Attentive Listening


This is the first chapter from my (Michael Rost’s) Listening in Action, in which I explore four approaches to listening development.




Listening is an active process requiring participation on the part of the listener. Poor understanding results when listeners do not pay attention. Listeners may experience a lapse of attention for a variety of reasons: they may lose interest in the topic or the activity, they cannot keep up with what is going on, they have lost track of their goals for listening, or they are thinking too much about their own own response instead of concentrating on what is being said.

Attentiveness is a necessary condition for understanding. Therefore, you, as the teacher, must find listening activities that keep the students interested and attentive and that provide appropriate challenge. The activities in this section aim to help you develop your students’ attentiveness in three ways:

  1. by personalizingthe content of the listening activities– activities which are directed at the learners as persons and as active participants have a greater likelihood of maintaining the students’ interest and motivation;
  2. by keeping up a flow of the target language; by having the teacher use English (the target language) during activities, exclusively if possible; and
  3. by lessening the stressmany students may experience in listening activities if they feel they will be called upon to repeat or give detailed oral or written responses.

In this light, the key features of the activities in this section are:

  • teacher and students have face-to-face interaction 
  • the teacher uses immediate, visual, tangibletopics 
  • the teacher provides clear proceduresfor the learners
  • the teacher requires minimal use of written languageduring the activity
  • the learners listen in “short chunks” 
  • the learners give immediate and ongoing responses
  • the learners control the paceof the activity through their responses


There are eight basic activity outlines in this section. Most of the activities have variations which are alternative activities with similar instructional goals.

  1. Classroom language


  1. Demonstrations


  1. Music images


  1. Personal stories



  1. Questions, please!




  1. Who’s who?



  1. Listening skits


  1. Interview


While all of the activities are designed for classroom use, they all have direct links to activities outside of the classroom as well. Learners will recognize the links between these activities and “real world” activities such as:

  • giving and receiving instructions
  • watching documentary programs
  • interviewing and being interviewed
  • participating in social activities

By coming to participate successfully in the attentive listening exercises in this section, learners will be preparing for participation in these real-world activities as well.

All of the activities in this section are designed for use with students of all levels, from beginning level up to advanced. Activities such as DemonstrationsWho’s who? and Interview will be particularly useful for beginning students. However, students at intermediate and advanced levels will benefit more from these same listening activities provided that they are appropriately graded. In general, all of the attentive listening activities can be graded for more advanced students by:

  • increasing the pace of the activity
  • increasing the amount and complexity of the language “input”
  • following up the activities with opportunities for student production

For example, attentive listening activities such as Questions, please and Listening Skits, both based on stories, are readily adaptable to intermediate and advanced levels by (1) providing a time limit for the activity, (2) making the “input stories” more complex, and (3) using follow-up activities in which the students compose their own stories and skits.

Your students should find that the activities in this section “easy” in that they make few demands on language production (speaking and writing). Especially for learners who have had little exposure to spoken English for communicative purposes, these attentive listening activities may provide learners with the necessary first step for communicative language development.


Attentive Listening #1

Classroom language

Level: Elementary and above, depending on input

Students: All ages

Groups: Whole class

Purpose: Provide “listener phrases” for use during all classroom exercises 

Text type: Teacher’s prepared instructions 

In this activity…


The students learn clarification questions that can be used in the classroom during any speaking or listening activity.



  1. Find several large sheets of paper to post on the walls of the classroom.
  2. At the top of each sheet, write these headings (or appropriate paraphrases) :
  • If you don’t understand someone…
  • If you want to interrupt someone …
  • When you are working together in groups…
  • When you need something…
  • When you want to tell the teacher something…
  • When you want to ask the teacher something…
  1. Under each heading, write two or three useful phrases. Think of phrases that you would like the learners to be able to use for each function or in each setting. The list need not be exhaustive, merely a starter. You can add to it in class, as different needs for expressions come up.

