Forum Cover Image
English Teaching Forum 2015, Volume 53, Number 1
Forum has a new look, but its purpose remains the same: to support the teaching of English around the world through the exchange of innovative, practical ideas. English Teaching Forum now features articles from six different categories: Articles, Teaching Techniques, My Classroom, Try This, The Lighter Side, and a Reader's Guide.

Below are descriptions of all six sections in this issue of Forum:

ARTICLES provide practical, innovative ideas for teaching English, based on current theory.

READER’S GUIDE corresponds to the articles in each issue and can guide your own understanding as well as discussions with colleagues.

TEACHING TECHNIQUES give English teachers the opportunity to share successful classroom practices.

MY CLASSROOM focuses on one teacher’s classroom and describes ways that the teaching environment shapes learning.

TRY THIS gives step-by-step instructions for carrying out language-learning activities in your classroom.

THE LIGHTER SIDE features an English language–based puzzle that can be photocopied and given to students to solve individually or collaboratively.

Format: Text

Table of Contents

Practical Tips for Increasing Listening Practice TimeExpand

Now I will do nothing but listen ... 
–Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Learning a language—like learning to dance ballet, weave carpets, or play the saxophone—takes time and practice. In general, it’s safe to say that the more practice you get, the better you will become. That’s how I feel about understanding a foreign language, too. The more listening practice you get, the better you understand the language.

The problem is that students get little dedicated listening practice in their classes—and in some cases, they get almost none. The reasons are many. Teachers lack materials or equipment. They think their classrooms are too noisy or crowded. They value speaking, reading, grammar, or vocabulary over listening. Their curricula are driven by standardized tests without a listening component. 

But the main reason is a perception of what listening practice is and is not. In a poll of 254 teachers from 40 countries, 84 percent felt that “any time the teacher is speaking to students in English it is a listening task” (McCaughey 2010). Now, it is true that students will get exposure to English through teacher talk. But it begs the question: If teachers assume students get listening anyway, why bother to design listening-specific activities?

This article will, I hope, help teachers of English reconsider how we think about listening tasks. It will provide guidance for increasing classroom listening practice through short, dedicated listening tasks. The emphasis is not on the science or theory of processing language—many other articles cover that—but on the practical business of setting up and “class-managing” listening activities in order to give students more practice. 

Implementing new listening tasks is easy if we keep in mind five tips:

  1. Students Do During
  2. See It
  3. Keep It Short
  4. Play It Again
  5. Change It Up

Before we advance to a detailed explanation of these tips, we need to examine a slippery notion, one that you may have objected to when you first read it a few paragraphs above: that “students get little dedicated listening practice in their classes—and in some cases, they get almost none.” Unfortunately, as I will explain next, there is a lot of not listening happening.

Not listening

The last teacher-training workshop I attended on the subject of listening actually provided a good illustration of not listening. After a lecture on pre-listening, while-listening, and post-listening, the trainer offered a demonstration. He played the role of teacher while we participants were students. The notes I wrote on the structure of the lesson appear in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Listening demonstration lesson

At first glance, this looks like a classic listening lesson, well-organized and varied. Participating teachers enjoyed it, too. The topic of animals was appealing. We were not overburdened with grammar. And the guessing game, featuring the realia of toys in a bag, was a fun surprise. Neither participants nor trainer doubted that the primary focus of this lesson was listening. After all, the while-listening task took a central position.

I had a stopwatch, too, and timed each segment of the lesson. The result, shown in Figure 2, offers a different picture of what actually happened during the lesson.

Figure 2. Timed segments of the listening demonstration lesson

One minute of listening was supported by 23 minutes of not listening activities.

You might contend that the other tasks supported the central listening segment. Maybe. But those tasks did not target listening practice. Or you might argue that there were elements of listening in Steps 1 and 2 of the pre-listening portion of the lesson because students would need to understand the teacher to form responses. And maybe there were some listening elements. But what if students did not understand? There was no provision for that. The teacher took verbal answers from volunteers and moved on. The teacher could not gauge exactly who understood or identify or help those who did not. 

If the participants of this demonstration lesson had been students and not teachers, perhaps the trainer might have played the audio two or three times. That’s an improvement, but even so, pre-listening and post-listening time dominated the lesson.

The question is: How much preparation does a 65-second audio warrant? If our goal is to increase listening practice, the answer should be “Very little.” Usually, even within portions of class devoted to listening, actual listening gets short shrift. 

Figure 3 is a quiz of sorts that you and fellow language teachers can take individually and then discuss. In the quiz, you will see descriptions of activities. Decide whether each activity offers true listening practice or whether it requires students to spend most of their time on some other skill such as vocabulary, grammar, or writing. Discuss answers with colleagues and think about how you give students listening practice in your classes. My answers to the quiz appear in the Appendix, though you are free to disagree.

Figure 3. A “quiz” for discussion on what constitutes real listening practice

Preparing for the listening task

I have heard experienced trainers say that “No listening exercise is too difficult if there is enough pre-listening.” What they mean is that, with enough scaffolding and language support prior to listening, learners can understand difficult or long audio texts. It’s a sensible dictum—but sneakily anti-listening. It tells us that students succeed at listening tasks if they have lots of not listening. 

Is vocabulary preparation critical for understanding an audio text? Sometimes. But vocabulary preparation is not listening. What about a game that uses core ideas from the listening text? Not listening, either. What if, in the middle of an audio, you encounter the natural surfacing of the past perfect progressive tense—something you had just introduced to your class the week before? Isn’t that the perfect opportunity to review? Maybe. But then you are no longer focused on listening skills. The common goals of pre-listening—“activating prior knowledge, making predictions, and reviewing key vocabulary” (Richards 2005, 87)—are valuable in supporting listening activities, but they are not listening practice themselves.

And yet, in a poll of 118 teachers from more than 25 countries, 31 percent considered that in a listening task, the largest chunk of time should be devoted to pre-listening (McCaughey 2010). Another 9 percent chose post-listening. A significant 40 percent, then, did not consider while-listening the most important part of a listening task! 

As some have pointed out (Cauldwell 2014; Field 2002), teachers often see listening as serving other language-learning goals. That idea prompted Nunan to refer to listening as the “Cinderella skill ... all too often ... overlooked by its elder sister—speaking” (2002, 238).

We need to think in terms of listening for the sake of listening practice. We must not label a segment of the English class listening just because the teacher talks in English. We should realize that when we use a listening text as a springboard for activities we are more comfortable with, like discussions, vocabulary practice, writing, or grammar, students are not getting the actual listening practice they may need.

Listening-specific goals

A dedicated listening task focuses on listening goals. A goal might be understanding the text—in part or as a whole. It might be focusing on global gist or on discrete elements like single phrases. We do not need to follow up with writing or speaking in order to justify the listening task. Listening for the sake of practice is a reasonable goal. 

When I observe a listening activity in a classroom, it usually follows this pattern: students listen to a complete audio text and afterwards answer comprehension questions posed by the teacher. (In the past, I did listening tasks this way, too.) This model is probably based on how we use written texts for reading comprehension: read the article and answer the questions. But listening texts, unlike the written word, do not remain unmoving in front of our eyes; listening texts move past our ears in real time. The student doesn’t have the opportunity to go back, review a sentence, or look up a word in the dictionary. Answering comprehension questions after an audio is mostly a test of memory. The focus is on outcome, on “product rather than process,” and ignores the specific difficulties students may have experienced during the actual listening phase (Field 1998, 111). 

Listening-specific goals can address difficulties of understanding as they are happening. They can deal with utterances, specifically tackling differences in oral and written language like hesitations, false starts, pauses, background noise, variable speed, and variable accent (Rost 2002, 171). Our dedicated listening tasks might also draw attention to reduced forms and connected speech that occur naturally when speakers drop consonants (Wednesday = Wenzday), leave off endings (going = goin), or blend sounds together (that will = that’ll). Brown and Kondo-Brown (2006, 2) have identified nine of these processes: “word stress, sentence stress and timing, reduction, citation and weak forms of words, elision, intrusion, assimilation, juncture, and contraction.” There’s no reason that most students—or even most teachers—need to know these terms or how to differentiate between the processes. But students will benefit from repeated exposure to examples. They will see that words are often not pronounced the way they are spelled and that their pronunciation changes at times, even when spoken by a single person. The language teacher—like any teacher—shouldn’t shelter students from reality.

