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Teaching active listening in the language class

Do you find that, in a world where we are constantly bombarded by sounds, news, videos, visuals, it has become increasingly difficult to master the art of listening?

Active listening is one of the most sought after transversal skills in the world of work. It is also an essential skill in official examinations such as, for example, Trinity College London GESE and ISE exams. It is a skill that can be taught, even in a language class.

So, how do you do it? Here are some activities we regularly include in our lessons:

  1. Listen to silence

Take your students to a quiet place of the school; a remote corner of the playground or a quiet classroom in the building. Ask them to listen to silence for 3 minutes. Listening to silence helps to re-set your ears from the daily noise around you and develop the ability to listen to sounds you would not normally pay attention to. It helps students to learn how to keep their concentration during listening tasks.

2. Channelling sounds

Play a nature soundscape, such as the sound of the seaside or the woods. Ask students to listen carefully and divide the different sounds they hear in various channels: seagulls or other birds, the waves, footsteps, wind among the trees and so on.

Once they have learnt to channel sounds, you can then teach them to listen for keywords in a conversation. Listening for keywords, and noting them down, is required in the listening part of ISE exams, when the examiner asks candidates to listen for specific information.

3. Apply the RASA (Receive, Appreciate, Summarise, Ask) model

You can develop your students conscious listening skills by teaching them how to implement the RASA model in conversations. The steps are as follows:

  • Receive: listen without interrupting,

  • Appreciate: make sounds like “uh uh”, “yeah”, “right” and so on, to acknowledge what is being said to you,

  • Summarise: show understanding by summarising what has been said: “So, what you are saying is that…”, “So, what happened is …”

  • Ask a meaningful, relevant questions to show interest or to find out more information: “How did you feel about it?”, “What happened next?”

In exams, this model can come in handy when facing Trinity College London ISE Collaborative Task, where candidates must hold a conversation with the examiner following a prompt. In life, it is a useful skill to have during international meetings, networking events and business communication in general.

Developing our students’ transversal skills, as well as their ability to read, write, speak and understand a language, is the real added value of our language courses and what makes our lessons unique.


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