• Amazing Technique to Customize Listening to Movies, Podcasts etc. for any Level of Ability

Cover Best Ever

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)*

This amazingly simple technique revolutionized how I teach listening skills and completely liberated me.

(To see a video in which I demonstrate this technique, see Best Technique to Teach ESL Listening Skills (in Classes and for Tutors!) Part 2: Using Videos)

After watching a good movie or a documentary on PBS or listening to an interesting segment on NPR or a TED Talk, I often thought, My students would really like that.  Too bad their listening skills aren’t high enough.”   It was especially frustrating when I was teaching adult students because it was such a challenge to find mature content that they could understand.

Then I learned about this technique.  By using this, my students at almost any level can understand and enjoy any movie, documentary or program/podcast that I share with them.

I’ll explain more details about using the technique with movies, but here is a brief summary: Basically, the students are not trying to understand the narrator or actors.  Instead, they listen to their instructor tell them (at their listening level) what is being said or even describe in English what they just saw.  Every 10-60 seconds (or more, depending on the students’ level), the instructor stops the video/program, and explains what they had just heard or saw at a discourse level that they can understand.

For example, this came from an NPR segment about recycling.  This is what the students heard the person in the recording say, “They also gave the volunteers cans of soda and after the volunteers had drunk the soda, the cans went in the recycling when the cans were intact.  But if the cans were dented or crushed in any way, the volunteers ended up putting those crushed cans in the trash.”

The instructor stopped the recording and told them what they had just heard at a level that they could understand, “The researchers gave some volunteers some cans of soda.  The volunteers drank the sodas.  After they finished drinking all of it, some of their cans looked new.  But some volunteers squeezed (instructor pantomimes squeezing the can) so it looked bad.  Do you understand?   Then the volunteers had to throw away their cans.  If the cans looked good or new, they threw them in a recycling bin.  But if the cans didn’t look new or looked bad, the volunteers threw them in the garbage.”  All this input is at their level.  And the information is probably new and interesting for the students.

Using videos for listening-skill development


1) The teacher writes key vocabulary on the board.

2) The teacher presents a segment of 5-10 minutes of a movie or documentary by stopping every 10-30 seconds (or more).  S/he explains at a proper level for students’ comprehension what was said and/or what is happening in the video.  The teacher points to the key words on the board during this.  Students are not expected to understand what is said in the movie, only what the teacher says.

3) After listening to the teacher’s “presentation” of the segment, students are given a task to demonstrate comprehension(See tasks described below.)

4) After completing the task but before checking it, the students watch the segment again.  And they can ask the instructor to explain/paraphrase parts again.

5) Students can revise their answers on the task.

Types of tasks to do after a segment:

  1. Fill in the blanks
  2. Questions in Student A/ Student B format
  3. True/False questions read by the teacher
  4. Questions that students read and write the answers to

Other types of tasks

  1. Stop-and-ask:

1During the first viewing of a segment, the teacher plays a few seconds of the segment at a time and asks students questions.  Each student writes the answer.

2The teacher replays the segment, stopping and has students tell the answers.

  1. Back-to-back.

1 During a first viewing of a segment, students are put in pairs (Student A/Student B) who have separate questions.

2 Student A faces the monitor and Student B has his/her back to the monitor.

3 The teacher pauses the video on a scene.

4 Student B reads the first question about the scene and Student A answers.

5 The teacher plays the video to the next scene, pauses, and Student B asks the second question.  …

  1. Who said …

In Student A/Student B/Student C format, students have key quotes from the video which they read to each other.  Their partners identify the speaker and where they were when they said it.

For a more detailed example of how I used this technique along with comprehension exercises, I’ll attach here what I used when I showed my students the Tom Hanks’ movie, Big.  In the attachment, I’ve broken down the first 45 minutes into ten segments.  Let me know if you’d like the exercises that I used for the rest of the movie, and I’ll be happy to send it to you.  Movie Big First 10 segment Exercises

David Kehe

*About the free-download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.  

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