For instance, in my classes I have used an audio recording of my father telling a story. In the first sentence, he uses the word probably. Except he doesn’t actually say probably. He says prolly. Sometimes students have to listen a few times to hear this, and they express surprise that a word can lose two separate “b” sounds and one full syllable, yet still be comprehensible. And if one speaker pronounces a word one way once, it doesn’t mean the same speaker will pronounce it the same way the next time. Most English students are familiar with gonna, a reduced blend of “going to.” (Gonna appears often in writing.) My wife, a non-native speaker of English, pointed out to me that when I say “I’m going to,” it comes out as “I’m unna” [ajm ʊnə], with the “g” disappearing entirely. And yet teachers should not get the idea that they are promoting slang or dialects in pointing out features of connected speech, for “it is commonly used in all registers and styles. Even the most formal pronunciation of a language will typically contain some aspects of these phenomena” (Brown and Kondo-Brown 2006, 5).

Is it any wonder that students express difficulty in understanding English speech outside their classroom environments?

Pointing out the aberrations of spoken language—or better yet, letting students discover them through our guidance—is a shortcut toward understanding authentic speech: 

When second-language learners learn some new element of a language, at first they have to pay conscious attention and think about it; that takes time, and their use of it is slow. But as the new element becomes more familiar, they process it faster, with less thought, until eventually the processing of that element becomes completely automatic. (Buck 2001, 7)

We want to put our students on the road to that automatic processing. Is it frustrating for students that language doesn’t conveniently bend to the rules written in their textbooks? It might be. But according to Brown (2006), students enjoy learning about reduced forms because it’s new information. In my own experience, I’ve found that students treat the discovery of, say, an elision or glide that suddenly makes two words comprehensible as a kind of secret key to unlocking mysteries of the language and putting them ahead in the learning game. And the bottom line is that students feel good about understanding authentic English.

Five tips for increased listening practice

At this point, we should have two key ideas foremost in our minds:  

  • First, many activities we do in the course of a listening lesson are actually not listening
  • Second, we can increase listening practice by including simple activities with listening-specific goals.

The five tips below will make the design and setup of listening practice in the classroom easy and effective.

1. Students Do During

A good listening task is one with “active responses occurring during, or between parts of, the listening passage, rather than at the end” (Ur 1984, 4). In fact, a great model for a listening task is the children’s game Simon Says. In Simon Says, one person (in a classroom setting, usually the teacher) gives commands:  

Simon says, “Put your hands on your head.”  

Simon says, “Lower your hands to your sides.”

Simon says, “Lift your left leg.”  

Students follow these commands bodily. They do this while listening, or to be more precise, in those spaces between spoken commands. The actions are an immediate response to the spoken word. I call this kind of task a “do-during” task because students need to do something during the listening portion of the activity. (Full instructions for how to play Simon Says can be found in a video at Many audio texts—especially those where the teacher’s voice is the audio source—can easily be paused or segmented, so that students respond immediately. Take, for example, a picture dictation.

Picture dictation

Each student, working with a blank piece of paper, has a pencil or colored pen or marker. The teacher dictates instructions one by one, and students draw accordingly:

Teacher: We are going to draw a monster. We just learned the word lopsided, right? Draw a big lopsided circle near the top of your paper. ... Okay, give your monster two big eyes. ... Give your monster two large ears. ... Now put an earring in his left ear. … Good. Let’s give our monster very curly hair. ...

We can sense the natural pauses here as the teacher walks around the room, observing the progress of every student. Again, students are responding immediately, during the listening activity.

Sound-clip dictation

This Students Do During principle also applies to writing or dictation that is based on listening. In the following case, I’ve taken a single sentence, one of the most famous lines in American film, spoken by the actor Marlon Brando in 1972’s The Godfather:

I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.

The teacher can voice the sentence, of course, but such authentic sound bites are easy to find online (on, for instance, or search for “movie sound clips”). And with a recording, you can play it again and again as a loop, giving students lots of exposure to the language. Students write while they listen.

Single-sentence gap fill

Using another single-sentence text, you could pinpoint attention on reduced speech. Write the following gap fill on the board:

(1) _________ be great if (2) __________ get it done early this year.

Next, play a recording of the sentence or read it as many times as necessary. Repeating the audio many times is not a problem—it’s just three seconds long—and students may need the repetition to figure out what’s missing, especially since the missing words do not sound the way they look in writing.

The missing words are (1) It’d and (2) we could. (Who says only one word can be missing in a blank?) In this authentic audio, (1) It’d is pronounced [ɪdəd] to rhyme with lidded, and (2) we could is pronounced [wikəd]. 

Many students, even advanced students, are not aware of the contraction it’d. But after this short listening task, they will be, and catching it in a natural conversation will start to become automatic.

2. See It

In the above activities, the key is that Students Do During: whether they are moving their bodies, drawing, writing, or gap-filling, students react immediately to the listening text. The great advantage to this arrangement is that no matter what the students are doing, the teacher can See It every step of the way. The teacher sees exactly who understands and who doesn’t, which groups are fast and which are slow, who is struggling and who needs an extra challenge, and what everyone understands and perhaps what no one understands. The teacher can actually discern student comprehension and measure progress in real time.

Let’s return to Simon Says to test whether the See It principle applies. The teacher says, “Simon says, ‘Stand on one leg.’” The teacher can see who in the class understands because those students are standing on one leg. The game features built-in discernible comprehension. True, some students look at others and imitate what they are doing, but the teacher sees that, too. (Fix that problem, by the way, by having students wear blindfolds or close their eyes.)

Follow the map

For another example, let’s take a map activity. Students receive a handout of a simple city map and have it in front of them. Each student gets a paper clip or some other small object to represent his or her car. The teacher gives oral instructions:

You are in the parking lot on Monkey Street. ... Turn left on Javelina Street. …  Go two blocks to Giraffe Park. …

The teacher walks around the room while giving the instructions and can see whether students’ cars are at the right place at every stage, thus being able to help those who need it. And if all students seem to be following instructions with ease, the teacher can add a little more challenge, speeding up the language or offering more complex directions:

Now make a U-turn, go two blocks, and turn right. Do you see the Little Cat Café? Don’t stop there; keep going until you get to Old King Mighty Food—it’s a huge grocery store right before the river.

Seeing answers

You can improve any question-and-answer task by applying the See It idea—for instance, when you ask questions about an audio text or about a reading text, or even when you ask for students’ opinions. Resist the temptation to ask students to raise their hands to answer. This tends to give an artificial picture of student participation. The same students tend to answer, and we have no idea how to gauge whether those who don’t raise their hands understand.

Instead, distribute to each student two small squares of paper, one green and one red. Ask Yes/No questions or give True/False statements. For each Yes/No question, every student responds by raising one of the colored papers: green for “Yes” and red for “No.” Adding a third paper, a white square to mean “I’m not sure,” is even better. It allows students to take part while admitting they do not have an answer yet. The teacher can spare these students stress by not calling on them or asking them follow-up questions. A large number of “I’m not sure” squares are a signal that students need to listen to the text again.

The See It tactic works with all sorts of questions, not just Yes/No questions. Try asking personal opinion questions to the entire class, with each student signaling an answer through movement. 

Teacher: Stand up if you like ice cream.

Sit down.

Stand up if your favorite color is blue.

Sit down.

Stand up if you drank tea this morning.

Sit down.

Try Yes/No questions the next day. Tell students to stand up for a “Yes” answer. 

Teacher: Are you 38 years old?  

Is today Tuesday?

Am I wearing glasses?

Do you like eating snakes?

Do you like rainy weather?

Are the windows open?

Is Shanghai the capital of China?

The next day, mix things up: tell students to stand up for a “No” answer.

You can even practice grammar forms in listening. Here is an example where students are required to understand and differentiate between events associated with certain times—in this case, present perfect vs. simple past structures. A warning, though: avoid the trap of naming or explaining the grammar. Once that happens, you are no longer doing a listening activity. 

Who has had coffee before?

Who bought a coffee somewhere yesterday?

Who had coffee this morning?

Who hasn’t had any coffee this week?

Who has tried iced coffee?

Who has never had iced coffee?

Who had iced coffee this morning?

Who didn’t have iced coffee this morning?

