How to develop listening skills for students in English lessons?

10 activities for developing listening skills

10 activities for developing listening skills


  • Listening
  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

While learning a language, we develop four major skills. Listening is one of them, and like reading, it is a receptive skill. As we listen, we perceive sounds, transform them into a message, interpret it, and respond.

Developing listening skills is a key to successful communication. A person with good listening skills is able to comprehend what (s)he hears and respond accordingly. Thereby, effective listening  prevents misunderstandings, frustration and irritation for both the listener and the speaker. 

Active listening

When we talk about teaching listening skills, we mean teaching active listening which is a communication skill that requires trying to comprehend the meaning and intent behind the words that another person speaks in addition to simply hearing what they say. Being an active participant in the communication process is necessary.

There are two components of active listening: paying attention and reflection.

Paying attention when listening implies nonverbal cues such as: 

  • focusing on what a speaker is saying,
  • maintaining eye contact, 
  • nodding, 
  • watching body language, 
  • and allowing the speaker to finish his thought.

Reflection is a second way to show that you are involved in the conversation, thus repeating and paraphrasing what the speaker has said to show that you truly understand what he is telling you. 

And, of course, an adequate response means that you have listened to the speaker carefully as well as provided effective interaction.

Listening subskills

In ESL teaching, during listening lessons we practice core listening subskills that learners can develop. They are:

  • listening for gist 
  • listening to infer information (e.g. the speaker’s point of view)
  • listening for detail
  • listening for text or discourse patterns
  • scan listening 
  • listening for language items

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In this blog, we recommend some helpful activities to develop the listening subskills of your students. We hope you will find new and interesting ones that you would love to implement in your teaching practice. Here we go!

1. Fill in the blank for song lyrics

Choose a song with well-articulated words and find its lyrics on the Internet. Type the text of the lyrics, leaving blank spaces for some words (for an extra challenge, it can be full phrases), and print out copies for your students. Play the song in class several times while students fill in the blanks with what they hear. 

Check in pairs and with the whole class for correct answers. You may sing the song together afterwards.

2. Write what you hear 

Prepare a text or list of sentences and read them aloud to your students. They have to write down what they hear. It’s similar to a “spelling bee,” where contestants are asked to spell a broad selection of words, usually with a varying degree of difficulty, yet they do not spell words but write full sentences. Adjust the difficulty to the level of your students: 

  • for lower levels, speak slower and pronounce the words clearly; 
  • for higher levels, you may experiment with tongue twisters.

3. Summarize a short story, podcast, or a TEDTalk

Here you can work with audio or video applications such as YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Music Video Player, Spotify, Google Podcasts, etc. Play a conversation, a short story, a podcast, or a TEDTalk several times. Students may take notes while listening, which will help them summarize the information they heard. This activity could be done at home as well. Each student can listen to different audio files and share the content with the class.

4. Voice blogging

For this activity, students record voice journals about their week with the help of free websites or applications and any smartphone. You may also suggest some interesting questions to encourage speaking, for example: What would you do if you discovered you had a twin? Or What do you usually do on Saturday evenings? So, it’s going to be like a blog, but with the students’ voices rather than writings. 

They may listen to their records for self-checking, as well as to the records of their group mates, and provide feedback to each other. Encourage students to make positive comments, which will help to build assertive communication and effective cooperation within a group, not to mention listening skills development.

5. The Hidden Phrase

Pair up your students and give an individual “secret phrase” to each pair, for example: “Yesterday I saw an alien in my garden”; or “I would like to travel to a deserted island” (or anything your imagination can offer you)

Students have to make up a dialogue and hide the phrase in it so that it won’t be noticeable to other groups. Each pair presents their dialogue, and other students listen carefully and try to catch the hidden phrase. The group that finds the phrase gets one point. If nobody finds a phrase, a pair that presents a dialogue gets the point. 

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6. Student-designed quizzes

If your students have their own gadgets, like iPads or iPhones, and internet access, you may give them a lecture, a song, a conversation, or whatever, to listen to. After listening to the information several times, ask them to create a quiz for their group mates. Thus, they will have to rely on their listening skills, write and answer questions thoughtfully. It would be fun for your students to try out the role of teacher and guide their mates.

7. Draw a story

Choose a short story or a scenery description for this activity. Read it to your students and ask them to draw a picture based on what they hear. They can choose the style and colors of the drawing. Read the story aloud to your students several times so they can check the details. At the end of the activity, compare the similarities and differences between the pictures with the entire class and have fun together! 

8. Compare and contrast two audio advertisements

Find two ads for similar products, or ask your students to do that. Have your students compare these, finding differences and similarities between the two ads, and make notes or adjust the results in the Venn diagram. Compare answers with the class, putting them on the board. 

9. Chinese whispers

This classic activity is still used to hone listening skills. In this exact game, you may focus on transmitting separate words instead of whole sentences. Divide your class into two groups, and give each group leader a sentence with an equal number of words. 

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Let them whisper the first word to the next person, who whispers it to the next person in the row up to the last one, who puts it on the board. As soon as the word is on the board, the group may continue with the rest of the words from the sentence up to the last one. The fastest group with the least number of mistakes in the sentence on the board wins. 

10. Reported interviews

This simple activity may be provided at the beginning of the course to help your students get to know each other better. Pair up your students and ask them to interview their partner. They may ask questions about family, friends, interests, occupations, experiences, dreams, etc. After finishing the interviews, students tell the class what they learned about their partner and give tips for describing their own personalities. 

Tips to Promote Listening Skills

At the very end, we would like to emphasize that a student engagement in the learning process always prevails and assures the results. So, it is important to promote involvement in practicing listening skills, as well as all the others. To do this, you should:


Encourage students to listen carefully to each other’s ideas, respect each other, express their opinions, work together, and not focus on mistakes.


Inspire them to implement their perceptions of different sources: oral, visual, and media, and to give various interpretations of what they hear to improve their ability to communicate.


Motivate students by giving clear instructions and clarifications, setting achievable goals, and adapting audio content for different learning styles. A bit of competitive spirit could also engage and boost motivation.


Support them by asking questions, checking their understanding, and providing them with proper feedback. Involve your empathic skills.

Here are some questions to help you remember key aspects of developing listening skills.

 What kind of listening do we train during ESL classes?

What listening subskills do students develop while learning a language?

In which listening activity can you use tongue twisters?

Article authors & editors
  • Veronika Syrotkina

    Veronika Syrotkina


    CELTA certified teacher of General English



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