Then while the story is playing, have students fill in the blanks as they’re listening. If the students want to, let them listen to the short story again. You can go through the answers as a group, listening to the story again and pausing at each blank.
- Master Memory: Tell the students that they are going to write down the main events of the story after listening to it. Play the short story, making sure no one writes anything yet. Afterwards, ask the students to write a list of at least five events they can remember from the story. These could include what happens at the beginning, a plot twist, a character interaction and how the story ends. The more detail the better!
- Order the Events: Give each student a set of strips, with a sentence or two detailing an event on each strip. Allow time for your students to read each one, or read them together as a class. While listening to the story, students put the events in the correct chronological order.
- Buzz Words: Give students a vocabulary page with anywhere between ten and thirty words, depending on the class level and the length of the short story they will be listening to. Go through the words one by one, checking meaning. Then as students listen to the story, they check off the words from the list when they hear them. You could also make this into a game by having your students raise their hands or clap when they hear the buzz word. First one gets a team point!
- Multiple Choice: Give students a worksheet with approximately ten questions on it, each with three possible answers. The questions can be about defining events in the story, character decisions or tiny details. Give students time to read through the options before playing the short story, clarifying meaning where necessary. As they listen, students choose from the multiple choice answers. Play the story again to go through the answers, pausing where the answers to the questions crop up.
- Character Quiz: Listen to the entire short story, then give students a worksheet with a list of character traits and decisions. Students must pick the correct one for the protagonist of the story. Listen to the story again to give students a chance to review their decisions before going through the answers as a class.
- Plot Quiz: Students listen to the short story once or twice, depending on their level. Afterwards split them into 2-4 teams and have a game show. Each team has a chance to answer a question. If the team gets it right they get a point, and if they get it wrong, the question moves to the next team.
- Beginning, Middle, End: Lead a discussion about what constitutes the beginning, middle and end of a story. Listen to the short story once or twice if necessary, and then split the class into groups of no more than four. Have groups discuss and write down the main events that make up the beginning, middle and end of the story. Do feedback as a whole class to see if students have similar ideas.
Of course finding the most suitable audio short story is something that requires research and planning. Below is a list of some of the best websites available for downloading audio short stories for free.
5 Wonderful Websites for Engaging ESL Audio Short Stories
This website offers sets of stories, each roughly fifteen minutes long, which are suitable for intermediate or advanced levels. A short explanation of the content is given under each title.
The stories are read with a realistic British accent at a decent speed. A transcript is available from YouTube to follow along with while listening.
2. Agenda Web
This website has over four hundred short stories, some as short as 1.5 minutes long. They are most suited for low intermediate level, although there’s plenty of variety. The website includes a dictionary for key vocabulary, which links to dictionary.com.
Each story has the following activities at the bottom of the page: a yes/no answer quiz, a gap fill, a crossword and a dictation practice, all of which can be completed online with the option of receiving “hints.”
A great aspect of this website in terms of independent practice is that there is a translate button so that any word can be translated into a student’s native language with a definition in English underneath.
There are also short stories for beginners with the same activities at the bottom of the page, available here.
These stories are approximately fifteen minutes long, by famous authors such as Edgar Allen Poe. They can be sorted by author or alternatively by content, for example animals, health or ten-minute daily news, to name a few.
The stories are animatedly read, and are accompanied by music. Some have the option to listen and read along simultaneously. The read-along option is great because only one or two sentences come up on the screen at a time, allowing for easier concentration.
The website also has tons of other activities options at the top of the page, including:
- Audio concentration games like card memory for defining similar sounding words.
- Vocabulary activities such as crosswords, meaning match and hangman, all of which allow you to choose the level.
- Grammar flash quizzes and scrambled sentences.
This site is suitable for intermediate and above, with most of the stories around four minutes long. There is a short explanation of each story, as well as a featured story of the week.
The short stories teach American phrases and idioms, with an emphasis on interesting topics that will promote discussion. One of Lauver’s aims is to provide students with an insight into American life and culture, making these stories particularly suited to non-Americans residing in America, or learners that have an interest in learning about the USA.
There is an option to filter by genre, including sections such as American history, holiday, small town America and trivia. You can also search using keywords, if you’re after a certain type of story. Transcripts of each story are available to download and print.
As well as short stories, this website also has full length audio books, novellas and songs. The short stories are suitable for intermediate or advanced learners, with a brilliant option to have either a slow or fast(er) listening speed.
There are short stories by famous authors such as P.G Wodehouse and Raymond Carver, all with a read along option. Any longer works are split into listening sections of around thirty minutes long.
These five websites are great places to start when searching for audio short stories to use in your ESL class.
If you’re looking for a challenge for your most advanced students, try using a story from The Moth, which features an always-growing collection of “true stories told live.” While the audio (and sometimes video) short stories lack transcripts, this is a top-notch source for authentic stories and fantastic storytelling.
Finally, there’s no reason why you should stop at short stories. Take a full audio book and split it up into bite-sized chunks, using the same activities and tips shown here.
Whatever your students are interested in, there is certainly something out there for them in the world of audio short stories. So get searching now to provide them with some much-needed audio educational entertainment!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you liked these sites, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities. You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.