We can also introduce variability into student responses. Write guidelines on the board:

And we can easily go beyond Yes/No questions. Here is a guideline for responding to questions of “How often ... ?”:

How often do you brush your teeth in the morning?

How often do you go swimming on weekends?

How often do you see monkeys on your way to school?

These simple tasks, led by the teacher and with virtually no preparation, can considerably increase student listening time. Students give responses during listening, and teachers can discern who understands throughout.

3. Keep It Short

For most of the above activities, the teacher is the source of the audio. Thus, the teacher can provide pauses for students to do something during the activities. But often, you will want to use recordings, too. The Internet offers a practically unlimited source of audio files, many of which are free.

It’s best to work with very short audios. By “short” I mean from a few seconds in length up to a minute. What are the advantages of using short audios? Short audios mean short activities. Short activities require little preparation. You don’t need to make handouts. You can write a gap fill on the board. You can dictate. Short activities are easy to squeeze into the class schedule. And there’s even a benefit to classroom discipline. Short audios get students to quiet down and focus. They shush each other so as not to miss the beginning. They are like 50-meter sprinters, bracing themselves and cocking their heads to hear the starting gun. They know that there is little chance that a 10-second audio will bore them.

All these benefits make short audios low-risk, too. If an activity based on a 20-second audio goes wrong, there’s little harm done. But if a long-audio activity (say, one that is based on a 10-minute speech) goes wrong, the teacher has wasted a lot of time—the teacher’s own and the students’. For Scrivener (2005, 176), “[t]wo minutes of recorded material is enough to provide a lot of listening work,” while Rost (2002, 145) reminds us of the “well-known limitations to short-term memory that occur after 60 to 90 seconds of listening.” Lewis and Hill (1985) put the concentration of lower-level students at about 20 seconds. For the average teacher, this is great news: preparing short audio takes very little time.

Some secondary-school students may be preparing for university classes where they will listen to long lectures in English. Your short activities will help them, too. Just increase the level of difficulty by finding audios that are faster or that contain more complex vocabulary. These activities will build confidence, give students practice with authentic spoken language, and increase students’ awareness of reduced forms.

4. Play It Again

In the summer of 2003, I was studying Russian in the United States. My teacher played a Russian song in class one day. She had prepared a gap fill with about 12 words missing. It was exciting because as a teacher myself I had used songs hundreds of times, but this was, amazingly, my first time experiencing a gap-fill song as a learner.

I wrote down missing words as the song played. But I couldn’t write them all; there just wasn’t time. When the song ended, we checked answers. The teacher called on me once. That was for a word I just didn’t happen to catch—one of the two words I’d missed. Somehow that didn’t feel fair. The teacher—who was actually wonderful—had decided to play the song only once, perhaps because it was four minutes long and playing it again might have seemed like a waste of class time. Playing the audio just once, though, was a mistake. It meant that none of us had a chance to succeed at the task as it was designed, to understand and fill in all the missing words. It is too bad we didn’t repeat the song, perhaps playing it in segments and repeating certain lines multiple times. 

Most trainers and course books recommend playing an audio two or three times. Sometimes that’s enough. But a better rule of thumb is to play the audio (or speak it) as many times as the students need in order to succeed at the task. That is another benefit of keeping it short: you can play or speak the audio again and again, and students can succeed at the task, without a huge investment of class time.

Longer audios can—as we’ve mentioned—always be segmented, turned into short audios. These segments can be played over and over. All the while, students should have specific tasks, something to do during the audio, and that enables the teacher to monitor progress and comprehension. Everybody wins.

5. Change It Up

Increasing the variety of our audio sources will make bringing more listening to the class easy. Below are some of the choices you will make when selecting an audio.

Recorded audios or teacher’s voice?

The teacher’s voice is a great audio source. Give your students a do-during task, and then provide them with content: read a newspaper headline, recite a short poem, or sing a song. Audio recordings work well, too, and thousands are available for free on the Internet. Sources for freely downloadable audible content include American English (, English Teachers Everywhere (, BBC Learning English (, and sources mentioned in the sections below.

Non-authentic or authentic texts?

Non-authentic texts are designed for learners of English, not for native speakers. Voice of America’s Special English recordings ( are read at two-thirds normal speed and are, thus, not authentic. When a teacher reads a dictation to the class, this is also non-authentic. It is not a natural form of communication; it is an exercise to learn English. However, non-authentic recordings are useful: their clarity and limited vocabulary allow students to understand large chunks of English. 

Outside the classroom, authentic texts are much more common. These are real, natural communications, intended for purposes beyond English learning. A radio advertisement to sell soap is authentic because the goal is to sell a product, not to teach English. A conversation in English in a café is also authentic.

Teachers should not avoid using authentic texts just because they have low-level students or because they think authentic texts are too difficult. The teacher’s task is to design the listening activity so that students will succeed, whatever the text. Keeping that text short will almost always help.

Scripted or unscripted texts?

We can make a further distinction among authentic texts. Some are scripted (or written), while others happen spontaneously. The dialogue in a TV show or film is usually scripted. So are the lyrics to songs. These scripted texts are still authentic, though, since they are created for entertainment and not for language learning. 

Unscripted language develops spontaneously, like the conversations you have every day with friends and family. Interview responses are usually unscripted. The interviewee may have a general plan but is not reading the answers. It is in unscripted language where we find the most examples of reduced speech, and so it is important that we provide our students the opportunity to experience and decipher these potential points of frustration. A good source for free unscripted audios is the English Language Listening Lab Online ( 

Native speakers or non-native speakers?

Listen to CNN or BBC news and you will hear reporters from Scotland, Abu Dhabi, South Africa, and Argentina, among other places. Your students, if they travel, are more likely to encounter other second-language English speakers than native English speakers (Graddol 2006). Non-native English speech can be as authentic as native English speech. Students need to hear a variety of English accents and dialects. They do not need repeat-after-the-audio drills, though; reproducing dozens of accents is not the goal. Instead, listening practice that leads toward understanding the broad array of 21st-century Englishes is the goal. If anything, we as teachers should probably increase listening practice from non-native-speaking sources. Even more than a decade ago, in 2004, 74 percent of 750 million international travelers were non-native English speakers traveling to non-English-speaking countries (Graddol 2006). What does that tell us about sticking only to native English models of speech?

Furthermore, native English itself is full of dialects. Give students variety. Expose them to a wide range of English. Let them understand that English does not have one single correct form. This exposure may have the added benefit of letting students realize that their own variety of English is perfectly legitimate and has a rightful place in the world of communication.

Overcoming barriers

I hope I have convinced you that adding listening activities to the class hour need not be difficult. But I realize that for many, there are obstacles. The curriculum, for instance, is packed. Teachers may have little time to add anything. In this case, think small; think short. Reminder: an audio text can be a few seconds long. Dictate a single sentence now and then.

For other teachers, the problem is technical. They have no audios, no CD player or cassette player—or they have one, but the class is just too huge and noisy for students to hear the audio. There are possible solutions here. Use your voice as the audio source. Bring in a guest. Is there a video player at school? Use that for audio only. Ask your school to purchase an MP3 player, or borrow one from somebody. Take the students to the computer lab. Or use your phone; today many cell phones can play audio files. Of course, they won’t be audible to the whole class, so change the arrangement: bring the students to the audio source. Create a listening station in the corner of the class where a few students at a time rotate in to listen. Whatever solution you find, keeping the audios short and making sure students have a task to complete when they listen are the keys to productive listening practice.


Many students of English eventually travel abroad, where they are shocked to discover how unprepared they are for understanding real speech—whether native or non-native English. A teacher who attended one of my training workshops had had that experience: “After studying English for many years,” she said, “I was able to understand only my teachers, nobody else.”

Comments like that one are evidence that students are not getting the listening practice they deserve. So often, we are sidetracked from listening goals and drift back towards the familiar safety of teaching vocabulary and grammar. We need more listening for the sake of listening. We need to give students practice. We need to give them while-listening practice. And it can be easy to do. Keep audios short. Let listeners respond right away. Make sure their responses are visible; make sure that you can discern how much they understand and can measure the progress they make. Take advantage of the huge variety of listening texts available on the Internet.

Keep in mind how important it is to have your students “do nothing but listen.” You can, of course, keep teaching vocabulary, writing, reading, and speaking. But don’t let those activities steal from the listening portion of class.


