36 ESL Listening Activities for 7 Learning Styles—from Kinesthetic to Mathematical
Reaching certain learning styles can be easier than others, especially when it comes to ESL listening activities.
Intentionally planning English listening practice to cater to various learning styles is key for your ESL students’ success. When you do your part in giving them activities that meet their learning personalities, they will do their part and flourish in class.
These 36 listening activities will let your students express themselves (and get valuable language experience) while hitting the seven major styles of learning.
- Kinesthetic Listening Activities
- Verbal/Aural Listening Activities
- Visual Listening Activities
- Interpersonal Listening Activities
- Solitary Listening Activities
- Musical Listening Activities
- Mathematical/Logical Listening Activities
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Kinesthetic Listening Activities
Kinesthetic students learn best when they move and groove—that is, when they get their bodies involved in the activity. Here are some listening activities you can do that will get students up and moving in class.
1. Simon Says
Simon Says is a great go-to listening game. It’s practically perfect for teaching with Total Physical Response. When your students play Simon Says, they will have to follow simple commands and move their bodies in the way you direct them.
This game is also great for reviewing vocabulary or grammar structures if you make a point of including them in your verbal directions.
2. Listen and Draw
If you have kinesthetic students who struggle to express themselves in English, Listen and Draw isolates listening from speaking. Simply have your students take out a blank piece of paper and give them instructions on what to draw.
For example, you might say the following:
- Draw a square in the center of your paper.
- Draw a triangle on top of the square.
- Draw a small rectangle inside the square, at the bottom.
- Draw two small squares inside the square near the top.
If your students listen correctly, they will have drawn a house (or something like it), and you will be able to tell with one glance whether they understood your directions.
Of course, you can make Listen and Draw as complicated as you like, depending on the skill level of your students. This activity is particularly useful for reviewing vocabulary of colors, shapes and teaching English prepositions of location.
3. Running for the Mouth
Running for the Mouth gets your students racing around your classroom to complete a dictation assignment. Have students work with partners or in groups, and make sure you have one available copy of a recording for each group (tape player, computer, CD player–anything will work, just work with what you have). The recordings are positioned around the edges of the classroom.
On your go, one student from each group runs to their recording and listens to part of it. The student must remember what they heard, and then run back to their group and dictate it to them. Another group member writes it down and then runs to the recording to memorize the next bit, later running back and dictating it to the group.
Play continues this way, rotating roles, until each group has written down the entire transcript of the listening material. Time your groups and give a ten-second penalty for each error in the transcript, and see who came up with the best time.
If you aren’t sure what to use for your listening material, try a dialogue from your listening textbook, a FluentU clip, a short YouTube video or a brief news segment available online.
If you opt to use FluentU, you’ll have additional helpful tools at your disposal, as well as hundreds of curated English-language videos like movie trailers, news segments and inspirational talks.
You’ll also be able to let students compare their copied transcript to the official transcript that each video on FluentU comes with. You can also collect words that are new to your students into a flashcard deck on the program, and either review it together in class or assign it as homework.
When students review the flashcard decks, each set of exercises will be different, as the program adapts to each student’s learning needs. Encourage them to download the iOS or Android app for additional speaking practice, as well.
4. Map It
In Map It, students listen to your directions and find their way along a map to a secret location. Start by making copies of a map for each of your students. It can be a real place, like this campus, or a simple diagram you put together yourself. Just make sure the streets are labeled and that you have several buildings marked on the map.
Give your students directions from a starting point, but don’t tell them where you are directing them. They should run their fingers along the map according to your directions. Once you are finished, ask students where they ended up.
Destinations is a similar activity to Map It, except with more movement involved. First, introduce or revise vocabulary related to locations (bank, school, hospital, etc.) and directions (turn left, go straight, etc.). Prepare cards with images of these locations and have students post them around the classroom to determine where each “building” is. If you’re pressed for time, use simple flashcards with the name of the location instead.
