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Takeaways from TESOL 2022: New Strategies for Teaching Listening

March 28, 2022

TESOL 2022 took place March 23–25 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Though I attended my ninth TESOL convention virtually this year, I came away with the usual inspired and empowered feeling at the end of the conference. I definitely missed hanging out with the Ellii team and chatting with attendees face-to-face at the booth, but I'm glad I got the chance to attend some amazing prerecorded and livestreamed sessions.

One such session was entitled, "Teaching Listening: New Strategies for Getting Students to Higher Levels," and the presenters were Jon Philips and Federico Pomarici from the Defence Language Institute Foreign Language Center.

This session presented attendees with an innovative model of listening instruction that's quite different from what most of us (myself included) do to help students improve their listening skills.

But before we dive into the new approach, here's a quick refresher on the more traditional model most teachers have grown accustomed to using in class.

Traditional Approach

Philips and Pomarici began by describing the way most teachers teach listening in class. These tasks, which many of us have employed again and again throughout our teaching careers, include:

  • Pictures to activate content schemata (pre-listening)
  • Vocabulary list to activate linguistic schemata (pre-listening)
  • Transcription or fill in missing words/sentences (during listening)
  • Info gaps (during listening)
  • Content/comprehension questions (post-listening)

Philips and Pomarici explained that this traditional approach does not account for the actual challenges learners face when listening, and these types of tasks may not be the best way to help students improve their listening skills.

They argued that teachers are testing listening rather than teaching it.

"In the traditional approach, comprehension is a product of listening, focusing mainly on the final outcome of the listening process in the form of answers to comprehension questions."

—Philips & Pomarici

New Approach

Philips and Pomarici suggested that a new, different methodology would involve focusing on the process of listening instead of the product.

"In this new approach, comprehension is a process for listening and refers to the mental processes, skills, and strategies that serve as the foundation of skilled listening."

—Philips & Pomarici

They divided their new methodology into two phases and gave a brief example of each.

Phase 1: Structured Preview Phase

Philips and Pomarici explained how going beyond the usual vocab and/or image preview tasks can really set learners up for listening success.

They suggested four key tasks to use in this phase:

1. Preview content and voice: Play 1–3 lines while students read along with the transcript. The goal is to get them used to the speaker's voice and intonation. Have students employ their own content and linguistic background knowledge by asking them "What is this about?"

2. Predict emotional overtone: Play part of the excerpt while they read along. Elicit students' thoughts on the speaker's emotional status (active or passive, positive or negative?) and have students underline any stressed words.

3. Raise awareness of sociocultural context: Give students a list of places, companies, events, etc. mentioned in the passage. Have groups of students do some research online about one item in the list and share it with the class.

4. Attend to functions of grammatical features: Choose a grammar target that you've previously covered in class that is frequent in the listening passage (e.g., passive voice, imperative verbs, conditional sentences, etc.). Have learners transcribe sentences they hear that include the grammar target. Ask them how the grammar affects the meaning.

Phase 2: Selective Strategic Listening Phase

Philips and Pomarici discussed how to truly teach learners how to listen by going beyond the typical fill-in-the-blanks types of tasks.

They set out six tasks to use for this phase:

1. Build a storyline and stage information: Discourse order and chronological order are often quite different. Have students put the events they hear in chronological order.

2. Paraphrase to understand inferencing: Choose key sentences from the excerpt and paraphrase them so the meaning is the same for some and different for others. Have students decide which are different and why. This strategy helps them understand nuances and shades of meaning.

3. Use selective decoding strategies: Change some words in the transcript so there are inaccuracies (use other letters, similar sounds, word derivatives, etc., such as changing "the same" to "the game"). Have students listen and underline the words that have been changed to help them decode at different levels (phoneme, syllable, word).

4. Build relationships among paragraphs: Play a long text several times and ask students to write the first three words of any line they believe starts a new paragraph. This strategy will help them understand the relationship between paragraphs and the speaker's development of thoughts.

5. Differentiate between facts and opinions and justify selection: Make a chart with the headings "Facts" and "Opinions" and have students fill in the chart while you play an excerpt a few times. Ask them to explain why they think something is a fact or an opinion.

6. Build a comprehensive summary: Play the excerpt in segments, stopping after each to give students a chance to talk with a partner and make notes about what they heard. At the end of the passage, have learners use their notes and work in pairs to build a summary.

Final Thoughts

Philips and Pomarici ended their presentation by saying that listening comprehension is both a process and a product.

They explained that learners would greatly benefit if teachers adopted a balanced approach to teaching listening that included both methods in order to teach students how to listen, as well as to assess their listening skills.

My personal conclusion was that if I were still teaching, I would have loved to try incorporating the new process approach into my usual product approach. I think my learners (especially the lower levels) would have greatly benefitted from some or all of the preview phase tasks. My students (especially the higher levels) would also have benefitted from the strategic listening phase activities.

I can see how doing such tasks would greatly improve learners' listening skills both inside and outside of the classroom because we would be training them to listen for factors that go well beyond the answers to comprehension questions. This would aid their overall comprehension and serve them well in their journey to fluency.

Share Your Thoughts

How do you teach listening in your class? Are you inspired to try teaching listening in a new way? Share your comments below!

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