(From Michael Rost, Listening in Action)


Intensive Listening activities focus the students’ attention on language form.   The aim of IL activities is to raise the learners’ awareness of how differences in sound, structure, and lexical choice can affect meaning.

Because this kind of listening involves an appreciation of how form affects meaning,  IL activities must be contextualized — placed in a real or easily imagined situation.  In this way, all students — even beginners — can practice intensive listening in a context of language use, from which it is most likely to transfer to “real life” listening situations.

Because IL activities  require attention to specific contrasts  of form — grammatical, lexical, or phonological — the teacher can easily adapt the activities to more proficient students by increasing the complexity of the language forms.


Section 2.  Intensive listening


            Hearing clearly is a pre-requisite for effective listening, and for practically all second-language learners, accurately perceiving the sounds in a second language is an on-going challenge.  “Hearing clearly”  refers to several processes: discriminating between similar phonemes (e.g. voiced vs. voicless consonants which have shared features, such as /t/ and /d/;  central vs. front vowels, such as /a/ and /ae/), identifying allophonic variations of the same phoneme (e.g. a flapped /t/ vs. an aspirated /t/),  identifying the linguistic form when contractions, assimilations, and reductions have been used (e.g. in “what did you do”, the /t/ and /d/ sounds are assimilated and the vowel in “you” is reduced — centralized and weakened),

identifying stressed words and recognizing the intonational contour of an utterance.


Focused practice in “hearing clearly” is helpful if it comes continuously, in small doses. Some problems in perception of certain phonemic and prosodic (stress, duration, and intonation) contrasts will persist for certain learners,  but your learners can and will — with sustained practice — increase their ability to perceive English sounds, words, and phrases accurately.


In addition to learning to perceive sounds clearly, listening intensively — in order to appreciate the language form  of messages — is a vitally important aspect of language acquisition.  In order to listen effectively and to learn the language effectively, learners need to recognize critical grammatical distinctions “in real time” — as they listen.  For instance, they will need to recognize differences in verb tense, aspect, and voice (present vs. past; unmarked vs. progressive; active vs. passive) and  differences between singular and plural markings of nouns and pronouns.   Further, they will need to recognize the important function of stress and intonation in signalling focal elements of an utterance.  This means that the learners must go beyond identifying the lexical meaning to identifying the grammatical meaning as well.


The activities in this section aim to focus learners’ attention on language form in the following ways:


1. They require attention to particular words, phrases,  grammatical units, and “pragmatic” units (units of “social meaning”);


2.  They require that the students recognize differences  between similar words and phrases;


3.  They draw attention to sound changes  (vowel reductions and consonant assimilations) that occur in natural speech;


4.  They draw attention to the speaker’s use of stress, intonation, and pauses.


5.   They practice paraphrasing  (that is, having the listener restate the speaker’s phrases and sentences) and reconstructing (that is, having the listener fill in grammatical parts that may be left out of the speaker’s message);


6.  They call for remembering  specific words and sequences.


The key features of the activities in this section are:


• the learners work individually

• the learners may listening as many times as they wish


• the teacher provides feedback on accuracy

• the teacher provides some written support


There are nine basic activities in this section, along with several variations.  Students at all levels of language proficiency will benefit from intensive listening activities.  Beginning students may benefit from these activities most when they are used as warm-ups for activities from the attentive listening section (see Section 1) .  Intermediate students may find these activities most useful if they are used as follow-up reviews for activities from the selective listening section (see Section 3) or the interactive listening section (see Section 4).  More advanced students will benefit from intensive listening activities that are targeted at particular problems of language analysis (grammar, vocabulary, or sounds) which they are working on.



1. Say it again





2.  Discrimination

Variation 2.1:  SEQUENCE



3.  One-sided conversations



4.  Alternates



VARIATION 4.3:  Reduced and expanded stories

VARIATION 4.4:  Replacements


5.  Paraphrase



6.  Jigsaw dictation




7.  Short forms



VARIATION 7.3:  One, two, three 


8.  Stress

VARIATION 8.1:   contrast



9 Boundaries



Many of these activities will be useful introductions to listening for beginning students in that they help the students focus their attention on simple tasks.  Activities such as Say it again, Passages, Discrimination, and “Long or short?”  (as well as all of the variations listed under each) can help beginning learners build up a repertoire of perception skills that will help them in more complex activities from the Attentive Listening, Selective Listening, and Interactive Listening sections.  Other activities, such as Jigsaw Dictation, can be used as a warm-up content preview, as a diagnosis  of vocabulary and grammar problems, and as a means to raise awareness of lexical and grammatical form prior to other language-learning exercises.


Intensive Listening   #1


                                              Say it again     


Level:             Elementary and above, depending on input


Students:       Young adults and adults


Purpose:         Focus on phonological features; 

                        develop attention to stress and intonation


Text type:       Audio or  video 




In this activity…


Students watch video segments (or listen to audio-taped conversations) and repeat selected lines, attempting to imitate the exact wording, pronunciation, and intonation.




1.  Select one or more scenes from a video sequence that your students have seen (television drama, musical variety program, commercial, feature film, etc.).  The scenes you select should be of high interest to the students and have some “memorable lines.”


NOTE:  You may wish to have your students identify one or two scenes which they  find particularly important, moving, memorable — and worthy of further study.  In general, personal investment in the topic or scene helps students retain what they learn.  This is particularly true with intensive listening exercises.



2.  List some model lines, taken directly from the tape, that you will ask the students to practice.  Your list should contain only the lines, in chronological order, that you will ask the students to repeat.  You need not write out the entire script of the scenes.


In class


1.  Display the list of lines to be practiced.  Before you play the tape, ask the students to say the selected phrases or sentences.  Give simple paraphrases so that the students have a general sense of each expression.   Ask if the students can recall the situations in the film in which the lines were spoken.


2.  Play through the tape segment once to set the general scene.  The students listen and identify where the speaker’s target lines occur.


3.  As you play through the tape a second time, stop before  each “targeted line”.  The students say the line as you point to it on the blackboard, first chorally and then individually.  After a few repetitions, continue the segment.  Stop the tape again after the line and elicit additional repetitions.   Encourage the students to feel as if they are “saying the line” (as a character with a specific motive), not simply “repeating the line”  (for language practice).


VARIATION 1.1:  TELEPHONE GAME.  Send a verbal message around the room.  Tell a short message to one student.  That student whispers it to the another student, and so on, until every student has tried to hear the message clearly and repeat it accurately.  Compare the final version with your original message.