Possible starters are:

If you don’t understand, …

* Excuse me, (Mr. Bradley,) I have a question about this.

* I’m sorry. I didn’t catch the part about ( … )

* Did you say ( … ) or ( … )?

* Sorry to interrupt, but …

In class

  1. At the beginning of class, post the sheets on the walls. Tell the students that these are some English expressions they can use in the class. Ask them if they know others.
  2. Stand by each sheet, and pronounce the sentences. Be sure the students have the general idea of what each means. Some students may want to repeat the phrases, to be more sure of how to say them.
  3. Quiz the students: What would you say if …(you didn’t understand something)? 
  4. During classroom activities, encourage the students to look to the charts if they need help saying something in English. (You may also wish to have the students copy the charts in their own notebooks.)


NOTE: Because using English as the classroom language may be new for many students, even the more advanced students may not be familiar with precise and appropriate ways to address the teacher, ask questions, manage conversations in group activities, and carry out other basic communicative functions. This type of introduction of phrases, while time-consuming at first, is worthwhile in the long run.


VARIATION 1.1: CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT. Post a list of the sentences that you will often use in the classroom for taking attendance, inquiring about absences, setting up activities, giving homework assignments, correcting errors, and giving advice. This overview of classroom functions may help the students catch on more quickly to English as the classroom language. Again, you will want to add to the list as new expressions come up during the course.



Consider trying these activities from this section of Listening in Action as a follow-up to this activity: 

Attentive Listening Demonstrations, Personal Stories, Who’s who?

Teacher’s Diary

How important is the students’ understanding of English for classroom management? Do your students seem to understand your directives and casual comments in English? Which of the expressions you posted seem most essential? 





Attentive Listening #2





Level: Elementary and above, depending on input

Students: All ages

Purpose: Develop ability to respond quickly to directives; listen for gist 

Text type: Teacher’s prepared instructions; recipes, directions


In this activity…


The students watch a demonstration of an action sequence. They demonstrate their understanding through participation, performing non-verbal actions or giving short verbal responses.



  1. Think of several activities that can be demonstrated to the class. Examples are daily activities such as preparing certain foods (making sandwiches, cooking omelettes, making instant noodles), special activities such as operating, repairing, or assembling a machine (taking apart a desk lamp to replace a wire, putting film in a camera, operating a remote-controlled toy car), unusual activities requiring special abilities, such as performing card tricks. Select several activities that can realistically be demonstrated in class, preferably with actual props. Groups of related activities are preferable — for example, three or four cooking activities or three or four assembling activities.


  1. List all the steps that are required for each activity that you will demonstrate. (For example, to make a cheese sandwich: (1) Take a loaf of bread from the shelf and put it on the counter. (2) Take a bread knife from the drawer. (3) Slice two pieces of bread…) Read the list aloud to yourself as you go through the sequence of actions. Have you left anything out? Prepare a sheet with the heading of each activity you will demonstrate in class. Number the sheet under each heading. Each number will represent one key step in the activity.


In class


  1. Using actual props or visual aids (if props are unavailable), prepare to demonstrate the first activity. Start by introducing the activity (for example, I’m going to show you how to make a cheese sandwich ). Indicate the necessary items and tell the students what they are called.. (You’ll need a a loaf of bread, cheese, a knife, and a plate. ) Tell the students how many steps you will expect them to recall — and mime — later.
  2. As you say each step in the activity, ask the students to perform the activity or mime it. Encourage the students to do the activity as you say it, not in advance. (In a large class, it may be more effective to have a small participant group and a large observer group, with alternating members in the participant group.)
  3. After you have directed the students through three or four action sequences, distribute the sheet with headings of the activities and the number of steps. Go back through each activity. Call out the number of the step and see if the students can recall it and mime it. Say the step again as the students are miming it. For beginning students, ask them to write down only the key verb for each step with a simple illustration. Intermediate students may be able to write out the full step.

