How to Teach ESL Elementary Listening: Easy, Low-prep Activities
Cue the eye rolls and exaggerated sighs…
As elementary English teachers, we’ve all heard this at one point or another—particularly when our young students are less than thrilled with the ESL listening activity we’ve assigned.
Their groans could be in response to a standard dictation or a boring, outdated audio clip played on that old, black portable CD player you bought as a teenager—you know the one.
But ESL elementary listening doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, it can be loads of fun!
Incorporating interesting materials and activities into your students’ English listening practice is a great way to ensure that they’re engaged and that they retain information.
Read on to find out the best ways to teach ESL listening that your elementary students will love!
Ideas to Help Families Encourage ESL Listening at Home
Anyone who’s taught English to elementary students can certainly relate to thinking at some point, “If only my students’ families would have them practice more at home!”
Unfortunately, whether or not families reinforce the material you’ve taught is largely out of your hands. But there are several things that you can at least encourage them to do at home that’ll support their child’s ESL listening and improve this important language skill.
Designate Routine Times for English Practice
For starters, let parents and guardians know that if they’re going to continue ESL learning at home, they need to designate a specific time for English practice. This is true for elementary listening skills as well as any other basic English skills that students are learning.
Often, families make the mistake of mixing languages or changing the time and place where they require a child to use English. Not only is this confusing for younger children, but kids of all ages will also be more likely to default to their native language if they have the option to do so.
Designated English times could include a specific mealtime, every night just before bed, car rides or any number of situations or times. This way, kids will easily identify when it’s time to practice English.
Speak English in the Home, If Possible
If one or both parents are fluent in English, another option is to designate one parent to only speak to their child in English and the other to only use their native language.
According to the Linguistic Society of America, this method is successful as long as both languages are spoken evenly.
Find Outside Opportunities to Practice English Listening
You can also encourage families to find additional opportunities outside of school and the home for their kids to interact with other English speakers, which improves their listening skills. Ideally, parents should expose kids to native English speakers, but really practicing with anyone who speaks English will be helpful.
Let parents know when English events are going on in your community. For example, some libraries celebrate language days or host story-time events in English.
Parents and guardians can also arrange for their kids to have playdates with other children who speak English.
Lastly, if the student’s family is extremely invested in having their child master English, they could always consider hiring an English-speaking au pair or babysitter.
Fun Ways to Teach ESL Listening that Your Elementary Students Will Actually Enjoy
Whatever they choose to do, you can make a huge difference at school while teaching ESL listening if you make your lessons fun and engaging. Below are several excellent listening activities to get you started!
Use Online ESL Listening Resources
Using online resources is a wonderful way to bring technology into the classroom in a productive and useful way.
Kids typically love online resources, which you can project onto the board or hook up to a TV or other screen.
Below are some of my favorite elementary ESL listening sites to use in the classroom that get students excited about the lesson.
Storynory is a lovely site that has audio of stories, fairytales, poems, riddles, educational lessons and more.
Each audio recording is accompanied by a written transcript, and some even include ideas for activities for kids to do that correspond to the story.
The stories are perfect for younger learners in terms of content and themes, and they benefit students who need to practice their listening skills with resources that use slightly lower-level vocabulary.
rong-change ESL is a site containing a wide variety of easy and kid-friendly English audio clips.
Additionally, they’ve recorded many dictation exercises so that students can easily practice their ESL listening skills and teachers can check students’ progress.
There are also grammar exercises available if you want to target specific English language structures.
My-English-Dictionary offers yet another unique way to incorporate listening into the classroom.
This site is essentially an online audio-picture dictionary. Words are divided into separate vocabulary lists, and each word shows a picture and includes an audio clip of how to say it.
Using this site makes learning English vocabulary a bit more fun and interactive, helps young students associate words with pictures in order to better remember them and emphasizes correct pronunciation while improving listening skills.
Adele’s ESL Corner
Adele’s ESL Corner is a website containing English audio content divided by subject.
It’s easy to sort through and has tons of great stories and dialogues for students to listen to.
What’s more, the site actually provides pre-made word banks and fill-in-the-blank exercises that you can have students do while or after listening.
Play Simple English Listening Games
Using games as a warm-up or a fun way to practice what you’ve just taught is one of the best strategies for the elementary ESL classroom.