Brown, J. D. 2006. Authentic communication: Whyzit importan’ ta teach reduced forms? In Authentic communication: Proceedings of the 5th Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference, Shizuoka, Japan, 13–24.

Brown, J. D., and K. Kondo-Brown. 2006. Introducing connected speech. In Perspectives on teaching connected speech to second language speakers, ed. J. D. Brown and K. Kondo-Brown, 1–16. University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa: National Foreign Language Research Center.

Buck, G. 2001. Assessing listening. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cauldwell, R. 2014. Grasping the nettle: The importance of perception work in listening comprehension. Developing

Field, J. 1998. Skills and strategies: Towards a new methodology for listening. ELT Journal 52 (2): 110–118. 

–––. 2002. Listening in language learning. In Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice, ed. J. C. Richards and W. A. Renandya, 242–247. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Graddol, D. 2006. English Next. British Council. 

Lewis, M., and J. Hill. 1985. Practical techniques for language teaching. 2nd ed. Hove: Language Teaching Publications.

McCaughey, K. 2010. What makes a great listening task. Shaping the way we teach English webinar 1.1. U.S. Department of State: Office of English Language Programs.

Nunan, D. 2002. The changing face of listening. In Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice, ed. J. C. Richards and W. A. Renandya, 238–241. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J. C. 2005. Second thoughts on teaching listening. RELC Journal 36 (1): 85–92.

Rost, M. 2002. Teaching and researching listening. New York: Pearson Education ESL. 

Scrivener, J. 2005. Learning teaching: A guidebook for English language teachers. 2nd ed. Oxford: Macmillan.

Ur, P. 1984. Teaching listening comprehension. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Appendix: Answer Key to “Quiz” on What Constitutes Real Listening Practice

Note:  These answers are the opinion of the author and are not definitive.

1. Yes. It’s a type of dictation. Students are writing down words that they hear. Writing is involved, but the primary emphasis is on listening. It sounds like fun, too! Besides, students will need to practice listening while there’s lots of noise around. That happens in real life. This task might not be the greatest listening task ever invented, but it’s worth doing now and then. We like variety.

2. Yes. This is a picture dictation. Students must listen and understand, and they immediately draw. It’s a useful comprehension task.

3. No. Students are working on vocabulary. They are not actively engaged in any listening.

4. Sort of. Students listen closely and write the missing words simultaneously. I say “sort of” here because when there is a lot of text, students are likely to rely primarily on their reading skills. Sort-of listening activities are okay sometimes—as long as we have a lot of variety and are also doing true listening activities.

5. No. This is reading and enunciation practice. Does one student truly listen (and do something) while the other reads? I say no.

6. Sort of. Students may get some listening practice here. Or they may understand almost nothing. It really depends on how the teacher speaks. And does the teacher provide some “do-during” tasks? Natural, spontaneous talk is helpful now and then, but it should not entirely replace well-designed do-during activities. 

7. No. Answering comprehension questions does not really constitute listening. Yes, students have to comprehend the teacher’s questions, but the audio text is no longer playing. This is more of a memory test. Students can remain quiet and hope the teacher does not call on them. Very little listening is going on at this stage. 


Kevin McCaughey is a Regional English Language Officer based in Kyiv and covering Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. He has traveled to 100 countries and trained teachers in more than 20. He records songs and audio games in English to increase the variety of listening activities. And he has a new accordion that he’s very proud of.

Author: Kevin McCaughey
Format: Text

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Observation Tools for Professional DevelopmentExpand

Professional development of teachers, including English language teachers, empowers them to change in ways that improve teaching and learning (Gall and Acheson 2011; Murray 2010). In their seminal research on staff development—professional development in today’s terms—Joyce and Showers (2002) identify key factors that promote teacher change. Three of these factors are observation, feedback, and practice. 

Teacher observation is one step in the process of identifying changes that teachers may want to make (Gall and Acheson 2011; Joyce and Showers 2002). Observers might be peers, other educators who may be more knowledgeable and experienced, supervisors, principals, or government officials. Observation tools, checklists, or rubrics may be used by observers to record notes about the lesson. Feedback after observations that help teachers reflect on what worked, what did not work, and what they might modify is another important element in the teacher change process (Schön 1987; Tenjoh-Okwen 2003). Evidence-based feedback is particularly useful (Gall and Acheson 2011; Joyce and Showers 2002). In fact, Salas and Mercado (2010, 20) urge supervisors to “talk across the data” during feedback sessions. 

Opportunities to practice changes in teaching are also important. Sometimes, teachers may practice changes in their teaching with a small group of students and a teacher who observes. Or a teacher may practice with a peer group or study group of colleagues. Although not the ideal, teachers frequently practice in their classroom without an observer present (Joyce and Showers 2002). 

Let’s take a moment to consider the ways in which professional development is enacted in other professions. Carpenters and plumbers, for example, may watch a master perform a task and then perform the same task with the master as observer. Medical interns move as a group through a hospital with a senior doctor who examines patients and leads discussions with the group about those patients (Henry and Malu 2011). In the maritime and aviation fields, massive television screens linked to computers simulate ocean and air environments. Officers who seek advanced training perform tasks in the presence of experienced captains and pilots who interact with, guide, and offer feedback to these officers during and after these simulations; the effectiveness of this process is supported in the training literature (Carson-Jackson 2010). Is this notion of a simulated experience possible to use in the professional development of teachers? Let’s hold onto this question for just a moment.

If we consider the role that professional development—focused on observation, evidence-based feedback, and practice—plays to empower and promote teacher change, how might teachers engage in this process to make changes in their teaching? Research often presents information that includes descriptions of observation tools and suggestions for providing feedback (Ali 2007; Chesterfield 1997; Gall and Acheson 2011; Millrood 2003; Stoller 2003).

This article takes a different approach: inviting readers to interact with it as they read. Readers will have the opportunity to perform a variety of tasks that integrate the notion of simulated experience with the valuable role that practice plays in learning. In this article, readers will be asked to create and use observation tools to gather evidence—or data—in an English teaching scenario. Discussions follow each practice opportunity, guiding readers in interpreting and reflecting on the data. The article concludes with further suggestions about observation tools, evidence-based feedback, and practice that may encourage a lifetime of professional development designed to improve teaching and learning.

The T-chart observation tool

When we observe a lesson, the T-chart helps us record data about teacher talk and student talk. By using tally marks, we record the number of utterances made during a lesson. More detailed tools and charts with complex recording procedures are available to document more information than the basic T-chart used here (see Chesterfield 1997; Gall and Acheson 2011). However, when I introduced one of these detailed tools to a group of experienced supervisors who had not used such tools before, they were confused by the procedures of what, where, and how to record the data they observed. Their reaction led me to use a T-chart that is quick to design and easy to use, allowing observers who have never used tools to record observations in teaching settings to quickly grasp what to record and how to record it, and immediately feel comfortable using the T-chart.

Before you read further, kindly consider the following. For the remainder of this article, I invite you, the reader, to be an active participant. Please take a moment to gather a pencil or pen and a piece of paper so that you can actively engage with the text that follows. When you have pen or pencil and paper in hand, please continue reading.

Let’s make the T-chart now. On your piece of paper, draw a large uppercase letter T so that it extends approximately halfway down the page. Above the top left side of the T, write the word Teacher and above the top right side, write the word Students. Your drawing should resemble the one in Figure 1. 

Figure 1. T-chart tool

Now let’s define the term “utterance” because we will use the T-chart to record the number of utterances made during an observation. Although linguists have a complex definition for this term, for our purpose, we will define the term “utterance” to mean a phrase that contains meaning. One utterance can be a complete sentence, but if the sentence is compound or complex, then it can be considered two or more utterances. Comments such as “Yes” need not be considered utterances, but phrases such as “Good job” should be. 

Consider the following utterances. When a class greets the teacher, the students may say, “Good morning, Mr. Ramouhale.” Using the above definition, this is considered as one student utterance. Their reply to a question, “We are fine,” would also be one student utterance. To record the data on the T-chart, we make two tally marks under the Students column. In the case of a string of utterances made by the teacher, “Very good,” using our definition, is one teacher utterance. “Today we are going to continue our study of reading strategies” is one teacher utterance. “Who remembers what this means—reading strategies …” is one teacher utterance, and “What are some reading strategies that we have studied already?” is one teacher utterance. Thus, we would record four tally marks under the Teacher column. 