VARIATION 2.1: LEADER SAYS. A popular children’s game that involves following commands is “Simon Says.” In this game, the children are to follow the directions only if the teacher prefaces the command with “Simon says”. (For example, “Simon says to touch your toes.”) As with all children’s language games, it is best to first get the children involved and actually doing the activity, and then to work on having them understand and follow the rules!


Follow-up options


  1. Ask questions about each demonstration. For beginning students, the questions might require only short answers: Do you ever eat sandwiches for lunch? Do you make them yourself? What do you like to put in them? Do you make them in the same way as we did today?
  2. Let some students demonstrate the activity to the class, narrating as they do it. Provide assistance, or have other students provide assistance, as necessary.
  3. Ask the students to prepare their own demonstrations of activities for the next class. Choose a theme such as “recipes”, “machines”, or “daily activities”. By using the same theme, similar vocabulary items will be repeated.



Consider trying these activities from other sections of Listening in Action as a follow-up to this activity: 

Interactive Listening Questions, please!

Selective Listening In order

Intensive Listening Alternates





Teacher’s Diary

Which demonstrations worked best? Where did the students have trouble? Were your directions too general? too specific? How would you revise the activity knowing what you do now? 




Attentive Listening #3

Music images

Level: Intermediate and Advanced

Students: Young adults 

Purpose: Develop visualization and imagination while listening 

Text type: Audio tape or video tape; songs 


In this activity …

Students listen to several music extracts and write down images they have as they listen.



  1. Find three to five musical pieces, preferably instrumental pieces without lyrics, that contrast in some way. Suggestions from teachers include the following:

Soundtrack: theme from “Born Free”

Soundtrack: theme from “Star Wars”

Soundtrack: theme from “Doctor Zhivago” (Lara’s Theme)

Beethoven: Piano concerto #5 (Emperor)

Ravel: Pavane for a dead princess

Debussy: The Sea (La Mer)

Fanshawe: African Sanctus

Shankar: Indian Ragas

Sumac: Chants of the Incas

Sowande: African Suite

Coltrane: My Favorite Things

Collins: Colors of the Day

Seeger: From a Child’s Heart

  1. Cue your audio tapes or compact disks at the extracts you will play for the students. Prepare to play about a one-minute extract from each piece.


In class 


  1. Have the students prepare a simple sheet with the titles of the extracts along the left column and space to write several words to the right. Make the purpose of the activity clear — simply to listen to music and note down images they have as they listen.
  2. Play each extract. After each extract, pause for about 30 seconds for the students to write down “images” they have as they listen. Encourage the students to jot down words and phrases freely, as many as come to mind. There should be no discussion and no consultation with peers at this point.
  3. After the last extract is finished, ask the students to come to the blackboard (or place sheets of paper on the walls) and write their image words under the title of each extract.
  4. Read out all of the image words to the class.
  5. Play the extracts one last time.

Note: This activity is useful for promoting responsiveness in class as all student responses are equally valid. By using this activity, you can demonstrate to students that all listening — not just “listening to language” — involves an element of appreciation and judgement.



VARIATION 3.1: SIMILAR TUNES. Play two extracts that are quite similar (for example, both instrumentals by the same instrument, both from the same country, both with the same tempo). After they hear both extracts, ask the students which they prefer. Why?


Follow-up options 


  1. Discuss the music. Which do you like best? Where did the extracts come from? Which would you like to listen to in your free time? 
  2. Ask the students to bring in their favorite music selections. Repeat this activity or a variation of it.



Consider trying these activities from other sections of Listening in Action as a follow-up to this activity: 

Selective Listening Sound Sequences

Intensive Listening Pair Dictation

Interactive Listening Listener Diary 

Teacher’s Diary

How did your students do? Did all of them participate? Was any part of the activity surprising to you or your students? Would it be useful for you to elicit students’ reactions and evaluations of classroom activities? 





