5 French Listening Activities to Perk Up Your Students’ Ears
Two students sit side by side as you teach.
You’re thrilled to be introducing a fun new game.
They both have their eyes on you, and similar expressions on their face.
On the surface, all is well.
But underneath, there’s a grand difference between these two students.
One has understood what you’ve said, and the other is completely zoned out.
Gauging our students’ levels of listening comprehension is a difficult part of our job, just as listening is often challenging for French learners.
It’s time to spark a French listening revolution in your classroom!
5 French Listening Activities to Perk Up Your Students’ Ears
We now have so many ways to hear authentic spoken French without leaving home. These resources—like podcasts, films and music—can cater to any level of student and to any topic.
All of these authentic audio sources are incredibly helpful, but we need to ensure that our students are getting the maximum benefit from these tools.
So how can you make sure your students are tuned in and not zoned out?
Your students must become active listeners.
Listening activities in the French classroom are not exercises in passively letting the sound wash over the students—they’ve gotta be active.
What Does Active Listening Look Like?
Active listening for learning requires:
- Active input from the student. The students needs to be alert and listening for the language needed to complete a set task or challenge. The fact that the student knows a response will be required is enough to increase awareness and receptivity.
- Thoughtful reflection. Instilling the habit of keeping a reflective journal or learning log will pay enormous dividends in new language retention rates. A journal entry could be as simple as “J’aime bien cette chanson parce que le chanteur a une belle voix,” but regularly revisiting this type of language will make such phrases a natural part of the students’ vocabulary.
- Completion of a task to reinforce the learning. A post-listening task requires the students to understand what they have heard and respond in a meaningful way. The students need to complete a task otherwise neither you nor the students will be able to accurately measure their understanding.
So what’s a sure-fire way to create active listening? With writing!
Why Writing Tasks Are Perfect for French Listening Activities
Creating a writing task for your students to complete in response to listening to authentic French is a great way to reinforce student learning. Here’s why:
- It provides an accurate assessment tool. Writing tasks provide a concrete, measurable record of the student’s comprehension. When the students maintain a portfolio of such tasks, they can clearly see their progress over time.
- The students benefit from reusing and remodeling the language. Every repetition of a word reinforces that word in the student’s memory. This is especially true when the words are reused in a different context—such as writing down words that have been heard. This process requires the student to look at the word in context and see how it fits into that sentence structure, and then remodel it to fit into other contexts.
- The physical act of writing reinforces the memory of the words. There is plenty of evidence for the validity of the whole body learning concept. If we only learn from the head up, that knowledge is unlikely to go very deep. The more we involve our bodies in our learning process, the more profound those learning experiences become.
So, what sorts of listening activities can you implement in your French classroom? Here are five:
5 Fun French Listening Activities That Spark True Learning
1. Completing word finds and fill-in-the-blank exercises
Writing tasks in response to listening can be as simple as completing a word find or fill-in-the-blank activity based on the film or song. These are still effective!
For students who are struggling, you could create a word find with words from the song or film scattered throughout a grid full of nonsense text. Here is a good site that makes the job of word find creation really simple.
Students read the list of clues/keywords and listen carefully for those words, which they then circle. Although the students are not actually writing, the words are being reinforced visually.
You can also easily create a fill-in-the-blank activity by taking a copy of the text of a song or film and blanking out certain words. The students then fill in the gaps while listening to the song or watching the film.
You can choose what aspect students focus on. For example, you might choose a song with lots of verbs in the imperfect tense. Blank out those verbs and the students have to listen for the correct verbs and conjugate them in the imperfect tense. You could also ask them to focus on adjectives or any other part of speech—the range of possibilities is limited only by your imagination.
2. Writing a music review after listening to a song
Young people love music and they want to talk about their favorite groups. Use this natural desire to encourage learning and to get students writing a music review. This works best if you allow students to choose a French song, perhaps from a list of suggested songs. It would work well as a follow-up activity to a unit on French music. The important focus here is on students expressing their opinions and feelings about the music.
A music review could discuss aspects such as:
- the singer’s voice quality
- the instrumentation
- the reviewer’s personal opinion
Here are some language examples to give you the idea:
- Serge Gainsbourg, je peux chanter mieux que ça. (Serge Gainsbourg, I can sing better than that.)
- Techno, j’aime/ n’aime pas ce genre de musique. (Techno, I like/ don’t like this type of music.)
- Céline Dion a une belle voix. (Céline Dion has a beautiful voice.)
- C’est un peu répétitif. (It’s a bit repetitive.)
- Le batteur est génial. (The drummer is awesome.)
- Je veux écouter une autre chanson par le même chanteur. (I want to hear another song by the same singer.)
- Il joue de la guitare très bien. (He plays the guitar very well.)
This is a great way to reinforce expressing opinions, such as:
- Je pense que (I think that)
- Je trouve que (I find that)
- À mon avis (In my opinion)
- Ce qui m’énerve (that which gets on my nerves)
Students are listening actively and reinforcing that listening with some effective and affective writing. This will really spark some fun French learning.
3. Composing a letter to a singer or film character
Some students might prefer to write a personal response or letter to a singer or film character. Students could use some of the language from #2, but add more language describing their feelings.
- Je suis passionné de (I am passionate about)
Add intensifiers such as:
- incroyablement (unbelievably)
- vraiment (truly)
It doesn’t matter that your first year students don’t know the conditional tense—get them using the following:
- J’aimerais bien … (I really like…)
- Je voudrais… (I really want…)
Your students are providing an authentic response to real French, and having fun.
4. Writing and singing a song
If you or your students are musically inclined, you could write and record your own class song, or do a class cover version of a well-known French song. If you are already exploring French music in the classroom, your students will make the choice of song obvious. It might be that your students simply write another verse for a popular song.
How this works in your class is going to depend on the makeup of your particular class. You might divide your class into groups of four and have each group write a verse, with the class voting on the best one.
Or perhaps you want to do a cover version of a song. If your class sings French songs regularly they will have a repertoire from which to choose a favorite. And again, let the class decide on the song. Students can also be creative on aspects such as dress and acting.
This can be a really fun and creative way to encourage French learning though listening. You could upload the video to YouTube or share it with your French pen friends. Your students will love it.
5. Dictating a picture
This is an entertaining activity that will have students thinking and speaking in French to communicate what they see. Students will work in pairs, and here’s how a picture dictation works:
One student describes a picture in French to their partner, and the partner will draw the picture based on what they hear. The student who drew then has to describe the picture, in French, back to their partner to check accuracy.
You could pick out a bunch of interesting pictures from magazines or the internet for students to use, or you could provide a prompt so students describe something from their lives—like their house, for example. Keep in mind, though, that the picture needs to be simple enough such that the students can describe it in short sentences.
You may need to scaffold the activity by providing part or all of the sentences required. For example, if your topic were, “describe your house,” you could give students a handout that includes phrases like:
- Dans ma maison il y a une salle de bains avec une douche. (In my house there is a bathroom with a shower.)
- Ma chambre est au premier étage et j’ai une télévision et un ordinateur. (My bedroom is on the first floor and I have a television and a computer.)
Although drawing isn’t the same as writing, the physical act of recreating the objects the words represent reinforces the links in the students’ mind between the sounds and the objects. The more we strengthen these connections between sound and meaning the deeper they will go into the long-term memory.
As students use and reuse the new language they hear in the French classroom, those words will become a natural part of their vocabulary. The students’ growing confidence in applying these words in their writing will spark a real hunger for more new language.
Developing this habit of good listening is an essential part of becoming a successful communicator in French, and these fun activities will add real zest to your classroom.