Objective of the unit

By the end of the unit, students will have used and learned certain learning strategies to improve listening skills.

What is listening?

Listening is an active process in which listeners select and interpret information that comes from auditory and visual clues, in order to define what is going on and what the speakers are trying to express (Thompson & Rubin, 1996)

Listening is one of the most important language skills since people spend about 60% of their time listening. Besides, listening is a learning opportunity to feel the language and pick up new words and lexical chunks.

We can divide it into participatory (face-to-face conversation, lessons, meetings)  and non-participatory listening (commercials, radio programmes, announcements, songs).

According to Rubin & Thompson (1994), interactive or participatory listening takes place in the course of conversations because participants alternately play the role of speakers and listeners. On the other hand, non-interactive or non-participatory listening occurs in situations in which students will not be able to intervene by asking questions or seeking clarification such as when listening to lectures, speeches, radio, TV news, films or live plays.

 Teaching goal: In order to help students become strategic listeners we need to  teach them the following strategies explicitly:        

  1. Using prior knowledge / make connections.
  2. Using selective attention
  3. Using non verbal cues for meaning
  4. Determining importance ( key words)
  5. Identifying purpose of communication
  6. Identifying the speakers’ intentions and emotions/feelings.
  7. Interacting and responding
  8. Using graphic organizers
  9. Asking for clarification
  10. Making inferences to recognize implicit information
  11. Predicting
  12. Visualizing/Using imagery
  13. Summarizing
  14. Getting critical
  15. Retelling/paraphrasing
  16. Repairing understanding/asking for clarification
  17. Personalizing
  18. Skimming to find main ideas
  19. Scanning to locate specific information
  20. Recognizing patterns of pronunciation & intonation
  21. Guessing meaning from context

The main emphasis should be put on the discussion and analysis of the process and strategies needed to work on the listening tasks not on the “right answers”, which matter but  must not be a priority in the process of teaching listening. Raising students’ awareness of listening strategies used in L1 is an essential starting point.

Learning strategies in a nutshell

“Learning strategies are techniques that facilitate the process of understanding, retaining and applying knowledge.” Jodi Reiss

There are different ways to classify learning strategies. The most popular one classifies them in metacognitive, cognitive and social.

Metacognitive strategies are usually referred to as “thinking about learning”.

Metacognitive strategies that need to be taught:

  • Using a diary or calendar to organize tasks, assignments, study periods and tests.
  • Using a notebook to keep track of work, questions to ask and ideas.
  • Splitting projects and assignments in smaller units of work.
  • Finding one’s weaknesses


Cognitive strategies are the ones that lead to both the understanding of the object of study and the application of the new knowledge in different situations.

Cognitive strategies to be taught:  

Comparing L1 and L2

Identifying key words and concepts

Creating graphic organizers, maps, charts, diagrams

Categorizing and classifying

Using background knowledge to build learning


Guessing from context

Social strategies are strategies that allow learners to work and learn from peers or the environment.  

Social strategies which need to be taught

        Working in pairs or groups to solve problems, do tasks.

        Respecting class rules

        Taking and respecting roles

        Asking for clarification

        Asking for repetition

 How can learning strategies help students listen?

“Learning strategies are the thoughts and/or actions that students use to complete learning tasks… the tools that students themselves can employ independently to complete a language task”  Retrieved from

In order to fully understand what students actually do and to help them complete a listening task, we need to know the types of learning strategies students can use in reference to the purpose of what they are listening.

What do students actually listen to?

Students are exposed to many different aural inputs, for different purposes and coming from different channels. Everyday listening tasks include face-to-face conversations, telephone conversations, podcasts, films, songs, audiobooks, videos, lectures, speeches, interviews, presentations, TV and  radio programmes. However, most of our students may only consciously “listen” while being in an academic environment.  

The more authentic the material used is, the harder it is for students to understand without non-verbal cues.


Listening strategies are techniques or activities that contribute directly to the comprehension and recall of listening input. Listening strategies can be classified by how the listener processes the aural input (Top-down and bottom up). These strategies are  mutually dependent.  

Top-down strategies are based on the learner’s background knowledge of the topic, the sociocultural knowledge, the situation or context, the type of text, and the language.  It is about inferring meaning from contextual clues and previous knowledge.  Activating prior knowledge becomes a must in order to understand globally.

 Top-down strategies include

  • Listening for the main idea (e.g Listen and choose what they are talking about)
  • Predicting based on background knowledge (e.g. Listen and say what happens next, Listen and finish the story)
  • Inferring from contextual clues (e.g. Listen and decide where the person is)
  • Summarizing (e.g. Listen and choose the best summary)
  • Identifying emotional reactions (e.g. Listen and decide if the speaker feels happy, angry, sad, surprised)
  • Choosing the correct picture (e.g. Listen to a description of masterpiece and choose the correct picture)

Bottom-up strategies are strategies which use the knowledge of the language to comprehend meaning;  that is, the combination of sounds, words, and phrases, sentences as well as intonation that creates meaning. These strategies focus on discrete language items as well as components of spoken language (intonation, pronunciation).  Here, the short term memory plays an essential role. Bottom-up strategies include

  • listening for specific details (e.g. Listen and complete the map, listen and finish the picture)
  • recognizing cognates
  • recognizing word-order patterns (e.g. Listen and order the lines in a poem/song)
  • recognizing words (e.g Number the pictures as you hear them, Listen to a supermarket commercial and circle what they sell, Listen and complete the chart)