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ESL Listening Activities for Upper Intermediate Students. Teach Using Songs, Music and Movies in the Class

Updated on January 13, 2015

ESL Listening Activities

Listening Activities for ESL Students
Listening Activities for ESL Students | Source

ESL Listening Activities

This article is a continuation on Listening Activities for ESL students. In the previous article I described listening activities in which one person, either the teacher or another student, reads a paragraph while other students have to listen in order to fill in the blanks on their hand outs. The ESL activities I describe here are similar but allow you to use music or movies in the class. This accomplishes the the same thing but adds more variety to the classes and may make your classes more interesting to the students. If you want an listening activity that is a little more difficult consider one where one student must the follow directions given by another student.

ESL Listening Activity: Listening to music

For this listening activity you will use a recorded song. The advantage of this ESL listening activity is that it can be paired well other activities and can be used to lead into or supplement discussions about culture and music. For example if you have a culture class on a subject such as Blues music you can choose a song by Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson. A disadvantage to using music is that it requires additional equipment. For me this means bringing a laptop and a set of speakers into the class. If you have a song on an MP3 player connected to a set of speakers it would work just as well.

Creating a Listening Worksheet

Like with the above exercise you'll want to create a Teacher's Reference and a Student Worksheet Handout. There are hundreds of lyrics website that you can use for this. Use Google to search for the tittle of the song you want with the word “lyrics” in the search. Copy the lyrics for the song into a word document. You may have to clean the lyrics up a little when you copy them. You can get rid of unwanted formatting by pasting the lyrics first into Notepad. With the lyrics in Notepad just select all and copy again to paste them into Word. Above the lyrics type the words “Teacher's Reference.” This will be your reference to use during class.

Paste the lyrics a second time into the same document. Above the second copy of the lyrics type the words “Student Worksheet” or “Student Handout.” This will be the handout that you give to your students. In this area go through each line of the song and choose words that you want to remove. Nouns or verbs work best for this. I suggest only removing one word per line. Also if a line is repeated you might want to remove the same word each time the line is repeated.

Select all and apply double-space. This will give your students enough room between the lines that they can make notes and write the definitions of words or phrases that they are unfamiliar with.

Choosing a Proper Song for an ESL Activity

If you have a class on a subject such as a American or British culture and music you will want the song to be matched with that subject. In my school there is an American culture class on Blues music so I choose a song from this genre for this class so that the students can actually hear this kind of music. Many of my students have never heard of Blues before taking this class and they appreciate the chance to actually hear an example of the music that we're discussing. Others will have heard of Blues but wont know what it is called in English. If the class is not focused on a specific genre of music you have more freedom as to what kind of song you can choose. I have some suggestions for this.

First set your personal preferences for music aside. The main goal of any activity is that the student can learn from it and improve on a skill. As much as I may like Norwegian Death Metal it would not be beneficial to the student as a listening activity. You want something relatively slow and clear enough that they have a good chance at understanding the words. Students may be interested in knowing about your personal music tastes and for this reason you might want to have a sample of your favorite music available for them to hear. This would also be good for generating discussion but depending on the variety of music you prefer it might not be appropriate for an ESL listening activity.

Second, stay away from groups that the students may already be familiar with. For reasons that I don't fully understand, Backstreet Boys and West Life are popular in China. Part of this might be that the songs are relatively slow and clear. While this is the kind of thing you want, the popularity of these groups in China means that these are songs that many of your students may sing in KTV (karaoke) clubs. Most if not all of the students will already know the words to these songs. If the song is one that the students are already familiar with it wont be as useful as an ESL listening activity.

ESL Listening Activity with a Movie

The first ESL listening activity that I used was based around a movie called The Beach. I wish I could take credit for this but I can't. I stole the idea from another ESL teacher named Simon Howell who posted it on his own website. Mr. Howell provides a whole lesson plan based on the first several minutes of this movie.

Movies can be useful in ESL listening activities in the same way as reading to the student or having them listen to music. Again there is the disadvantage that this requires additional equipment. If your school has a movie projector this should be fine. Even if your school has the equipment needed you should have a back up plan just in case something doesn't work.

Choosing a Movie for Your Own Lesson Plan

As long as the film is appropriate for your audience, any movie or TV show in which there is a long monologue or a dialogue that is clear and understandable can be useful. I would stay away from movies that are political or that have complicated language or themes. I would also stay away from movies that would be inappropriate for all audiences.

Among the resources that Simon Howell provides you will find a few sites that have movie scripts. These can be used to create your teacher references and student handouts. Be careful with this though. In some of the movies that I've looked at I have found that the lines spoken in the movie were different from the lines written in the script. You should always watch the movie clip that you want to use and make sure that the lines you have from a script are correct. Once you are sure that you have the right words just follow the same procedure outlined above to make your teacher's reference and student worksheet.

Movie Scene Option Two

As long as we have access to movie scripts there is another possibility that we can use. Scripts can be used to create role plays that the students can act out. You can select a scene from a movie and create handouts in the same way as described above. Print two or more copies script depending on the number of roles you have. Choose a few students to act out the roles and give them the scripts. Give handouts with blanked out words to the other students to that they can listen for the missing words.

If you have the movie clip and a projector you can play the scene for the students either before or after they act out the roles. Also if you've planned to use a movie as described above but are unable to because of equipment failure having some of the students act out the scene is a viable back up plan.

Copyright Notice

© Copyright 2012. Wesley Meacham- This article is copyright protected and is the property of Wesley Meacham. All images in this article, unless otherwise stated, are the property of Wesley Meacham. Please do not copy this article in whole or in part without giving credit to the original author.


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    • Deepa ashish ingh profile image

      Deepa Singh 

      15 months ago from Bangalore

      Very helpful article

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett C 

      6 years ago from Asia

      Media is SOOOOOO important in the classroom these days. I actually wrote a hub about the importance of media literacy for teachers and students.

      Using media in different ways can hold attention for longer and for English it can really inspire them to talk. A great one for cartoons/movies is to play it without the volume, then get 2-4 kids to add their own 'voice over' ... making it up as they got ... very funny!

      Shared, up and useful.

    • Wesley Meacham profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesley Meacham 

      6 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Ham, I will confess that there are some of the newer genres that I can't tell the difference between.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I personally enjoy classes involving multi-media resources, which are more direct approches to most students of the students. Recently more Chinese, the young particularly, become open minded toward genres like Blues, Jazz, and even Soul. Rap, R&B and Rock have already been prevailling since last decade. However as you said, 90% of the "new generation" music appreciators have little idea of the artists, most people like myself even can't tell the nuances between styles like Blues and Swing. I never doubt how much the English language teaching should involve educating history, arts and other categories in our daily life. Thanks for your useful suggestion!


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