Number one for English language teachers

Listening skills: Top tips

Type: Reference material

Miles Craven offers some useful techniques to use when teaching listening.


  • Tell your students they shouldn’t worry that they have to understand every word they hear. Not every word is important!
  • Where possible, make sure students know what they are listening for before you start listening. Explain they should focus only on the information they need.
  • Give two or three general questions to check students comprehension of the basic details.
  • If possible, check for any words that your students may not know. Pre-teach these so they do not interfere with understanding.
  • Brainstorm students’ ideas on the topic they are going to listen to. This will help focus them.
  • Don’t choose a listening that is too long. If necessary, stop the recording at certain points and review what students have understood so far.

While listening

  • As a general principle, try to play the recording once for overall comprehension. Then play the recording again for specific details.  
  • Tell students to note any dates, people or places they hear.  
  • Divide students into groups and give each group a different listening task (e.g. different questions). Then swap their answers and have students listen again and check their classmates’ answers.  
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat the recording, especially the parts students have most trouble understanding.


  • Tell students to compare their notes and discuss what they understood in pairs or small groups.  
  • Encourage students to respond to what they heard. For example, where possible ask questions like Do you agree? and encourage debate.  
  • Tell pairs to write a summary of the main points. Then have them compare their summaries and check if they covered all the main points.  
  • Play the recording again and tell students to call out ‘Stop!’ when they hear the answers they were listening for.  
  • Put students into groups, and tell them to make a list of comprehension questions to ask each other.  
  • Tell students to make a list in their notebooks of any new vocabulary they feel is useful.

Remember: It’s important to give students a lot of variety in what they listen to. Try to use as many different sources of listening material as you can: advertisements, news programs, poetry, songs, extracts from plays, speeches, lectures, telephone conversations, informal dialogues … the more varied and authentic the listening practice you offer them, the more fun you’ll all have!

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Readers' comments (5)

  • Hi there,

    The original date of publication for this article is 2006.

    Best wishes,
    The onestopenglish team

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  • Very interesting tips!
    I just wonder why there is no year of publication for this article?

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  • Hi both,
    Thanks for your comments, we're glad you found the advice helpful. Let us know how you get on using the tips in class!
    Best wishes,
    The onestopenglish team

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  • Very clear and very thorough model for listening exercise.
    thank you

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  • Thanks! Concise and effective, just what I was looking for.

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