Listening to Advanced Learners: Problems and Solutions by
Timetable fit: We have been concentrating on listening
skills and strategies for the CAE exam all year although I
have been trying to give the class more practice and awareness
of exam strategies since their mock exam at mid-term showed
this to be an area to work on for them. There have also been
several additions to the class just prior to and after the
mock exams were taken in February and I feel that now is a
good time to give them an explicit look at some of the features
in the listening exam, some tips, and give them some exam
type practice in class. The week prior to this class we had
a brief look at the content of the Listening section in the
guise of a Use of English type task including multiple choice
gap fill, error correction and open cloze items.
This class is an advanced class studying at CAE level.
aim: To provide input on CAE listening tasks through the
vehicle of a listening task itself, i.e. "Loop input",
and provide practice in listening for specific information
in an exam type format.
aims: To raise awareness of exam strategies for the listening
portion of the CAE exam, provide practice in listening for
gist, predicting before listening, collaborative speaking
and intensive reading.
Knowledge: A general familiarity with listening task procedures
derived from previous in-class practice.
problems and solutions:
Some of the students in attendance have joined the group recently,
and have not had as much exposure to and practice with the
listening portion of the exam format as others who have been
with the group since October. I suspect that in the warmer
stage, where I will ask the students to discuss what they
know about it, the newer ones may have little to say and have
a difficult time coming up with any tips for others. The solution
will be pairing or grouping the newer and less experienced
students with the ones who have been in the class longer,
as they should be able to provide some of the information
that the others may lack. It should be noted, as well, that
it is not essential nor even desirable that everyone be completely
familiar with the exam format in great detail, as the absence
of knowledge should encourage them to listen carefully to
others that have ideas and remain engaged throughout the lesson.
2. The recording that is going to be used in the lesson is
homemade and the quality may be less than what the students
are used to listening to, and therefore this may make it more
difficult to understand and follow. The conversation is also
quite natural and contains many of the features of natural
conversational speech that the students often find difficult,
such as topic shift, turn taking, features of connected speech,
redundancy, false starts, and colloquialisms.
Although not all of these potentially difficult features are
ones that can be compensated for in the lesson itself, I hope
to reduce the difficulties inherent in following a recorded
conversation on a potentially unfamiliar subject by giving
the class the opportunity to activate any background knowledge
they do have (collectively) in the warmer stage, and in that
way make it easier on them when they listen for the first
time, activating their 'schemata', or 'script' to aid their
understanding. In the same way, by giving them very general
information 'gist' questions to focus on before the first
listening, and allowing them to predict associated lexical
items, I hope to give them a purpose for listening as well
as aids to better follow and understand the conversation.
The multiple choice task, which is in exam-style format, may
prove to be quite difficult for some of the 'weaker' students
as the questioning is purposefully somewhat complicated. And
as I have previously mentioned, the conversation is quite
natural in speed and in conversational speech features that
may make it difficult for the weaker students to easily 'pull
out', as it were, the information required to answer the questions.
By breaking down the five main topics covered chronologically
in the taped conversation into five questions, I hope to make
the task reasonably accessible even for the 'weaker' students
in the class. Also, by encouraging everyone to predict and
underline key words in the time before they listen a second
time, I hope to simplify the processing load and improve their
chances of success. In the unlikely event that the majority
of the class find the taped conversation and listening tasks
simply too hard to do, I might have to make adjustments. One
such adjustment could be to break down the tape into sections
and play each one at a time. This would potentially throw
the timing of the lesson off but because the students must
come first, I think it could turn out to be the appropriate
action to take.
In the course of the lesson, there are several different activities
that require time, such as pre-listening, while-listening
and post-listening activities and there is always the possibility
that time management will become an issue. I hope to compensate
for this eventuality by allowing reasonable timing for each
activity, at times explicitly telling the class how much time
they have for each activity, and by providing feedback on
an OHT in order to save time.
In the second listening task, I am asking the class to follow
the flow of turn- taking and recognize which speaker is making
which statement. When they check their answers in the transcript,
it may be difficult and time consuming to pinpoint the information
in the text, having such a large amount of text to deal with.
By providing the line number in the transcript I hope to aid
the students in locating the information quickly in order
to check their answers. As mentioned above, if the listening
task and recording prove, or have proven to be much too difficult,
at this point. A possible solution could be to break down
the recording into sections, pausing after each question,
and in that way help the class deal with the unforeseen difficulties.
In the final part of the lesson, I ask the class to take on
roles and briefly act out a short exchange using information
learned in the lesson. Some students may be overloaded by
now and not be able to think on their feet. If time allows,
I will ask the students playing the same roles to work together
and think of or predict a few problems or answers to problems
in order to make the brief activity more communicative and
with the idea that two heads are sometimes better than one.
In the event that time is running too short to allow this
kind of interaction, I will simply provide each student with
a few problems or prompts to anticipate problems and ask them
to get on with it after they have had time to think on their
own for a minute.
'homemade' recording of two teaching colleagues discussing
tips and advice for students preparing for the CAE listening
Two 'homemade' handouts in the style and format of the CAE
listening exam, section C, based on the recording.
A copy of the transcript, transcribed as faithfully as possible,
An OHP and OHTs of the two handouts with the answers for feedback
Prompts on card for the warmer and post listening discussion.
A tape recorder
class is an advanced class, which is studying at the CAE level.