Now it is your turn, as the reader, to practice using this tool. In the section that follows, a teaching scenario simulates a classroom observation. The scenario includes the transcript of a lesson that we might observe in classrooms around the world. This lesson focuses on reading with a class (represented by the letter C) of elementary school students. There are 40 students in the class. Mr. Ramouhale is the teacher (represented by the letter T). The text in brackets tells the movements and thoughts of the characters in the scenario. 

Please read the following teaching scenario with the T-chart beside you. As you read, mark a tally in the Teacher column for each utterance made by T (the teacher) and one in the Students column for each of the individual student utterances (represented by their names). Also mark one tally in the Students column for each of the C (class) utterances. Do not tally any of the script that is in brackets. When you mark teacher and student utterances, be sure to note them under the appropriate column. Further directions await you at the end of this scenario.

Teaching scenario

T: Good morning, class. How are you today?

C: Good morning, Mr. Ramouhale. We are fine. How are you?

T: I’m fine, too. Today we are going to continue our study of reading strategies. Who remembers what this means—reading strategies—and what are some reading strategies that we have studied already? 

[The class is silent. No one raises a hand.]

T: I see that you are thinking. So, I want you to do a think-pair-share. Turn to your neighbor and talk about reading strategies and see if you can remember some of them. I will give you two minutes to talk.

[The students talk in pairs. Mr. Ramouhale walks around the room and listens to their conversations. He takes notes about what he hears, writing the students’ names and their comments in his notebook. At the end of two minutes he returns to the front of the room.]

T: Now, who can tell me what “reading strategies” means? Let’s see. 

[The teacher looks at the class and sees Sam’s hand is raised.]

T: Yes, Sam, I heard your conversation with your partner. Can you answer my question? 

Sam: Yes, reading strategies are things we do when we read. They help us understand what we read.

T: Very good, Sam. Thank you. What are some of the reading strategies we have learned?

[The teacher looks at the class and sees that Enoch has raised his hand.] 

T: Enoch, can you answer?

Enoch: Yes. Ask questions.

T: Good, Enoch. That’s one strategy. You ask questions as you read. What is another reading strategy that we have learned? 

[The teacher looks at the students and sees that Patience has her hand up.]

T: Patience, do you know?

Patience: Predict.

T: Can you tell me more?

Patience: You try to predict what the story is about. You guess what will happen.

T: Exactly right. Now, today I am going to tell you about another reading strategy. This strategy is called “visualizing.” Can anyone guess what this word means? Visualizing? 

[Mr. Ramouhale knows this is a difficult question, and he is not sure if anyone will be able to answer. He looks at Freddy because Freddy is one of the brightest students. Freddy seems to be thinking, so the teacher decides to call on him.]

T: Freddy?

Freddy: [Silence]

T: I know you didn’t raise your hand but I wonder. Is it possible for you to answer this question?

Freddy:  Maybe if Thabo helps me. Can he help me?

T: Yes, sure. Thabo, do you have any ideas about the word visualize?

Thabo: Maybe it means … view … look.

T: Good guess. The reading strategy called visualizing means to make a picture in your head about what you read. Charles, can you tell me what I said?

Charles: Visualizing is like using the words to make pictures.

T: Yes, that’s right. Now, I want you to take out your exercise books and a pencil. 

[Mr. Ramouhale waits while the students get their materials ready.]

T: Look up at me when you are ready. 

[When Mr. Ramouhale sees that most of the students are looking at him, he continues.]  

T: Now I am going to read the beginning of our next story. I want you to draw anything that you hear from the story. Draw it in your exercise books. I will draw on the chalkboard, too. I will draw the pictures that come to my head while I read the story. When I am finished reading, we’ll look at our drawings. Are you ready?

C: Yes, Mr. Ramouhale.

T-chart tool results and interpretation

Figure 2 shows my tally of utterances for this teaching scenario. As you can see, I recorded 48 teacher utterances and 14 student utterances. Do you have the same results that I do? It is not essential that your tally numbers are exactly the same as mine. It is important, however, that our numbers are similar. Differences of four to six points in the total of teacher tallies and one to three points in the student tallies are insignificant. It is more important that we have numbers that are in the same range. 

Figure 2. T-chart tool with results

What do these results mean? Take a moment to jot down your reflections about these results and what you think they might mean. When you have finished writing, please continue reading.

Data from our T-chart clearly show more teacher talk than student talk, more utterances made by the teacher than the students. These results might mean that this is a teacher-centered, authoritarian-style classroom with little opportunity for students to speak. On the other hand, it might mean that the teacher is presenting new material or information, in which case it would be logical that there would be more teacher talk. Which is the more accurate interpretation? Return to the scenario to see if Mr. Ramouhale gave us clues we can use to answer this question, and then continue reading below.

Mr. Ramouhale tells the students, “Today we are going to continue our study of reading strategies,” and further along, he expands on this by saying, “I am going to tell you about another reading strategy … called ‘visualizing.’” In these two sentences, Mr. Ramouhale has told his students, and us, the goal of this lesson: to present new information to the students. Knowing this goal, we can more accurately interpret the results of the tallies. While presenting new information may not necessitate more teacher talk than student talk, frequently it does. By paying attention to the tallies, teachers can reflect on what they are doing in their teaching.

On the other hand, suppose that Mr. Ramouhale said, “Today we are going to review the reading strategies we have learned.” The tallies then should result in a much lower concentration of teacher talk. 

This T-chart tool gives teachers evidence that lets them “see” what is happening when they teach. It opens up conversations about the nature of teacher talk and the reasons for it, the circumstances in which it can be effective and even necessary, and the situations in which it can be ineffective and possibly coercive and authoritative. 

The Seating Chart tool

There are various versions of the Seating Chart tool (Chesterfield 1997), also referred to as Seating Chart Observation Records (Gall and Acheson 2011). As with the T-chart, this tool can be drawn at the beginning of an observation. It may take a minute or two to create, and it requires the observer to be careful and accurate in representing the classroom on paper. On the other hand, the teacher whose classroom will be visited can create it in advance and give it to the observer at the beginning of the lesson. 

Suppose we visit a classroom without the Seating Chart. We will need to create it when we settle in the back of the room by drawing a simple sketch, using shapes to indicate the classroom floor plan, including the location of the teacher’s desk, chalkboard, student desks, and other classroom furniture. I suggest drawing a rectangle for the teacher’s desk, a long narrow rectangle for the chalkboard, and small squares or rectangles for the student desks. Boxes must be sketched accurately, exactly the way the furniture appears in the classroom—in rows, U-shaped, or in small group clusters. 

Once the boxes are drawn, codes give additional information about the classroom. Place the letter T inside the box that represents the teacher’s desk and the letter G (for girl) or B (for boy)—or you could use F for a female student and M for a male student—inside each student-desk box, carefully representing the gender and location of each student. When you’ve drawn the tool, it is time to record data.

Before we practice using the Seating Chart, we need to consider the data we will record with this tool and the ways in which we will record the data. This tool can help us record teacher and student questions and answers and what the teacher does during student pair work. To record the data, we can use the following system. Each time the teacher (T) calls on a student, asks a student a question, or listens to a student during pair work, put a tally mark in that student’s box. Each time a student asks a question, put a question mark in the student’s box. 

This time, let’s pretend we will observe Mr. Ramouhale, who has prepared a Seating Chart tool for us (see Figure 3). Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the tool. Note that in Figure 3 I have indicated the names of the students who speak. If you are now familiar with the figure, return to the teaching scenario earlier in this article. Reread it, marking your tallies for the various student and teacher comments onto Figure 3. When you have finished, please resume reading below.

Figure 3. Seating Chart tool for Mr. Ramouhale’s class

Seating Chart tool results and interpretation

Before we continue, please check that you have recorded your data accurately. You should have recorded the following. In Sam’s box, you should have two tallies (one for the teacher question asked to Sam and a second for the time Mr. Ramouhale listened to Sam and Enoch’s conversation during think-pair-share); in Enoch’s box, two tallies (for the same reasons Sam has two tallies); for Patience, two tallies (the teacher asked her two questions); for Freddy, one tally and one question mark (the tally because the teacher asked him a question, and the question mark because Freddy asked the teacher a question); for Thabo, one tally; and for Charles, one tally. Compare your chart with mine (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Seating Chart with recorded data from Mr. Ramouhale’s class

Once again, please take a moment to jot down any thoughts you have as you look at the data. Does anything strike you? When you finish jotting down your ideas, please continue reading.