Have students follow directions given by you or by another student to move from one location to another. This could involve direct instructions (“Go to the bank.”) or step-by-step guidance (“Turn right. Two steps forward. Turn left…”).
Blindfolding is a game in which one student has to accomplish a simple task while wearing a blindfold, helped along the way by another student who provides directions. Before the lesson, prepare cards with tasks you’ll want the students to tackle. Keep it simple—”Open the window” or “Put a pencil on X’s desk” will be challenging enough!
Start by dividing your class into two groups and each group into pairs. In every pair, one student will be the “Leader,” and the other the “Follower”. The “Follower” puts on a blindfold while the “Leader” reads out the task from the card and proceeds to provide instructions. The “Follower” will have to listen closely if they want to complete their objective!
Once the task has been accomplished, the next pair tackles their task, and so on. The first team to complete all tasks wins.
Verbal/Aural Listening Activities
Verbal/aural students do best when they hear or speak what you want them to learn. You can try these next activities for students who learn best by listening.
7. Hearing is Believing
Before listening to a dialogue, play some background noise that matches the location of your scene and have students make predictions about what will be in the dialogue.
For example, play a movie clip (without visual or dialogue) that occurs in a restaurant (like this one) before playing a dialogue of people ordering food.
8. Back-to-back Interviews
In Back-to-back Interviews, have two students sit back to back in order to remove the visual clues from their conversation. Give one student a famous person to role-play and have the other person ask ten interview questions, noting the answers that their partner gives.
Can the interviewer guess who the interviewee is? After the interview, have students switch roles and give the interviewee a different celebrity to role-play.
9. Not Quite Identical
Have students work with a partner to pinpoint differences in nearly identical sentences. To prepare this activity, write up a list of ten sentences: list A. Then rewrite those sentences making slight changes—two or three changes for each sentence, such as word choice or verb tense. This is list B.
Give list A to one student and list B to their partner, having the two work together to find the differences. During the activity, students are not permitted to look at one another’s papers—so they must speak and listen.
10. Please Leave a Message
This activity is all about voicemail messages. Have your students listen to a pre-recorded voicemail, and then discuss it or answer questions about it. Voicemail messages make for excellent audio materials for two reasons: They’re short and to the point, and they’re authentic—which makes them engaging and interesting for students.
If you’re feeling creative, you could record your own voicemail messages. There are plenty of readily available resources out there, though—you can find voicemail recordings online on Web-ESL, ESL-Lab, or YouTube.
11. Keeping Score
If your class has an interest in sports, then listening to sports commentary and figuring out what’s going on in the game could make for highly entertaining listening practice. Sports commentary tends to be fast-paced and filled with specialist vocabulary, however, so this activity is best-suited for advanced learners.
12. Did You Overhear That?
If you can take your students on a mini field trip, have them sit quietly and listen to sounds at a café, restaurant or other public place. Have students write about what they are hearing—especially if they manage to overhear any conversations.
13. What Did She Say?
For this activity, you’ll need a recording of a conversation between two people—say, Person A and Person B. Have your students listen to only one side of the conversation first (Person A’s lines) and brainstorm what Person B may be saying. Write their ideas on the board and then play the other side of the conversation (Person B) and ask the students to recall what Person A was saying and how it fits in with Person B’s lines.
Visual Listening Activities
Visual learners learn through what they see. It’s possible to have listening activities tailored for visual learners—try some of the following.
14. Movie Vocabulary
Have students listen for specific vocabulary in a favorite movie clip. Before class, choose a movie clip and prewatch it, noting any interesting or unusual vocabulary. Type up the words in list form. Keep them in order for an easier listening activity and randomize them for a more challenging activity.
In class, give your students copies of the vocabulary list. Review the pronunciation with students and then play the movie clip for them. Have students mark off the words as they hear them. After watching the clip, see who heard the most words and discuss the meaning of any words your students don’t already know.