There are a total of ten students on the register and the
majority of them come regularly to class each week. They are
largely young professionals who come to class directly after
work with the exception of one student, Beatriz, who is a
first year university student. The class has gone through
some changes in terms of students since the holiday break
in December. There are four newer students in the group and
six who have been in the class since October. Of the latter,
Jose Maria, Emilio, and Julia have decided to take the CAE
exam in December and Jose Antonio, Teresa, and Beatriz have
signed up to take the exam this June. Of the others, Diego
and Carmen joined the group just as we were doing Mock exams
at the end of February. Rafael, and Elena, have just recently
joined the group, Rafael just before Easter break and Elena
The three students that will be taking the exam this June
are among the stronger ones in the class overall, although
some of the newer additions are of a comparable level, only
lacking in areas that are specific to classroom practice,
such as writing skills and syntactic or lexical knowledge.
Antonio and Theresa got married on the fifth of April and
I think they will be on their honeymoon when this lesson takes
place. Beatriz is the youngest of the class, being eighteen,
and although she is quite fluent in spoken and written English,
she still lacks range in lexical areas, especially in distinguishing
between formal and informal registers. She is a good listener
however, and I expect that she will enjoy a lesson based on
listening skills. Jose Maria did quite well on the listening
section of the mock exam and claims to find understanding
spoken English easier than working with syntax, lexis, and
speaking. His attendance has been spotty due to his obligations
as a university professor of Economics. Emilio, on the other
hand, has a hard time understanding spoken English. He is
aware of this problem and claims that among other things,
it is mostly because of lack of exposure. He does much better
in the areas of syntax, lexis and writing. His pronunciation
is sometimes difficult to understand but he does not generally
have difficulty in expressing himself verbally. In his work,
he has something to do with Spanish linguistics and speaks
French as well. Diego is an all around good student at this
level and did quite well on the mock exam for not having attended
many classes prior. His major weakness is writing though I
think that will improve as he completes more class writing
assignments. Carmen joined the class on the very day of mock
exams and was not able to finish it as it was quite a lot
for her first day. She is very motivated however, and has
made quite a lot of improvement. She is originally from Peru
and has a very clear North American accent. Her weak areas
are lexis and (written) syntax. Julia is the weakest student
in the group and has problems in most areas. She is motivated
though and has made improvements, especially in the areas
of lexis and written work. She reads much slower than the
rest and often only understands spoken instructions and listening
tasks partially. The other two students I really do not know
well enough to make informed comments on, except that Rafael
is a good all around student with pronunciation as his possible
main weakness and that upon joining the class, Elena felt
that this level is a bit high for her. I think that Elena
will improve quickly once she gets used to using English again.
In general the class is motivated, participate fully in the
lessons and attendance is generally good.
I have mentioned elsewhere, the class is mixed in terms of
level of listening comprehension, some find it reasonably
easy to understand spoken English and others find it especially
difficult. As a general rule though, everyone cites listening
comprehension as tested on the exam as rather difficult and
an area that they would like to have constant practice in.
As I have said, there are three students in class who are
taking the CAE exam in June and the majority will likely do
it in December. Therefore, I felt that everyone would benefit
from a lesson based on listening and in concrete, some of
the skills necessary to do the exam Listening Section better.
I chose to present the lesson in a way that would not only
provide listening practice in general, but also provide 'loop'
input, in such a way that they will be receiving useful information
for the exam tasks via the very type of exam tasks they need
practice in. They will also have these tips to refer to after
the lesson from the very task sheets they will be using.
will, in this way, also be exposed to different accents to
mine via an authentic, native speaker conversation on a topic
relevant to their needs. As mentioned in the background research
assignment for this class, this is desirable if learners are
to become 'fluent' listeners of English and accustomed to
accents other than their teachers'. This is especially relevant
in preparing for the CAE exam, as they are much more likely
to encounter British accents than those of North Americans.
activities that they will be taking part in throughout the
course of the lesson, as I have designed it, should aid them
not only in becoming accustomed to exam type tasks, but also
give them practice in the areas that are important to achieving
success in these tasks. Activities such as, predicting content
and key words and reading through the material before listening
are essential strategies for the exam. Discussing topic areas
prior to and after listening are also good classroom practice,
as it enables the students to 'tune in' and remain engaged
throughout the lesson.
having the class engage in both of the task types that they
may be required to do in Section C of the exam, I hope to
give them relevant practice that not only prepares them for
this eventuality, but that also guides them towards strategies
for doing these tasks better. I will be asking them to confirm
their answers to the second task by searching for evidence
in the transcript and in this way, give them additional practice
in skimming and scanning reading skills. I also hope that
as a by-product, they will notice language structures that
may add to their acquisition of language overall.
terms of listening practice, the class will be provided with
practice in listening for gist as well as for specific information.
The idea being that after having done the different tasks,
they will be able to refer back to them in the future as an
aid to further listening tasks they will be doing in class,
as well as in the listening section of the exam itself.
I do not want to only test the students, I am allowing them
to listen to the text a total of three times. This is more
than they will be able do in the exam or in most classroom
practice. I am allowing this in order to practice various
exam strategies and skills, such as, listening for gist, predicting
information, listening for specific information for multiple
choice questions and listening for directly stated information.
I feel that giving them ample opportunity to listen will not
only aid them in full comprehension, something very important
in this lesson if they are to benefit fully from the tips
and advice stated in the text, but also give them the opportunity
to practice various listening skills.
the lesson procedure
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