There are three types of data that this tool documents. It tells us the gender of those who speak and are spoken to, their location in the classroom, and the kind of talk the students and teacher engage in, answering questions or asking questions. 

Now look again at the data in Figure 4. What happened in Mr. Ramouhale’s class in terms of gender, location, and talk? Consider where the boys are sitting and where the girls are, and the location of the students Mr. Ramouhale calls on. Most of the students he calls on sit in front and to the left of his desk. Showing this chart to Mr. Ramouhale and engaging him in a conversation about the data can be a powerful learning experience, and it may help him reflect on his teaching. 

Consider the data about gender. There has been considerable research in the United States about girls (Gilligan 1982) and boys (Wilhelm and Smith 2005) and their conversational patterns in school and outside school (Tannen 1990). Tannen (1990) found that when outside-school conversation styles were in conflict with in-school styles, students struggled to participate and contribute in classrooms. While this research may not explain gendered classroom talk in other countries, the Seating Chart tool can help teachers examine the gender behaviors that may contribute to the conversation patterns it documents.

Culture may also influence the seating arrangements in classrooms even as individual learning styles, friendships, and other factors may be equally influential. For example, family status in a town or village may determine where a teacher assigns children to sit. Children who have problems seeing the chalkboard may be placed in the front of the room, and those who are disruptive may be sent to the back of the room. If children are given an opportunity to select their own seats, it is almost certain, regardless of the culture, that friends will want to sit together. These are just a few possible ways to interpret seating arrangements that teachers can consider for themselves as they reflect on the meaning of the data recorded on this tool.

In addition, it is important for teachers to realize where they stand and where they look when they teach. It is not unusual for teachers who are right-handed to focus on the left side of the room. This phenomenon may be at play for Mr. Ramouhale. On the other hand, factors such as children’s attentiveness or disruptive behavior may influence where he looks and whom he calls on. This tool can help to mirror what Mr. Ramouhale does.

Observations: Using and adapting the tools

It is important to note that there is extensive literature that documents the importance of conferences prior to observations (Gall and Acheson 2011; Stoller 2003). Trust, respect, and compassion between teacher and observer are equally important (Showers, Joyce, and Bennett 1987). Teachers should take the lead in such conversations, highlight the purpose for the observation, and include questions, puzzles, concerns, and challenges that the teacher wants the observer to focus on—the kind of evidence the teacher would like recorded—and the observation tool(s) to be used. 

These observation tools can be used by teachers, teacher study groups, supervisors, administrators, and government officials. English-language and content-area teachers can also benefit from the tools. Each of these groups will likely have a different goal when using these tools. It is most important that the group identify its goal and then use the tool as a means to reach the goal. Alignment of the goal with the tool is critically important. 

For informal groups of teachers, including pairs and study groups, the goal for using these tools will be for professional development—to improve teaching. By conducting informal peer observations, teachers give one another valuable feedback about their teaching. That information can determine what a pair or study group wants to explore, including articles to research and read. 

Pairs and groups of teachers might begin by reading and discussing this article. Next, they may want to practice using these tools in different settings. If videotaping a class is possible, teachers might select one tool and use it while reviewing the video. An alternative is to select video segments from YouTube ( It may be useful to start by viewing and practicing using the tools with small-group discussion clips; a search using the phrase “small group discussions” will offer a wide selection of such clips. Once teachers feel comfortable gathering data from small groups, search terms such as “classroom observation” generate lists of videos that include large-group and whole-class settings. Such clips provide more challenges that are useful for practice and discussion. 

Supervisors, including principals and government officials such as inspectors, may use the tools described in this article to evaluate teachers; I caution against this practice, however, unless there have been clear pre-observation discussions with teachers to explain expectations for the lesson, including the lesson objectives. Anything less would be unfair to teachers. As an example, consider teacher talk and student talk. If supervisors observe a lesson knowing that the teacher is presenting new information, they will expect to record a higher number of teacher utterances than student utterances on the T-chart.

Others may also find these tools useful in professional-development workshops, perhaps using the teaching scenario included here or writing one that more closely matches the topic to be covered in the workshop. The combination of scenarios, practice with the use of these tools, and professional discussions can be extremely helpful in promoting teacher development. 

When using these tools, observers should indicate the beginning and end time for the recorded data on the tool. For example, if it takes Mr. Ramouhale three minutes to present “visualizing,” that is important information to have because it suggests that the lesson is running smoothly. If it takes him more than 10 minutes, this is also useful because it suggests other factors are at play during this part of his lesson. 

As pairs and groups of teachers, supervisors, and others work with these tools over an extended period of time, they may find new questions about teaching. Return to Figure 4 and consider what might be a follow-up to our observation of Mr. Ramouhale. Tallies in Figure 4 leave us with questions about his teaching. We might wonder where he stood while speaking with the students. Where did he move during the think-pair-share? 

We can adapt the Seating Chart in a way that will help us answer these questions. For example, to record Mr. Ramouhale’s movements, we might draw lines wherever he moves. A star () can represent the place where we begin to document movement. We can use an angle bracket (>) to mark the spots where he stops to look at or speak with students. An X can mark the place where we stop recording movement. Returning to the teaching scenario, we can record Mr. Ramouhale as he moves around the classroom during the think-pair-share activity. Please take a moment to add your record of his movements onto the Seating Chart (Figure 3) and then compare your completed Figure 3 with mine (Figure 5). With this new information, we have further reason to wonder about gender and student talk and more evidence to share and reflect on with Mr. Ramouhale. 

Figure 5. Seating Chart with Mr. Ramouhale’s movements

Up to this point, we have focused our discussion on Mr. Ramouhale’s interactions with his students; however, we know from the teaching scenario that Mr. Ramouhale’s lesson included two minutes of think-pair-share time when students worked together. Let’s imagine that Mr. Ramouhale wants to know what happened during this two-minute interval. Is it possible to modify the Seating Chart or the T-chart to gather the data that will help us answer this question? Take a moment to jot down your thoughts, and then continue reading.

My question above has no one right answer. There may be as many different answers as there are teachers who look for these answers. Great pleasure can come from working with colleagues because our questions may become puzzles that we solve with creativity and resourcefulness. Here is my suggested answer, though. I offer this as one way to modify these observation tools to examine student work during think-pair-share. 

Given the number of students (40) in the class, the observer and Mr. Ramouhale would do well to identify two or three pairs (more than that would be difficult to do in two minutes) they wish to focus on and the reason or purpose for this focus. For example, imagine that Mr. Ramouhale selects three groups in the back of the room because he rarely hears from them. Once he has selected the groups and has articulated this reason for their selection, the next step is to consider what he wants to know about their conversation. Is it important to understand if there is equal participation in these pairs? Or does he want to understand the quality of their conversation? His answers to such questions can help him and the observer select and possibly modify the data-gathering tool.

Because the observer usually sits in the back of the classroom, Mr. Ramouhale’s selection of the three pairs in the back of the classroom requires no movement or repositioning of the observer. If the pairs were elsewhere in the room, the observer might need to take up a position so the group conversations could be overheard. 

Once the activity begins, the observer records the data. If Mr. Ramouhale wants to know whether pairs are participating equally, the T-chart can be used to record student utterances. The observer can make three T-charts (replacing the words Teacher and Students with the names of each student in each pair) and tally the three pairs of utterances. If Mr. Ramouhale wants to know more about the quality of the two-minute conversations, the observer might focus on questions and answers, recording question marks (for questions) and tallies (for statements). The more thoughtful the teacher and observer plans are, the easier it is for the observer to gather data that make the most sense for the goals of the observation. 

I encourage readers to use these observation tools creatively. When the tools are adapted to particular needs and settings, they will be useful and meaningful, allowing observers to gather the most relevant data that will help answer questions that can prompt development and growth in teaching.

