Remember that one time?
When you meant to order french fries, but instead said french flies?
Oui! Oui! (Yes! Yes!) One phoneme can make a heck of a difference.
Or when you asked your friend, child or student to repeat themselves because there’s no way they just said the word you think they said?
As Monty Python has shown us, communication errors do occur. And if native speakers aren’t immune to confusions and misunderstandings, it’s even more important that we equip our ESL students to listen effectively.
But we know your ESL curriculum load is already full. You have to teach students to navigate a new culture, not to mention all of the other language skills required to reach fluency.
Regardless, we don’t want to forget about this vitally important component of language, so we need an abundance of resources and activities that sharpen our students’ ears and assess them effectively.
We need an ESL listening lab.
The sites provided in this post will help build your toolkit and give your classes plenty of practice listening—without stressing you out in the process.
What Is an ESL Listening Lab and Why Is It Essential?
In many classrooms, listening skills take a back seat to other competencies. Listening isn’t emphasized, or we feel it’s enough to combine it with one of the other four components of language acquisition.
However, research has shown that listening is the “most significant part of communication” since the participants in a conversation are required to give a meaningful response to each other. Strong correlations have been found between the ability to listen and the development of other language skills.
Given that fact, I’d encourage you to give listening comprehension the attention and focus it deserves.
To create an ideal listening lab in your ESL classroom, you’ll need Wi-Fi and a spot dedicated to listening to different types of material.
You might be thinking that you don’t have any room in your already-crowded classroom or any equipment to create such a space. Luckily, many students already have devices and carry their own headphones, so you don’t have to lose any precious square footage.
All you need is the right set of programs for students to use. Luckily, we have those right here.
Create an ESL Listening Lab with 10 Time-saving Programs
For students to make the largest gains, they should be exposed to different types of input, and activities should be based on student need. All of the resources below allow the teacher to do just that.
There are a ton of materials to build your listening lab on this site. From dictation exercises to passages for beginner through intermediate learners, students can pick an activity from the list that grabs their attention and practice listening immediately.
Do your (older) students want to be able to understand and use the words associated with dating? You bet some of them do! There are 21 recordings dedicated to the topic. Many other interests are catered to here, too—just check out this recording about an anime expo.
I recommend that students have some way of logging their activity and progress. Also, not all recordings have exercises, so if you choose to assign those, be sure to let your students know the purpose of listening upfront.
FluentU is an amazing resource to help you create an immersive experience for your learners. With fun and authentic content, students of any level will have their needs met.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch regularly. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Learn American English Online
The perfect complement to your grammar lessons, this page boasts 49 different exercises in its listening lab. Students are instructed to listen to the sentences and write the correct word in the blank.
Even if the content isn’t super snazzy, it’s purposeful and gives students the practice they need with sticky grammar concepts.
Activity topics include gerunds and phrases using “going to,” prepositions, possessive pronouns and more. Be careful, though, because the answers are on the same page and just a scroll away.
When you navigate to the exercise section of this site, you’ll see different categories of listening activities: vocabulary dictations, micro-listenings, intensive listenings and grammar dictations.
What’s micro-listening? As they explain on their site, “micro-listenings are quick dictations and drills to improve your listening comprehension.”
While what you see there is great, it’s only a drop in the bucket of what you can find. If students access the exercise archives, they’ll find hours of listening opportunities.
The content is engaging, with clips from movies and splashy photography. I also appreciate the heads up about the accent of the person in the clip and the ability to change the difficulty level of the drill.
Separated into levels, students have over 100 exercises to choose from on this site. For documentation, students will have to keep track of their lesson number since the exercises are not titled.
Once you choose a lesson, you’re given three steps to complete. I like that the questions and transcript are hyperlinked instead of all being immediately visible like you’ll see in lesson #25 at the advanced level (you have to click on “View Questions” to expand the questions section). This makes it a teensy bit more likely that students will listen and focus solely on the dialogue before diving into the questions.
There are even extra listening lessons that focus on pronunciation and grammar. It’s sure to get your students understanding and speaking English soon!
ELS Seminole State College
This page is produced by a state college, so it’s sure to make your learners feel a little more scholarly. They’ll listen to an audio recording and choose the correct sentence. It’s geared more toward older learners, with categories like consumer education and employment.
You’ll want to make sure your students read the instructions carefully before they get started. I’m embarrassed by how long it took me to figure out why I kept seeing the same question in every activity I chose.
While there aren’t a whole lot of activities here, I chose this resource because students are given pre- and post-listening activities to really strengthen their understanding.
You’ll find general listening activities and elementary courses. There are 15 modules in the listening activities portion, but you’ll need to make sure students download Adobe Flash in order to hear the audio.
Students will appreciate the different formats of the activities here, like articles, songs, poems and even audio stories with videos. There’s even a variety of exercises, like fill in the gap and hangman games.
In terms of the types of articles, there are a plethora of topics to choose from. If there’s an unknown word, students only have to double-click on that word and be taken to a dictionary.
And did I mention students can play hangman with words from the article? I feel it bears repeating.
As you can tell from the name of this page, there are videos galore on this site. The short clips are divvied up by level, including beginning, intermediate, intermediate low, intermediate high and advanced.
Students can then gauge their understanding by taking the accompanying quiz after watching the video. Entertainment and learning really come together here!
With cute Vimeo videos, engaging games and audio recordings, this will be a popular component of your listening lab. Check out this seven-part series following an exchange student in Vancouver to see what I mean.
If cutesy doesn’t get your students’ attention, they can look to the News Center. This section gives them the opportunity to increase their exposure to academic language with more serious audio recordings available.
The more than 1,400 audio lessons will ensure your students have access to plenty of material to test their listening comprehension.
An ESL listening lab might have once seemed like an intimidating idea, but I hope you can see just how close within reach it really is.
These resources will give your students a chance to really sharpen their listening skills and meaningfully participate in daily conversations.