How can I Teach Listening Online?

So, the last post was about how I think your employer should be paying you appropriately if you are using your own computer and internet, electricity, software, etc. Does this mean I want your lessons to be rubbish? No, it does not.

Somebody from one of my workplaces said in a group email “How can I teach listening online?”

Some people say pre-listening, while-listening, post-listening.

I am not those people.

Schema activation: maybe

If it would be normal in the situation that you are going to have your listening task/activity in to be anticipated, you might want to get your students to think about what they already know about the topic and what they would expect from a talk or conversation about the topic between the types of people involved. However, this might not always be the case. I know that the ‘normal way is brainstorm and predict’, but everyone is told this and it doesn’t exactly seem to be bringing about a world of amazing listeners, does it?

So what can we do instead?

You can throw in a bit of micro-listening (Field, 2008). This is likely to make students think about what’s coming up, or even why you chose that particular tiny clip. You do it by faffing about with the start and end bits of the YouTube clip. See below where it says iframe then the link address? Well at the end of the link is a ?start=16&end=17. This means the clip starts at 16 seconds and ends at 17 seconds. You can also mess with this in Moodle. You can even do this directly in your browser.

<iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe>

Then what?

Well, what do you want your students to be able to do? Do you know whether they can’t?

With TED talks, I often have students to take lecture notes and summarize. The notetaking method is basically that I have detailed here, but I check notes in class. If I am teaching online, I suppose I can only have students show me notes in breakout rooms or send me photos and I can give feedback. This is going to be a challenge, I think, but you do what you can, don’t you.


I do actually do post listening tasks. I try to get students to react to what they just listened to. Sometimes this is not very expansive because listening is a bit tiring due to the amount of attention involved.

I also always have students reflect on what was problematic/difficult in the listening and why. I try to find that part in the listening text. If it’s a YouTube video I open the transcript and search for the key word, which usually helps; if it’s a different text with a handwritten transcript, it’s longer; if it’s a video from a popular paid streaming site, which I would never recommend you use because of legal issues, you would just have to skip and estimate). You can then give feedback about how you would go about getting that bit of listening (or even whether the effort is worth the payoff).

Hopefully this is helpful. If there is anything you disagree with, leave a comment. If you have questions, leave a comment. May the odds of your students decoding listening texts forever be in your favour!


How Do I Plan a New Course? A Guide

You get your schedule for the new teaching year. You have a new course to teach. Oh no! How much work?! Yes, it is a lot. Hopefully I can help streamline out the panic. Learn from my mistakes instead of your own.

Getting Started

What kind of course is it? Is it discrete skills, a mish-mash of skills, content, or merely an idea crafted by nymphs from a gossamer of buzzwords? This is going to dictate a lot about how you approach it.

If it’s all four skills, what can’t the learners do yet that you want them to do? If you aren’t sure, ask or have a good think. What kinds of people are your learners? Pope-Ruark (2018) advocates creating stakeholder profiles for your course. Put yourself in these different people’s shoes. Make them as realistic as possible. ‘Talk’ to them in your head. Ask questions to them and let them answer your questions and it makes this process easier. Yes, I know this sounds like the ravings of a man possessed but trust me here, or give it a try and if you don’t like it, try it your way.

Continue reading “How Do I Plan a New Course? A Guide”

What's changed? Let's do stuff!

Three years of writing this bloody blog and what’s changed, really? I have, but that’s not what I’m talking about. How has the profession changed? It hasn’t. Not a bloody single thing as far as I can tell. Glacial. Maybe a few people have cottoned on to the learning styles myth. That’s it.
So, am I going to just continue glowering at the internet or do something about it? Well, there has to be a balance between working for nothing for a worthy project or cause and getting compensated fairly. So what can I (we?) do?
We can complain about how shit things are (like in Jeremy Slagowski’s great post about a listening syllabus here) and/or put forward an alternative.
We can moan about stuff that doesn’t work and/or see about fixing it. Now, my name is not Answer Man. It’s not even my alter ego. Sometimes, when you find something doesn’t do what you think it’s supposed to do, you ask an expert. Sometimes it’s somebody who works in a shop. Sometimes it’s a book. Sometimes it’s your friends. By talking about stuff, we surely get closer to an answer, at least one more step forward on the path to enlightenment.
Doing stuff, though. This is what I think I need to do. It doesn’t always come off right, but it’s going to be, usually, only as bad as inaction, especially if you think hard about potential risks before acting.

Why Share Lessons on Your Blog?

I don’t know whether many teachers are really concerned about what goes on in other teachers’ classrooms. I am, but then I’m nosy. I want to know what their cool ideas are. I want to steal!
That said, I’m not indiscriminate. I want to steal good stuff that I think will work with my learners. In that case, why do I have people in my personal learning network (PLN) based in across the world, when I’ve said before that learning can’t be generalised?
Because I want to get ideas about flow. Because an idea that won’t work for me makes me think about why it won’t work and what I need to do in order to make it work. It’s part of the reason I set up the Tokyo Lesson Jam, which is way overdue another meeting (December, when I finish my DipTESOL?), so that I could steal other people’s cool stuff.
For those of us who never get to do peer observations, reading lesson plans on blogs is like a glimpse into another teacher’s classroom. You get to say ‘I wouldn’t do that, I’d do this‘ (in a nice way, not a smart-arsed way). You might even say it in the comments of the blog. You might also see how somebody else solved a problem that you’re working on, or tried unsuccessfully to solve it. The internet is the easiest way to join a community of practice and people are welcoming. People will still say that your stupid ideas are stupid, but they will often say so nicely. They will then give you a better idea. If an idea or method should be rejected, you’ll be told why, and if anything usable can be salvaged from the wreck.
So, yes, even if my stupid lessons wouldn’t work for your learners, it can still be useful provided you give the reasons why it wouldn’t.

Ten Freelance Teacher Essentials

Since I began teaching freelance and for agencies about five years ago I haven’t had the benefit of an office in the same building I work in except for two of the regular gigs I have. With this in mind, here are my essentials.

  1. Cheap Pens
  2. You will lend pens out and forget to take them back in at the end of the lesson. The cost mounts up,

  3. Earphones
  4. With these you can prep listening exercises on public transport or find supplementary/alternative materials.

  5. Authentic materials/Realia
  6. Menus, transport maps, leaflets, etc. can be exploited in lessons.

  7. USB Drive
  8. Not all convenience store printers will print directly from smartphones/tablets. Carry your materials on one of these. Periodically copy stuff back and forth. Cloud storage is a handy backup, too.

  9. Plastic folders
  10. Can keep documents inside without massive creases. May also work as a desk when on the train.

  11. Scissors/Swiss Army Knife
  12. For cutting paper into strips or bits.

  13. Envelopes
  14. For keeping tiny bits of paper inside.

  15. Dice
  16. Useful for ad-hoc games or random selection of student/task type/anything else that has six options.

  17. Notebook
  18. Monitor stuff students say. It can and will be a goldmine. You can use it for examples of common errors, more authentic gap fills and even just for reflection on task performance.

  19. Post-its/Index cards
  20. These work as bookmarks, vocabulary cards, cue cards and more.

Also, it’s useful to have a big bag to keep them in!