Feedback: Talking together

The quality of feedback is just as important as the environment in which this feedback is given and received. Observers—including peers, study-group members, professional developers, and supervisors—should work carefully to ensure that they create safe, secure spaces in which feedback can be exchanged, and such feedback should be given thoughtfully and with respect for the teacher (Ali 2007; Schön 1987). Observers should always remember that they are guests in a teacher’s classroom, there by invitation and a shared desire to improve teaching and learning. Feedback should be shared honestly and openly, focused on data gathered from the observation tools and not on perceptions. Teachers should have control over the conditions in which the feedback is offered.

Researchers are in disagreement about how soon after an observation feedback should be given. Some urge within a short time (Stoller 2003) so that few details about the lesson are forgotten. Others recommend waiting a few days, thereby giving teachers time to reflect on their lesson (Ali 2007). The timing of when to offer feedback is less important than ensuring that feedback is given. 

Observers can help teachers by beginning the dialogue with questions such as, “What did you like about your lesson? What worked for you? If you speak with your family tonight, what will you say went well in this lesson?” These questions enable teachers to focus on the positives and prompt them to be reflective. Observers should give teachers adequate time to respond to questions. Thoughtful responses encourage reflection. It is important for observers to help teachers stay focused on the positives. Teachers should be encouraged to avoid using the words but and however because they typically turn a conversation negative. 

Skilled observers will have data recorded on the tool and be ready to present the data to teachers. Such observers will let teachers comment first on the data. If observers are the first to tell teachers what they see in the data, this strips teachers of the opportunity to interpret and reflect on the data for themselves. As the conversation progresses, observers should keep the focus on what worked well in the lesson. One way to do this is by using a building metaphor: talk about “building” or “constructing” change, implying that the “bricks” to add next can become areas for improvement. For example, observers might say, “I think you handled [this teaching event] well. What would you like to work on next?” The first statement affirms teachers’ work, while the question gently includes teachers in an analysis of their practice and what they want to focus on next. 

Practice: Lasting change

Change does not happen quickly. When teachers decide to make changes in their practice, research shows that they must apply the new changes about 25 times “before all the conditions of transfer are achieved” (Showers, Joyce, and Bennett 1987, 86). An environment in which teachers have opportunities to practice and receive feedback within a supportive, trusting social network of peers or knowledgeable others is critical for creating lasting change. 

With a bit of practice, teachers, professional-development groups, supervisors, and others can learn to use the T-chart and Seating Chart tools in ways that will enable their use in diverse classroom settings. These tools can be used in English-language classrooms and across content areas, making them valuable in interdisciplinary professional-development settings. The use of these tools will not only help teachers improve their teaching but will also help them ask new and different questions. These questions have the ability to encourage teacher pairs, study groups, and others to modify and adapt these tools as they search for answers to these new questions. Such a cycle can support ongoing professional development that has the potential to last a lifetime.

These tools will not prompt changes overnight, but they can open up important conversations about teaching and learning. The seeds within these conversations stimulate growth in teaching that gives students around the globe opportunities to learn constructively so they can lead productive lives in the ever-changing world of tomorrow.


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Kathleen F. Malu was a Peace Corps volunteer in Congo. In Rwanda she was a Peace Corps volunteer and more recently a Fulbright Scholar. She is a professor of education at William Paterson University of New Jersey, a Research fellow at the University of South Africa, and an English Language Specialist for the U.S. Department of State.

Author: Kathleen F. Malu
Format: Text

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Increasing Awareness and Talk Time through Free Messaging AppsExpand

For many people, mobile phones are a part of modern life. Although the purpose of this technology revolves around language and communication, its application to language learning still appears to be underutilized. This is changing, as the widespread use of this handheld technology offers numerous opportunities to use functions that are ideal for exposing learners to communicative interaction on their language-learning journey. One beneficial function of the smartphone is its ability to exchange text and multimedia between users, which is a benefit that is enhanced through the availability of free messaging apps that facilitate the exchanges. In order to explore the messaging function of smartphones and how teachers can employ it to promote spoken communication, this article will describe ways to use text, audio, and imagery inside and outside the English language classroom.

To begin, teachers must become familiar with the messaging apps available in their instructional setting. For example, KakaoTalk is a free messaging app that is part of popular culture in Korea. Along with Line (, KakaoTalk has witnessed increased popularity in both Taiwan and Japan (Racoma 2012; Yap 2012). While these two messaging apps focus on Northeast Asia, many of the features that I will outline in this article are transferable across messaging apps that are popular in numerous other locations, such as WhatsApp (, perhaps the most successful messaging app on a global scale (Yeung 2013). Other popular messaging apps on a regional or global scale include ChatON (; Tango (; Viber (; and WeChat (

Although these apps are, at their most fundamental level, free text-messaging services, their capabilities extend to group text chats and the sharing of photos, audio, and video. In other words, these free messaging apps allow users to communicate with others in their contact list through text, voice, imagery, or video. It is worth noting, though, that the video-sharing capability still appears to have several bugs, so I will not discuss it in this article.

Learning context and background
As smartphones and messaging apps become more prevalent, their potential for ready-made communicative activities in the classroom should not be overlooked. For if the language learner is “attached” to his or her smartphone, it stands to reason that instructors can harness that potential to assist learning. 

I first experimented with KakaoTalk in a university-level English as a foreign language (EFL) context in 2011 by assigning spoken homework. This attempt to encourage students to use English outside the classroom was easy to implement but difficult to sustain. I initially had students make recordings on the computer and email them to me for feedback. This arrangement did not work efficiently, as students complained of dedicating time to speaking to a computer. Personally, I also found it demotivating to dedicate time to sitting in front of a computer to record my own oral feedback.

Overcoming the demotivating and time-sapping nature of the computer-based audio recording inspired me to use KakaoTalk for the same project. The response from students was more positive, largely due to the convenience of being able to use their smartphones for their homework. Likewise, I found it much simpler to listen and respond to student assignments in a timely manner.

Ultimately, the intrinsic beauty of using KakaoTalk and Line is that in many cases messaging is a tool that students discovered first and it gained popularity and acceptance via their peers. These are not tools that are forced upon students by their teacher for the purpose of study, but tools that form a part of their everyday lives. This factor, together with the ease of implementation, was the birth of the KakaoTalk project that has since snowballed into a growing compendium of activities to facilitate communication, both inside and outside the classroom.

Goals of the KakaoTalk project
The KakaoTalk project has several overarching goals at its heart. In essence, the goal is to increase the spoken ability of the students. When faced with the challenges of producing longer segments of spontaneous speech, many students prefer to script their responses. However, West (1960) suggests that when a person reads lines aloud—as in a script—the language is passing from the eye to the mouth with little learning or cognitive interaction taking place; an improvement on merely reciting lines is to read the line silently, pause, look up, and then speak the line. This small adaption incorporates recollection, a suggested step that is integral to uptake and acquisition, particularly with respect to vocabulary (Nation 2001). The KakaoTalk project avoids the pre-scripting and recitation of lines by having the students attempt to produce speech that is spontaneous, or as spontaneous as possible.

One of the greatest hurdles in setting EFL students on the path toward spoken proficiency is overcoming the inherent passion for accuracy. Language students frequently require coaching on how to focus on production rather than errors, but such efforts are often in vain as the concept of errors as “natural accidents on the way to interpersonal communication” (Kramsch 1987, 23) is a new one for many. Therefore, an unrelenting focus on errors leads to a number of students having low functional fluency, even while they maintain impressive grammatical accuracy. However, given that communication is the primary purpose for language, low functional fluency levels can hinder communication.

Many learners therefore need an introduction to “meaning” as the basis for their spoken communication. Bygate (2005) suggests that group and collaborative learning builds bridges to greater fluency and accuracy. The suggestion is that group work provides a scaffolded environment in which the learners experiment and co-construct their message. Because the learners will have co-constructed—and effectively rehearsed—their message, the final production will often have a more refined presentation in terms of fluency levels and the overall transmission of the message (Nation 1989).

While transmission of the intended message in a more fluent manner is the primary goal of the project, a complete neglect of form is unacceptable. Ellis (2008) notes that if form is not attended to, a communicative plateau may be reached. This is very much the inverse communicative plateau that may be reached if attention to form is over-emphasized. It is, therefore, in the interest of learners to find the balance between form and fluency. Finding the balance does not need to be tricky, and the project I am describing entails ease of access to recording devices, which makes the matter all the more simple. Learners are able to focus on fluency and meaning while recording their production before changing hats to focus on form. This method of focusing on form after the fact employs what has been coined “noticing,” or “consciousness-raising” (Schmidt 2001; Thornbury 2005; Ellis 2008).