Attentive Listening #4

Personal stories

Level: Elementary and above, depending on input

Students: Young adults and adults

Purpose: Develop longer attention span for listening;

promote ongoing interaction with the speaker 

Text type: Teacher’s prepared talk; visual aids 


In this activity …


The students listen to the teacher narrate some personal events. They ask questions for clarification and elaboration.


  1. Select some photographic slides related to your own life — your family, where you grew up, your school or university days, your travels, your hobbies. For purposes of simplifying the narration, it is best to choose several slides, with not too much visual information in any one slide. For instance, in showing slides of “your family”, one slide of each member individually may be better than a slide of the whole family. It is also interesting to show several slides of the same person or setting, each from a different perspective.
  2. Prepare an order of presentation and one or two short remarks for each slide. Set a maximum time limit for your “slide slow”, perhaps 15-20 minutes. If possible, rehearse your show. (And, of course, be sure that the slide projector works properly.)




In class


  1. Begin the “slide show” by showing the first slide and narrating. After the first few slides, the students will probably start asking you questions spontaneously.


Sample classroom segment 



Teacher: So here are some pictures of my family. This first slide (projected onto a screen or wall) is my father…This was taken about twenty years ago, when he was in his mid-forties. Here’s another slide of him. This is a more recent picture. He’s 66 years old now. The next slide is a shot of Del Monte Tomato Farms. That’s in central California. He worked there for 30 years…

Student 1: What was his job? 

Teacher: He worked in the canning section…





  1. After going through the slides, ask if there are any slides anyone would like to see again. Repeat those slides only, and expand upon the narration.

NOTE: By using personal stories, the depth of information and insight you have is virtually endless, so multiple rounds of elaboration and expansion will enrich the students’ understanding. Also, by using personal stories, you will increase the students’ interest, since most students do want to get know their teachers better.



VARIATION 4.1: JUST NARRATION. You can do this narration activity without photographs or slides, although beginning students benefit greatly from having the visual support and the structure that the “slide show” provides. Other topics for personal stories are: frightening or dangerous experiences you’ve had, travel experiences, coincidences, unusual or eccentric people you have known, your earlier jobs. If possible, bring in some visual support for each personal narration you plan (such as maps or brochures for travel stories) or make a simple sketch on the blackboard to provide visual cues.


VARIATION 4.2: VIDEO DOCUMENTARY. Prepare a voice-over documentary for some authentic video footage. Your narration can be a simplified account of the original narration from an authentic broadcast. The students take notes and later ask you questions, or answer your questions about the documentary.


Follow-up options


  1. Show the slides again. Stop and ask “quiz questions”: Do you remember who this is? Do you remember what this building is used for? Encourage the students to think out their answers first, not to call out their answers. Then at a cue from you, they tell their answers to their partners. This technique assures that all students have a chance to think of answers to the questions.
  2. Ask the students to prepare their own “photo” essay on a personal topic, such as “my home town”, “what I do in my free time”, “my family tree”.Select the best essays for display or oral presentation.



Consider trying these activities from other sections of Listening in Action as a follow-up to this activity: 

Interactive Listening Recounted stories 

Selective Listening That’s not right !




Teacher’s Diary

Was it difficult for you to tell “personal stories” to your students? What aspects of your story were the students most interested in? What other personal stories could you use for this activity? 








Attentive Listening #5

Questions, please!


Level: Elementary and above, depending on input

Students: All ages

Purpose: Develop quick interactions with a speaker; promote clarification exchanges 

Text type: Teacher’s prepared talk, stories




In this activity…


Students ask questions in order to elicit the telling of a story or the recounting of a news article.




  1. Find an anecdote or short story that will be appealing to your students. Learn the story yourself, not by heart, but so that you can tell it well.



  1. Think of several key words or phrases that will stimulate the students to ask questions to elicit the story. These are the “story cues”.