Students tend to be extremely engaged, focused and excited when you introduce a game. They’re more motivated to try and listen to what’s being said and understand it if the outcome is important to them.
They don’t even really realize how much English practice they’re getting while playing!
Plus, there are plenty of ESL listening games that can be adapted to any language point you’re teaching and that don’t require additional setup or materials on your part.
The elementary ESL listening games below require a lot of listening and have minimal rules, making them simple to explain to students.
One of my favorites is Simon Says, the super simple game in which you call out commands, beginning with “Simon Says,” and students must act them out. If a student acts out a command that didn’t begin with “Simon Says,” that student is out of the game.
Simon Says can be used to practice verbs, body vocabulary, commands or any number of concepts.
Two Truths and a Lie
Another great ESL listening game is Two Truths and a Lie, in which students take turns saying two things that are true and one that’s a lie, and their classmates must guess which one is the lie.
This game requires active listening and concentration from students so they can identify which claim is the lie. They’ll not only need to listen in general but will also need to train their ears to identify intonation, verbal fillers or other indicators that give away when someone is lying.
In addition to listening practice, Two Truths and a Lie could be used to practice proper sentence construction, or you could establish a theme to target specific vocabulary.
Bingo is another great game that can be adapted to practice English listening and pronunciation using minimal pairs. Have the students make their own Bingo boards so you don’t have any extra work. Then, call out words and have them cross them out on their boards until one student has filled five spaces in a row.
Sing Songs in English
Elementary-aged kids absolutely love to sing and dance, and introducing them to English songs is a fantastic way to get them practicing their listening skills.
Try starting with silly albums like Carole King’s “Really Rosie,” which corresponds to Maurice Sendak’s children’s books.
Or, if they like Disney films, have them listen to and sing along with English Disney songs.
Listening to music not only improves ESL listening skills but also teaches English vocabulary and pronunciation. It can be a great asset for students when it comes to remembering how to say things in English.
Play English Computer Games with Listening Components
You can use English computer games as a large part of your lesson or even as a reward for positive student behavior.
English computer games hold students’ attention and are a great way to practice listening while keeping the class calm and quiet as a whole.
For English beginners, start with simple and educational games like “Dr. Seuss’ ABC.” This is a great game that initially reads each page aloud to children and then emphasizes words as they click on them. Additionally, it illustrates the meaning of the words by revealing an image or showing an animation each time a word or letter is clicked and repeated aloud.
For the more advanced English students, introduce them to a site like BrainPOP ELL, which shows them a video targeting a specific English lesson and then lets them play games to practice what they’ve learned.
Read English Books Aloud to the Class
Another fabulous way to get elementary students interested in ESL listening is to read to them.
Reading out loud shows children sentence patterns and expands their vocabulary in a fun and interesting way. It also teaches them how to use context clues to understand spoken English.
Kids are more likely to be motivated to understand and use English if they like the story. If you’ve read the story a few times, you could even ask for a volunteer to read it to the rest of the class.
One of my favorite book series to read to kids is “The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh,” because children are usually already familiar with the characters. This is a classic series and each story is short enough to read in one sitting.
Another fantastic book series is “Amelia Bedelia,” which includes both the original series where the title character is a maid and the newer series in which she’s a child.
These books are hilarious and teach kids idioms and the difference between literal and figurative language. The series’ official site even has educational resources you can print out and use with your class when reading the books.
Lastly, I adore Miroslav Sasek’s “This Is…” series of books, which feature different cities around the world. Reading these charming books aloud provides excellent listening activities while teaching students about other places and cultures, including lots of English-speaking regions.
Watch Movies as a Class in English
Watching movies in English provides a great way for kids to practice their ESL listening skills and offers a relaxed setting in which to use English.
Stop the film every so often to ask students CCQs (concept checking questions) to make sure they understand what’s going on. Students are usually pretty eager to answer your questions if it means continuing the film.
Once the film is over, be sure to discuss it together.
A great film to start with is “Inside Out,” as it teaches kids how to talk about emotions in English.
Other good choices include “Paddington” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” as both of these are based on classic English books that you can incorporate into the classroom as well. They’re also usually a big hit with kids!
With so many fun, easy ways to bring ESL listening into your classroom, elementary students are sure to have a great time while improving their English!
Camille Turner is an experienced writer and ESL teacher.