15. Sound Vocabulary
If you are doing a vocabulary unit on animals, modes of transportation or anything else that leads itself to specific noises, try having your students match sounds to words. Give them vocabulary words on index cards or in a numbered list.
Play sounds associated with each word, such as sounds that the item makes, sounds you might hear at that place, or conversations that might happen in association with the words. Then have students match each sound clip to the appropriate vocabulary word.
16. TED Talk
TED Talks are a great resource for ESL teachers and students. They are short, interesting and versatile. Play a TED Talk for your intermediate or advanced students.
The first time through, ask students to listen for the main idea. The second time through, have them listen for specific comprehension questions. The third time through, have them listen for opinions versus facts.
17. Who, What, Where
In this activity, students will be brainstorming and inferring meaning from visual clues and context. Show a short video clip with two or three people talking, but mute the sound. Have the students come up with ideas on who these people are, what they’re talking about and where the scene is taking place.
After listing the class’ ideas on the board play the clip again, with sound this time. Together, compare the students’ initial ideas about the meaning of the clip with the actual dialogue.
Interpersonal Listening Activities
Interpersonal students learn from interacting with other people, a perfect setup for many listening activities.
18. Not Quite the Truth
Let your students get to know each other by telling personal stories. Mix things up by instructing students to include two or three lies in each story. Students work with a partner and listen for what they think are the lies in the story.
Award points for each lie they identify, then have students switch roles. See who was better at finding the lies in their partner’s story.
19. Reported Interviews
Put students in pairs to interview each other. Have students quote their interviewees. After the interviews are complete, ask your students to change their quoted speech notes into reported speech and write a paragraph about the person they interviewed.
20. Unusual You
If your students aren’t at the level for reported speech, have them introduce their partner to the rest of the class after their interviews instead.
This works even with students who have been together for a significant amount of time. Just encourage your students to find the most unusual and interesting information they can about their partners during the interview.
21. Opposites Attract
Opposites Attract is a listening activity that’s also excellent for revising or teaching English adjectives. You’ll need to prepare flashcards with adjectives (at least one per student) that oppose each other, e.g., black / white, short / tall, cheap / expensive.
Hand out the cards and allow the students one minute to find the person who has the opposite adjective on their card—so, the student with the “short” card needs to find the person with the “tall” card, and so on. Once the minute is up, you can shuffle the cards and repeat the activity.
For this activity, you’ll need to prepare flashcards with basic conversation questions, such as “Where are you from?” or “What’s your favorite movie?”. Have your students sit in a large circle and hand the first card to one of them—let’s call this person Student A.
Student A then asks someone (Student B) the question from the card. Student B answers, and asks the question back. Once Student A has answered, you’ll ask another person (Student C) to sum up Student A’s and Student B’s answers. It goes like this:
Student A: What’s your favorite movie?
Student B: My favorite movie is Cars 2. What’s yours?
Student A: My favorite movie is Madagascar.
Teacher: Student C, what are Student A’s and Student B’s favorite movies?
Student C: Student A’s favorite movie is Madagascar, and Student B likes Cars 2.
Solitary Listening Activities
Solitary learners prefer to work on their own. These learners will enjoy the following listening activities that make room for that independence.
23. Listening Walk
Have students go for a listening walk. As they walk, have them make notes about what they hear. Then come back together and work with a partner. Have students discuss what they heard. Did their partner hear the same things that they did?
24. Picture Book Sequence
Choose a picture book that you’ll read to your class—something simple like “The Little Red Hen” is a good one to start with. Before class make a list of the major events in the story, then randomize them.
Then read the book aloud to your class. After listening to the story, have students put the events from the story in sequence by cutting apart your list and arranging the slips of paper on a desk or table.
25. Audiobook Reports
You don’t have to read a book on the page to write a book report. Have students listen to an audiobook or an ESL audio story. Then, ask them to write a book report based on what they heard, or to give a summary of the book to the class in a presentation.