In class


  1. Tell the students that you know a story, but that they must ask you questions in order to “elicit” the story from you.
  2. Write the story cues — key words and phrases — on the blackboard. Encourage students to ask questions about these cues. (They may start simply by indicating a cue word and asking, “What’s this?”)
  3. When you answer the questions, you can decide to give only minimal information or to elaborate. This will depend on the willingness of the group to probe you with questions.

NOTE: This activity is most easily accomplished with stories having familiar rhetorical patterns, such as love stories and mystery stories. You might want to demonstrate the activity with a well-known story, such as Romeo and Juliet.


Sample classroom segment 


Teacher (writing on the chalkboard): Here are some phrases: China, Great Wall, Fang, Emperor, crow, colorful fish. These are phrases from my story. Please ask me questions to find out the story.


Student 1: Did the story happen in China?

Teacher: Yes. The story took place in China when the Great Wall was being built.

Student 2 (referring to phrases on chalkboard): Emperor? Who is the Emperor?
Teacher: The Emperor at that time was Si Wong. He was said to be very cruel. He forced all of the young, healthy men in the country to help build it.

Student 3: Fang? What is Fang? Is that a person? 

Teacher: Yes, that’s the name of a woman in the story. She was married toa man and this man was forced to go to build the Wall. She decided to go to find him since he was away from home so long. 

Student 4: Was the Wall far from her house?
Teacher: Very far. But still she decided to…

(from a traditional Chinese story called “The Faithful One”)

VARIATION 5.1: QUESTION PAUSES. Tell the story, stopping frequently to elicit questions from the students. Encourage them to ask you questions which will lead you on into the story (e.g. What did she do after that?) or to elaborate (e.g. What year did the story take place?).

VARIATION 5.2: INTERRUPTIONS. Tell a story. Encourage the students to interrupt you to ask questions about details. For example: Teacher:There once was a young woman who had two sisters. Student (interrupting): How old was she? Teacher: She was rather young, about 18 or 19 years old. 

VARIATION 5.3: STORY BOARDS. Children will benefit from stories most if you use vivid visual aids in the telling of your stories. Prepare some colorful background scenes (from paper or cardboard) and some eye-catching characters (attached to sticks) which you will manipulate in the scene as you tell the story. Stop frequently during the story to ask questions. Stories which lend themselves to story-board tellings include: The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Gingerbread Boy, Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Little Red Hen, The Three Little Pigs, The Riddle of the Drum.


Follow-up options


  1. Try the procedure again with a different story. Once the students are familiar with this procedure, they will tend to be more inquisitive during a second story.
  2. Retell the entire story, in its original scripted form. Even if it is a very literary tale in a written style, the students will be better equipped to understand it since they basically know the story from the questioning process.
  3. Ask the students to write out the story in chronological order.
  4. Present a script of the story with some mistakes (e.g. some character names are wrong, some events are out of sequence). Ask the students to correct the mistakes.



Consider trying these activities from other sections of Listening in Action as a follow-up to this activity: 

Interactive Listening Jigsaw stories

Selective Listening Story maps 

Intensive Listening Alternates

Teacher’s Diary

How did this activity work? Did this activity lead to a reversal of teacher and student “roles” (the teacher following the lead of the students) ? Which of the cues helped the students to generate questions most easily? What other stories or articles could you use for this activity? 




Attentive listening #6

Who’s who? 

Level: Intermediate and above 

Students: All ages

Purpose: Promote listening for detail; promote group interaction 

Text type: Teacher’s prepared instructions 




In this activity…


Students listen to directives and fill in a card to show their comprehension of the directives; as a follow-up the students guess who filled out each card.


