Intensive listening

Published on 24th June, 2010 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

Intensive listening is a skill which I believe to be overlooked in many contexts. Historically, one could argue that there was too much intensive listening, at the expense of general comprehension. However, nowadays coursebooks and teachers may have shifted too far in the other direction with the focus mainly on understanding gist. Of course, there is a time and a place for both types of listenings, but some students would arguably benefit from more opportunities to practise and develop more intensive listening.

Try to be more aware yourself of the nature of your listenings in class. Do the exercises demand that students give evidence of general comprehension, or do they sometimes require students to understand most, if not all of the words involved? Do you sometimes get your students to listen to you, rather than pre-recorded texts? If so, are these ‘live’ listenings scripted; are they natural-sounding? Again, how are your students required to listen?

Of course we all expose our students to some intensive listening, even if we do so unconsciously. Whenever we set tasks, particularly those more complicated ones such as setting up a new game, students are listening intensively. However, it’s sometimes worth dedicating more time to this area. Dictations can be a great way to practise this skill. Make your dictations colourful and varied, so as to involve students and make the task undaunting. Joke-telling also requires students to focus intensively. However, instruction-giving is probably the most natural way to focus on this skill. I sometimes orally instruct my students to: do actions, eg put your hands on your head, walk up to the clock; complete a diagram or map; complete a creative task, eg make an origami plane. In a fortnight, the weekly tip will focus on one excellent way to practise intensive listening.


  • I always thought it was quite the opposite. EFL teachers devoting more time to intensive listening rather than extensive, that is listening to loads of audio/video materials to get the gist of it. (I am using the word “extensive” just as it is used in extensive reading).

    Miguel Mendoza on 25 June, 2010
  • our reason for listening influences the amount and kind of information we need to listen for for example when listening to a train announcement for specific information we might need to hear some times but when listening to the details of some important news we might want to make sense of every word to find out what exactly happened and why

    Ashraf Abdel-Rahman Ali ( Aswan ) on 4 June, 2012