Listening is an important component of learning. A student’s ability to effectively listen has a major impact on building the communication skills needed both inside and outside of school. If students do not understand what the other person is saying, then he/she will not know how to respond. Thus, it is indispensable to organize many listening activities for ESL students in the classroom.

In their book Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language, authors Murcia, Brinton, Snow and Bohlke offer the following listening activities and strategies that every ESL/EFL teacher can use in the classroom:

One-Way (Nonparticipatory) Listening Tasks

1. Listen and Restore

Skills: Listening for global understanding; listening for details

Product: An amended text in print

Materials: Different types of listening texts, such as narratives and information reports; the transcript of a text with incorrect details.


  1. Students work individually or in pairs to read the printed text.
  2. They discuss the gist of the text and listen to the text once.
  3. When they listen again, they correct the details in the written texts by changing, adding, or deleting words.

2. Listen and Sort

Skills: Listening for main ideas; listening for details

Product: A rearranged sequence of text or pictures.

Materials: A text that describes a sequence, a procedure, a chronological even, or items in ranked order; set of jumbled up text and/or pictures.


  1. Students work in pairs to examine jumbled up texts or pictures.
  2. They discuss what the text might be about and sort the texts/pictures according to their speculations.
  3. They listen to the text and use the information to sequence the texts/pictures.

3. Listen and Compare

Skills: Listening for main ideas; listening for details

Product: A list of similarities and differences

Materials: Several short texts that have a common theme or topic.


  1. Students listen individually to the text and identify similarities and differences.
  2. They compare their answers with another student to confirm what they have identified.
  3. The class listens to the text again and check their answers.


4. Listen and Match

Skills: Listening for global understanding

Product: Texts matched to themes

Materials: Several short texts that have different themes; theme cards (small cards with a single word written on each one, e.g., recycling, marriage, health). Note: Teachers should prepare more theme cards than the number of texts.


  1. The teacher asks that students understand the meaning of words in the theme cards.
  2. Students listen individually to the texts and identify the most appropriate theme for each text.

5. Listen and Combine

Skills: Listening for main ideas; listening selectively

Product: A combined summary based on information from different sources

Materials: A fairly long text (e.g., a news broadcast, narrative or procedure) divided into several parts


  1. Students listen to one part of the text individually.
  2. They make notes of what they hear.
  3. In small groups, they report to one another and reconstruct a summary form of the original text.

6. Listen and Compose

Skills: Listening and predicting; listening and making inferences.

Product: The beginning or conclusion of a text

Materials: A narrative text (e.g., a short story) with either the beginning or the end missing


  1. Students listen to the text in pairs or in small groups.
  2. They discuss what the text is about and what the missing part should be like.
  3. They write the missing part and a representative reads the part aloud to the rest of the class.

7. Listen and Evaluate

Skills: Listening for details; listening and making inferences (depending on the criteria for evaluation)

Product: A list of items based on their relative merits

Materials: Several short texts on a common theme or topic


  1. Students listen to the text individually and assess the information or message based on predetermined criteria, such as clarity, interest level, accuracy and effectiveness.
  2. In groups, they explain their choices.

8. Listen and Reconstruct

Skills: Listening for global understanding; listening for main ideas; listening for details

Product: A text that is reconstructed based on the content of the original text

Materials: A short text (e.g.,  an information report, procedures, or exposition of a viewpoint)


  1. Students listen individually to the text once.
  2. They listen to it again and take notes of key content words or key points in a text (e.g., problems, solutions, and recommendations).
  3. They use their notes to produce a text that is close in meaning to the original one.


Two-Way  (Participatory) Listening Tasks

9. Dictate and Complete

Skills: Listening for details; listening seletively

Product: A restored and complete text

Materials: Different types of listening texts (e.g., narratives and information reports); versions A and B of the text with blanks inserted in different parts of the text


  1. Students read their version of the incomplete text individually.
  2. They take turns dictating their version without showing it to their partners. Listeners must ask for clarification and repetition where necessary.
  3. They write down the missing words in their version of the text.

10. Describe and Draw

Skills: Listening for main ideas; listening for details

Product: Pictures, maps, sketches and objects

Materials: Pictures of scenery and objects, plans and maps


  1.  Students work in pairs, with one of them describing the content of a picture.
  2. The other student draws it or completes a similar picture that is incomplete.
  3. Listeners must ask for clarification and repetition where necessary.

11. Simulate and Discuss

Skills: Listening for global understanding; listening for details; listening and inferring;

Product: Views and recommendations

Materials: Cards with scenarios for simulations, roles, or statements of a problem and an issue and the required outcome, such as a set of recommendations


    1. Students form small groups to discuss a problem or an issue in the simulation.
    2. A moderator or the chairperson in the simulation is assigned to ask questions, elicit views, challenge assumptions, and clarify understanding.
    3. Students in their respective roles listen to one another’s views, make notes, respond to views, and seek clarification.
    4. They agree on a set of outcomes following the discussion.

12. Take notes and Clarify

Skills: Listening for global understanding; listening for details; listening and making inferences

Product: A set of notes; a list of questions for clarifying understanding of the content

Materials: Presentations by students or guest speakers


  1. Students listen to presentations and take notes.
  2. They review their notes and prepare some questions about the content of the presentation to the presenter.

What do you think of these activities? Let us know in the comments!

Author: Melchor Bernardo

Students call me Teacher Mel. After quitting law school, I moved to Vietnam to be with my first love – teaching English! This website is a bit of a copy of my teaching styles and philosophy. I live by the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

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2 comments on “12 Listening Activities for ESL Students

  1. Anonymous on said:

    Thanks a lot! It’s very useful and helpful. You do a good job.

  2. Thanks alot very creative and useful.

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