Tricks and activities for improving FCE students' listening!

A massive percentage of FCE students fail because of listening. Listening is hard for English language learners, and rightly so. In the real world, when do you have to listen to recordings and answer complex questions, which deliberately try to trick you?

I feel sorry for English students who struggle with listening. How many times have you heard your students say “Why do they speak so fast?” or “That is impossible to understand!” In the real world we can normally see the person we are listening to, we can ask them to repeat words if necessary, and we can ask for clarification.

Know the feeling in the listening exam?
Photo by rileyroxx
That’s not so in an FCE listening exam. So what can we do to help our students? Here are a few tricks and activities I’ve picked up on my DELTA, while researching, and also some of my own ideas on how to improve students' listening skills.

Part 1

Multiple choice – 8 questions – short unrelated extracts of about 30 seconds each – 3 options.

This question is all about the distractors. The three options are normally mentioned in one way or another, but two try to trick the students.
Part 2

Sentence completion – 10 questions – one or more speakers for 3 minutes – write a word or phrase.
Carry a pot of these in class...
okay, I'm running out of listening photos!
Photo by free-stock
Part 3

Multiple matching – 5 questions – five short monologues – common theme – match the extracts to prompts.

Students generally hate this part. It’s hard because, again, there are a lot of distractors and students need a wide range of vocabulary to be able to deal with the answers.
Part 4

Multiple choice – 7 questions – one or more speakers for 3 mins – 3 options per question

This is very similar to part 1, so you can use all the ideas above. The main difference is that because it's a longer recording students tend to get lost or miss an answer. By getting them to underline key words in the questions they can use this as a guide as when to move on in case they miss an answer. 

Final comments
As mentioned in my last blog Top ESL Listening Classroom Activities, one tip that has come out of my DELTA is to spend more time on going over the answers and why they got things wrong, rather than doing a massive warmer, lead in, brainstorming vocabulary, and then running out of time to really go into the answers. Use the transcript so students become aware of just how different spoken and written forms are. Encourage extensive listening – songs with lyrics, films with subtitles in English, and set listening for homework.

I'm sure there are loads more ideas out there too, so leave a comment below if you have a decent activity to improve FCE students' listening skills. Cheers.

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