Musical Listening Activities
Musical learners love to listen to music, and it actually helps them learn and retain information. Try these activities to really connect with musical learners.
26. Music to My Lexicon
Choose a song to play for your class. Anything will work, so try and match your song to the personality of your class. Before class, make a list of interesting vocabulary words that appear in the song.
Give the list to your students and review the pronunciation of each word. Then play the song for them and let them cross off the words on the list as they hear them.
27. Cloze Lyrics
You can also use a song for a great cloze exercise. Get the lyrics to the song you want to play and replace each fifth word with a blank. Or you can target specific words you want your students to listen for.
As they listen to the song, students will have to fill in the blanks in the lyrics.
28. Sing Your Woes
Musicians write songs for a reason, and most of them have a story to tell. While listening to a song, have your students try to pick out the problem that the singer is singing about—such as a break-up, unrequited love, and so on.
After listening to the song, ask students to discuss why the musician wrote the song and what emotions they were feeling. Then have students come up with some advice for the person’s problem.
29. Song Scanning
Another way to get students to actively listen to a song is to have them listen for specific information. Prepare worksheets with questions for students to answer as they listen to the song, e.g., “What is the name of the city in the song?” or “How long was the singer away from home?”.
Alongside questions, you could also write down statements about the song and have the students determine whether they’re true or false.
30. Musicals Rule
Musical learners could be fans of opera and musicals. Take advantage of that by playing a clip from your favorite musical. After watching the clip, ask students to give the main idea of the scene.
Then watch again and ask them to take notes on the details of the characters’ interactions.
Mathematical/Logical Listening Activities
Do you like to do the crossword puzzle in the Sunday paper? Your mathematical/logical learners probably do. They like to use logic to puzzle out solutions to problems. You can get them engaged in your listening lessons with these activities.
31. Minimal Pair Bingo
Come up with several minimal pairs you want your students to listen for—two words that differ in only one sound, such as pin/pine and big/fig. (You will need at least twenty-four pairs.)
Have students fill in the blank spaces of a bingo board using those words—with one word in each box. Then call out the words as you play the game, with students marking the words they hear. The first person with five spaces in a row shouts out “Bingo!” to win.
32. Tongue Twister Telephone
The classic game of telephone is good for logical listeners, especially when you start the telephone chain with an English tongue twister.
Students will have to puzzle out what their classmates are saying with only one chance to hear the tongue twister as it’s passed down the line from student to student.
33. Lecture Me
Taking notes from a lecture is a good way to practice listening, and it’s even better for mathematical/logical learners when you give them an outline to complete that lines up with the lecture.
Many libraries have lectures you can borrow, or you can find others on YouTube. (For more advanced students, for example, here are 5-minute lectures from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.) Choose something you think might be of interest or use to your students.
34. Advertising Agency
For this activity, prepare a photo of a commercial product—car, foodstuff, cleaning agent, etc. Start by telling the class that they are to imagine themselves as advertising professionals, brainstorming ideas for marketing the product.
The students’ task is to write down as many words as they can think of to describe the product. They will then read their lists out loud. The rest of the class must listen closely because if another student has the same word on their list, they need to raise their hand. Unique words are rewarded with tokens or points.
35. My Favorite Infomercial
Mathematical/logical students like to measure and evaluate. Let them do so by watching two commercials or infomercials for similar products, while listening for details about the products.
Then have your students compare and contrast the products and make a recommendation on which is better.
36. Name That Product
Play the audio from a TV commercial to the students and ask them to identify what product is being advertised, without seeing the video. Vintage commercials work best for this purpose, due to their exaggerated dialogues and over-the-top praise for the product.
To turn this into a longer activity, have the students identify other things about the product and the commercial, such as the key features or the target audience.
No matter what their party personalities are, your ESL students have learning personalities, too. You can make sure everyone has a blast by connecting with each learning style through these different listening activities.
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)