  1. Write a list of questions to elicit personal information about the students: their occupations, background, interests, etc. You will use these questions to make directives for the upcoming task.
  2. Prepare a small “master sheet” with various shapes (lines, triangles, squares, dotted circles, solid circles, etc.) on it. Duplicate copies for the students.
  3. Prepare several “two-step directions”, each involving an “if”. By following the instructions correctly, the students will be giving clues (on their cards) about their identities. For example:

(1) Write your occupation on the card. If you are a male, write your occupation on the line in the top-left corner. If you are a female, write your name in the top-right corner. [Repeat] 

(2) What is your favorite food? Write this on the card. If you are sitting in the front of the class, write it inside the box in the middle. If you are sitting in the back of the class, write it outside the box. [Repeat] 


In class


  1. Distribute one sheet to each student. Introduce the necessary vocabulary for the shapes and locations of the shapes on the sheet. Tell the students that this is a “directions game”. They must listen very carefully to the directions. Each person’s directions are different.
  2. Read your “two-step instructions”, providing paraphrases and repetitions as necessary.

NOTE: Encourage the students to ask clarification questions if they don’t understand a direction. Encourage them to be as specific as possible when asking clarification questions. For example, the question “Should we write our name in the right or left box?” is a more specific clarification question than “Can you repeat the direction please?” These questions are probably more useful for language learning.

VARIATION 6.1: BLIP! To encourage clarification questions from the students, deliberately put in a fixed sound (a nonsense word such as “blip” or a cough) into a direction sequence. For example, Write your name in the “blip”. In order to understand the direction, the students will have to ask a question such as “Where?” or “Where do we write the name?” or “Please tell us where.”

VARIATION 6.2: EVENT SQUARES. Each student folds a sheet of paper into four squares. Each student writes one important event from their own lives on each square. All of the students’ squares are taken together and shuffled. Students take turns selecting a square and reading it aloud. The other students try to guess who wrote each event. If there are three wrong guesses, the person who wrote the square identifies himself or herself. If possible, the student who who wrote the event can elaborate a bit about it before the next student selects a new event square.


Follow-up options 


  1. Collect the cards, shuffle them, and distribute them randomly, one to each student. Repeat the directions. Can the students guess “who’s who?”
  2. Practice filling in various kinds of authentic forms (e.g. driver’s license applications) which call for personal information. Encourage the students to work quickly, asking you for clarification of questions on the form.





Consider trying these activities from other sections of Listening in Action as a follow-up to this activity: 

Interactive Listening Group survey

Selective Listening The contradiction game 

Intensive Listening Which was it? 

Teacher’s Diary

Were all of the students able to participate in this activity? In what way did the students help each other in this activity? Do you think that it is beneficial for students to help each other during a listening exercise? 




Attentive Listening #7

Listening skits 

Level: Intermediate and above, depending on input

Students: Young adults 

Purpose: Develop responsiveness to instructions; promote group interaction 

Text type: Teacher’s prepared instructions; drama




In this activity…


Students perform short skits while following the directives of the “skit director”.


  1. Compose a short skit involving three or four people. Think of a common setting, characters, and situation that is familiar to your students. For example, a restaurant (setting), two customers and a waiter (characters), ordering food (situation). Visualize the situation in detail and write a chronological list of the actions and lines that each character might have in the situation. Include detailed actions (for example:The waiter holds a pad of paper in his left hand and pencil in his right hand, as he asks in a nervous voice, “May I take your order?”).
  2. Re-write the list as a set of specific directives (For example,Waiter, pick up the order pad. Hold it in your left hand. Hold the pencil in your right hand. Adjust your apron. Is it on straight now? OK, now walk to the table. )Edit your list to make sure that each of the characters has an approximately equal number of actions to follow. Make sure the language is likely to be understood by your students when you say the directives.



  1. Assemble any props you need for the skit. Substitute available items for authentic items — a large book for the waiter’s tray, a notebook for the waiter’s order pad, etc.


In class


  1. Introduce the skit briefly: setting, characters, and situation. Tell the students the purpose of the activity — to listen for their directions in the skit.
  2. Select students who will be the characters in the skit. For the first skits, give the more reticent students non-speaking roles. Guide the students through the skit as you give the directives.
  3. Select a new group of students as characters. Guide these students through the skit, using variations in the steps (adding actions and routines, adding other lines for the characters to say).

