I would like to share with you the techniques that I used with some of my students who had problems with listening comprehension skills. Because their level was quite high, I found it easy to find materials for the exercises and activities, but the main difficulty was to change their listening habits. They got used to a certain speed of speech, rhythm, with a certain pronunciation or accent. And their listening skills were “stiff”. So, their problem was not that they do not “hear” but because the brain doesn’t want to hear anything so different from what they used to.
So, my goal was to change their listening habits. Here’s the list of what I did:
1. A log-book. Ask your student to listen to the radio and watch TV in English everyday. 15 minutes is the minimum. Listen and watch first, then write down what this particular program was about in a log-book.
2. Dictations. Ex. http://www.learnenglish.de/dictationpage.htm#inter
Vary the sources of texts so that the student won’t get used to only one speaker. He/she listens to the audio and writes down the text word-to-word. This task is the easiest one because the texts are normally not fast and there are no significant variations in intonation etc.
3. A movie. Here are steps that I used while working with videos:
a. Choose a movie. The requirements: Should have subtitles (keep them for yourself; they are your answer key. You do not turn subtitles on while you’re working with the student). It should be in an accent that your student needs to practice (British, American, Canadian English etc.). Try to find a type (genre) of movies that your student likes (a comedy, a drama etc.). Choose a movie with the appropriate cultural content (a historical drama from Xth century won’t be very useful for this particular task). It should contain 1-2 or more scenes (10-15 minutes each) that model the group conversations that your student needs to practice.
b. Teacher’s preparation: Watch the first scene with subtitles. Prepare a list of key words – active vocabulary (for the student), the grammar structures and the tenses used in the scene.
c. Step 1. Home-task: Ask your students to watch the whole movie at home (without subtitles of course) and to present a short summary next lesson.
d. Step 2. Before listening comprehension task activity: Now you work on the first scene together. Make the student watch a scene that you chose (10-15 minutes). Ask him/her to summarise the scene. Second time watch the scene with pauses. Each time you cross a key word or a certain grammar structure, stop the video and ask what was just said. So, your student needs to paraphrase/explain the sentences to you. If he/she has difficulties with understanding, refer her/him to the list of vocabulary/grammar. If this material is new, explain it.
e. Step 3. Listening comprehension task: Ask your student to write down word-to-word conversation. (You can give it as homework), she/he can play the scene as many time as needed.
f. Step 4. Listening comprehension task continues: Check the script written by student. Do not correct the mistakes, but highlight them, the missing or wrong endings, words and sentences. Give the script back to your student. Sit down together and now, you listen back to the scene together. Stop after each sentence. Check if it is written correctly, make the student listen to it one more time and correct if he/she can, if not, turn on the subtitles so that the student can write the correct answer. And after the correct answer is given, make him/her listen to the sentence one more time trying to “hear” appropriately the correct sentence. Continue until the end of the script. This step is important because it helps to find the source of your student’s listening problem. An accent? The speed of speech? His/her own wrong pronunciation that influences his/her perception? Long grammar structures? Panic attack when the student hears a new word – it blocks his/her listening even if the word is not important/crucial to the meaning of the message? Lack of compensatory strategies (can’t guess the meaning from the context, etc)? Lack of paralinguistic knowledge (gestures, intonations that help to understand the message)? Etc.
g. Step 5. After listening comprehension task: Close the subtitles, the script written by student. Give him/her a sheet of paper and ask to write the main information he/she it hears (not word-to word) like he/she is assisting at the meeting and needs to summarise what was said during the meeting. Like a plan of the meeting with the main arguments.
When you’ll be working with your student on other scenes, you will see that after several scripts he /she do not need Step 2 any more. Step 1 then could be omitted, too. When the student’s listening skills progress, you can omit step 3 and 4. Those steps taught your student how to catch up the key-words, refocused his/her listening attention from structure of the message to its meaning. So, ideally (what your student needs in real life) he/she should be able to listen to a conversation of 10-15 minutes and to understand the main message with certain important details and be ready to retell the conversation or write down the main points.
Hope, that it can be useful for your lessons and your student.