What’s your style?
Do you like to move and groove? Do you just listen to the music? Do you like to partner up?
No, I’m not talking about party personalities. I’m talking about learning styles.
Intentionally planning ESL activities to reach different 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.
Sometimes reaching certain learning styles can be easier than others. Listening activities in particular might be difficult when you are trying to hit all seven styles.
But do not fear. You can boogie down with these 25 listening activities that let your students express themselves (and get valuable language experience) while hitting the seven major styles of learning.
25 ESL Listening Activities for Every Learning Style
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 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 your room.
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 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.
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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.
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 "searching," 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."
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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. Hopefully they are at the destination you were leading them to.
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.
5. 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.
6. Back-to-back Interviews
In Back-to-back Interviews, have two students sit back to back 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
Visual learners learn though what they see. It’s possible to have listening activities tailored for visual learners—try some of the following.
9. Movie Vocabulary
Have students listen for specific vocabulary in a favorite movie clip. Before class choose a movie clip (FluentU or YouTube have tons to choose from) 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
Interpersonal students learn from interacting with other people, a perfect setup for many listening activities.
12. Not Quite the Truth
Let your students get to know each other by telling personal stories. But 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.
If they are able to guess the lies, award them points for each lie they are able to identify. Then have students switch roles. See which person was better able to locate the lies in their partner’s story.
13. Reported Interviews
Put students in pairs to interview each other. Have students quote their interviewees. After the interviews are complete, have students change their quoted speech notes into reported speech and write a paragraph about the person they interviewed.
Here are some interview questions to get you started.
14. 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.
Solitary learners prefer to work on their own. These learners will enjoy the following listening activities that make room for that independence.
15. 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?
16. 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.
17. 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 story. Then have them write a book report based on what they heard, or give a summary of the book to the class in a presentation.
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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. Sing Your Woes
Musicians write songs for a reason, and most of them have a story to tell even if the story is subtle. While listening to a song, have your students try to pick out the problem that singer is singing about—such as a break up, death, unrequited love, tadalafil etc.
You might try “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hello” or, if your class has a good sense of humor, “White and Nerdy.”
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.
21. 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.
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 final four activities.
22. 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.
23. Tongue Twister Telephone
The classic game of telephone is good for logical listeners, especially when you start the telephone chain with a 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 in nizagara.
24. 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.
25. 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.
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.
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