NOTE: Many students may become quite “playful” during this activity. This playful attitude will help “break the ice” in classes in which the students do not know each other well. Of course, you will still want to make sure that the students “stay on task” — attending to directions and carrying out the skit cooperatively.


VARIATION 7.1: SCENES. Select an interesting scene from a video drama. Ask the students to write out the scene as “listening skit” directives. Use paraphrases for the characters’ lines rather than trying to transcribe exactly what the speakers say. Act out the scene in the “listening skit” format.



Follow-up options


  1. Ask the students to recall the skit and to write it themselves as a set of directions or as a past tense narrative.
  2. Duplicate the direction sheets for the students. Have them work in small groups to re-enact the skit, with one student in each group acting as director.



Consider trying these activities from other sections of Listening in Action as a follow-up to this activity: 

Interactive Listening Jigsaw stories

Selective Listening Sound skit 

Intensive Listening Say it again 




Teacher’s Diary

Did the students interact well with each other during the skits? Did the students suggest their own variations for the activity? Did the context (setting, props, predictable actions) assist the students’ comprehension? 




Attentive Listening #8


Level: Elementary and above, depending on input questions 

Students: Young adults and Adults

Purpose: Review fixed expressions; promote fluency in interactions

Text type: Teacher’s prepared questions 




In this activity…


The students are “interviewed” individually from a set of prepared topics and questions.


  1. Think of a set of topics that you and your students can easily talk about. Families? Food? Sports? Jobs? Recent events?
  2. Prepare a list of questions that you will ask the students, with a few possible variations for each question (e.g. How many people are in your family? Do you have a large family? Could you tell me something about the size of your family?)
  3. Duplicate the list of topics and questions for the students (this may be on OHP or chalkboard, or by photocopy).




In class


  1. Tell the students that you will be asking them about some of the given topics. Tell them that you will be using some of the given questions. Ask them to prepare both simple and expanded responses to the questions.
  2. Call on students in a random fashion. Ask them to select one of the topics they wish to talk about. Ask the questions you have previewed, but in a different order. You may add an occasional extra question for elaboration. Be sure to ask questions for which you do not already know the answer — this increases the communicative value of the activity.

NOTE: If the students are capable of talking more freely, consistently ask for elaboration on each question. Also encourage the students to provide additional information without being asked for elaboration.

VARIATION 8.1: FAMOUS PERSON. Ask each student to study some biographical facts of a famous person. When they are interviewed, the students answer as if they are that person.



Follow-up options:


  1. Have the students work in pairs or small groups. Repeat the procedure, with one student acting as interviewer.
  2. Tape record the “interviews”. In order to draw attention to certain grammatical forms (such as past tense) or discourse patterns (such as hesitation markers [“hmm” or “let me think”] while you think of what to say), transcribe parts of the interviews which feature learner problems in these areas.



Consider trying these activities from other sections of Listening in Action as a follow-up to this activity: 

Interactive Listening Self-introductions

Selective Listening Talk show 

Intensive Listening Add on 


Teacher’s Diary

Did the activity preparation help the students to predict and answer the questions easily? Did the activity structure help them to express themselves more readily? Did the activity become repetitious? If so, what could you have done to increase the vitality of the activity? 








About The Author

, Intensive Listening, Lateral Communications
Michael Rost, principal author of Pearson English Interactive, has been active in the areas of language teaching, learning technology and language acquisition research for over 25 years. His interest in bilingualism and language education began in the Peace Corps in West Africa and was fuelled during his 10 years as an educator in Japan and extensive touring as a lecturer in East Asia and Latin America. Formerly on the faculty of the TESOL programs at Temple University and the University of California, Berkeley, Michael now works as an independent researcher, author, and speaker based in San Francisco.

More Posts You May Find Interesting