Taking the Sting out of Listening in Mixed Ability Classes

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As we know, listening is a skill many students find frustrating and tough to master for which improvement usually comes in very small dosages. Imagine a true mixed-ability context in that students will show very different levels of auditory comprehension. How could a listening session become a significant, less stressing experience? To continue with the series of articles on mixed-ability classes, I would like to suggest a number of strategies.

Diagnose early

Make sure that you can find out the overall listening proficiency of your students by means of a diagnostic test or a series of activities that you can carry out as soon as you meet your class. This will give you an idea of the extent to which you will have to adapt materials and activities, and to create realistic expectations of what they can achieve.

Work on vocabulary before listening

Here, you have two choices. You could do a vocabulary lesson before the listening lesson, so that students are more familiar with the topic lexis that will appear in the recordings. Alternatively, spend a few minutes pre-teaching key vocabulary (not too many items, though) and checking understanding of this terminology.

Adapt starting from a common core

A good way of dealing with listening tasks is creating a kind of ‘basic’ activity that everybody in the class should be able to accomplish. It can be in the question formats that students are used to, so as to increase confidence. After that, you can vary the approach and ask students to do tasks that you have prepared in advance catering for their particular level (maybe in two versions: Standard and Higher).

Vary the final products

The post-listening stage could also have variations that will help students realize that, regardless of their own level, the activity will have been of some use. For example, lower-level students could do a gap-fill exercise using the tapescript, whereas higher-level students could do a short piece of writing using some of the key vocabulary from the recording.

Now it’s YOUR turn

What strategies do you follow when teaching listening for mixed ability classes?

Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 45 seconds