I recently read an interesting article about listening: “Listening for needles in haystacks: How lecturers introduce key terms” (Martinez R, Adophs S, Carteer R, ELT Journal, vol.67, issue 3 (2013) pp. 313.323). As a teacher and trainer for the Cambridge exams, I meet teachers and learners alike that comment regarding the complexity of the listening part of the exams, and they ask for strategies to help them develop stronger listening skills to produce better outcomes in the exam. While I clearly suggest high exposure to audio texts in the form the plethora of free podcasts and radio programmes available on the internet, I became aware of the fact that what exam candidates need are strategies to identify where the answers are in the audio script and how to recognise them.
Here are a few ideas that I have tried recently that I have found work for specific parts of the Cambridge First, Cambridge Advanced, and Cambridge Proficiency exams.
Listening Exam Parts 1 & 3 (Cambridge First, Cambridge Advanced, Cambridge Proficiency)
All the options offered in the multiple-choice question are often mentioned in the audio text and can often distract candidates from selecting the correct answer. Identifying conjunctions like ‘but’ will help learners notice when the information is being contrasted and the right answer is being given. The same exercise can be done with ‘because’ and ‘besides’.
To practice this in class, you could play practice tests to learners and get them to stand up when they hear ‘but’, and sit down when they hear it again. This highlights the importance of conjunctions and becoming aware of their use in the audio texts enables learners to pick out the correct information. You could also record your own audio texts, ask students to record their own, or play short audio extracts to practice this and introduce a fun kinaesthetic activity into the classroom.
Listening Exam Parts 2 & 4 (Cambridge First, Cambridge Advanced, Cambridge Proficiency)
Often the content of the listening extracts are contain topics or lexis that candidates are unfamiliar with, so a good way of helping learners with this is to take questions from the exam and use them as class discussion points.
Give learners the question and allow them time to think about language that they may hear or that could be used in a discussion about the topic, they can also look up new lexis they would like to use therefore broadening their lexical range. Allow them a limited time to discuss the topic and practice the lexis. This is an effective way of using an integrated skills approach to listening where learners focus on lexis in the listening questions by using a speaking activity. In the same way, the listening questions from Part 1 can be used as starting points for classroom speaking and extending learning and identify question type patterns. For example:
Why is he/she talking to…
Who is he/she talking to..
What is he/she doing?
How does he/she feel?
Another useful strategy to share with learners is that the verbs used in the listening extract will often indicate the tense. For example ‘warn about…’ is used for something in the future. This could help learners with the correct selection of an answer if it contains answers that refer to the past.