Consciousness-raising is in effect a form of self-monitoring that gives the learner the opportunity to pay attention to his or her utterances in the style of a review. The premise is that in order for language acquisition to take place, attention must be paid to a specific item or language feature. However, Ellis (2008) draws on the Noticing Hypothesis to conclude that noticing can be of assistance only if it is done consciously—and actively. This suggests that learners may need explicit coaching in how to perform such tasks in order for them to be effective.

Guided coaching in the art of noticing can be as simple as delayed corrective feedback, where the teacher monitors students’ production during class and makes note of utterances that are in need of correction. In the feedback stage of class, the teacher puts a selection of correct and incorrect utterances on the board and asks students to make suggestions on how they should be corrected, if at all. In this manner, students effectively take charge of their own learning via a form of noticing and consciousness-raising.

Delayed corrective feedback is a common and easily implemented technique, and it provides learners with concrete examples of how their own utterances may be monitored in a conscious manner. The by-product of coupling consciousness-raising and noticing with self-recorded learner production is that learner autonomy is drawn into the equation. For if the learners are made aware that they are able to “check” their utterances after the fact, they are able to continue their language journey beyond the gaze of their teacher—where responsible and autonomous learners become more equipped to take control of the language (Scharle and Szabo 2000).

Activities for free messaging apps and smartphone tasks
Over the course of several years, I have experimented with smartphones and free messaging apps with my students. These activities have ranged from simple text-messaging and group-chat tasks to the more complex simultaneous interpretation and translation. It would appear that the opportunities are endless, provided that sound pedagogical choices are made.

Three of the most successful and easily implemented activities are (1) Spoken Response, (2) Picture Prompt, and (3) Transcription, Consciousness-Raising, and Noticing.

Spoken Response activity
Having students practice speaking outside the classroom is an activity that is difficult to monitor. However, through the use of a messaging app that allows for recording to take place, the monitoring bridge can be crossed. The basic procedure is to assign students a topic or a question that they must respond to with a predetermined amount of detail, or provide a response that fills a predetermined time limit. I have found two to three minutes to be an optimal length, as this pushes students to talk about their subject in deeper detail than what might be required in a basic response. (For an abbreviated description, see Pollard 2014.)

Topics assigned to the students typically align with the overarching syllabus of the course—either thematic alignment or grammatical alignment, or a combination of the two (Widdowson 1990). For instance, with an elementary-level class that has a proficiency level equivalent to A2 of the Common European Framework (Council of Europe 2001), topics that satisfy grammatical alignment of the syllabus will make use of structures that are presented during the course.

Suppose one unit covers the thematic area of vacation and the vocabulary related to it, while another unit covers “–ed” and “–ing” adjectives. Combining these two units into a prompt as simple as “How was your vacation?”will push the students to be creative and descriptive in their responses, as they must meet the two- to three-minute response requirement. An additional example may combine, for instance, present perfect tense with superlatives and result in a prompt such as “What is the most memorable thing you have done?”It should be noted that it is not necessary to combine the foci of multiple units into one Spoken Response assignment if you do not feel it is needed. An example where the focus needs little adaption is with “used to,” as the prompt “Tell me about your childhood” is often sufficient for a developed and personalized response from the student. As is the case in any of the examples listed, the topics should focus on the target structures encountered in the course while also stimulating the student to personalize and expand on the subject.

A summary of the basic steps that make up this activity follows:

  • In class, the teacher writes the topic on the board—for example, “What is your most memorable experience?”
  • The class then brainstorms ideas, such as “My first bicycle,” “The birth of my baby sister,” “The time I saw a fire,” and so on.
  • After each student picks a subtopic, the teacher asks students to design a graphic organizer according to “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” and “Why.”
  • The teacher asks students to tell their story to a partner.
  • For homework, students practice the story once more and then record it, using only the graphic organizer as a reference, and send the recorded story to the teacher.

The most important point to emphasize with this activity is that the primary objectives are communication and fluency, and not grammatical accuracy. It should be made clear to students that they must not devise a script; instead, methods such as brainstorming or noting keywords to keep their thoughts on track are encouraged. Students will often rely on a preconceived script to speak in deeper detail on a subject, so it is a sound idea to demonstrate the use of brainstorming, graphic organizers, and speaking on a topic without a script in order for students to receive the greatest benefit (West 1960). An in-class introduction to brainstorming and speaking without a script as a fluency-based activity can incorporate the 4-3-2 technique, as described by Nation (1989). The 4-3-2 technique works on the premise that a student will first speak for four minutes on a topic, followed by an attempt to convey the same information in the shorter time of three minutes; a third recitation in two minutes is the final step. Nation (1989) suggests that not only does the 4-3-2 technique affect fluency development, but it can also develop skills in relation to discourse, which is an important factor when students must speak on a single topic for two to three minutes.

The Spoken Response activity does not explicitly call for the level of repetition seen in the 4-3-2 technique, since only a single audio recording is the submission requirement. However, if you introduce the activity in this manner, it will suggest to the students that, as with the production of drafts in a written project, the spoken rehearsal prior to producing a final recording provides them with a greater return on their overall learning.

There are several options for offering feedback to the students. As the primary goal of the Spoken Response activity is to develop fluency, it would be counterproductive to over-correct the grammar of a student’s recording, due to the demotivating effects that may occur as a result. If you feel that corrective feedback must be given, it is safer to offer corrective feedback focusing on organization, much in the way that is suggested with feedback for written work (Boramy 2010). Through experimentation with these assignments, I would suggest that a productive method is to provide two or three grammatical or word-choice corrections per two minutes of audio. In lieu of corrective feedback, feedback on content tends to work well with lower-level students. In particular, if you can discover common interests and familiar topics, and then provide feedback on content within that realm, the opportunity to develop rapport with the students is often enhanced. Likewise, it appears that offering oral feedback via an audio message helps to develop rapport with students.

Picture Prompt activity
The speaking portion of the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) (Educational Testing Service 2014) has a picture description task, which is an easily adaptable activity that seems custom-made for smartphones and messaging apps. The fact that these messaging apps send and receive images allows students to have varied and interesting topics at their disposal. The basic activity is the same as the TOEIC task: to describe a picture in detail with a range of grammatical structures and vocabulary, while maintaining cohesion. More specifically, Question 3 of TOEIC Speaking stipulates that 30 seconds of preparation is permitted before a 45-second description must be produced (Educational Testing Service 2014). Because the Picture Prompt activity is used in a classroom setting and not as part of a rigid testing procedure, flexibility is an option. As in the Spoken Response assignment, I would suggest that students take a minute or so to make notes or brainstorm keywords relating to the task before producing a finished product of two to three minutes. The overall structure of the activity is similar to that of the Spoken Response activity in the sense that students are required to speak on a single topic for an extended period of time, with the transmission of a message being the initial focus. The major difference between a Picture Prompt and a Spoken Response assignment is that the picture-based prompt is a visual one that may not be as easily personalized. As a result, the Picture Prompt activity may appear at first glance to be more objective in nature. However, it has the potential to offer more flexibility and adaptability, depending on your context.

One area where the Picture Prompt activity may provide greater classroom discourse is through a small adaptation where students work in pairs or small groups in order to provide an in-depth description of the image. It is through this collaborative process that personalization and genuine communication often arise (Bygate 2005). Generally, the images used in this activity would be photos either taken by the teacher and sent to the students or taken by the students themselves. All images used would ideally be tied to the thematic properties of the syllabus and therefore act as a freer communication activity for the class (Widdowson 1990).

For an example of appropriate images that are directly associated with the syllabus, consider a unit that focuses on people’s appearance and personality, together with a unit on the relative clause. An appropriate image in this instance may be a group of people in a café or a similar setting. Images of this nature offer the opportunity to objectively describe the setting, as per the appearanceaspect, and also allow the student to speculate on other aspects of the image, such as the possible personality traits of the individuals. An alternative is to have students produce an oral story to accompany the image. A unit on the modal verbs of speculation—might, may, could, can’t, and must—would be particularly suitable as students could be asked to conjecture or tell a story. Images including a group of people in the midst of powerful or emotive expressions of body language are sound choices as prompts, as the students are able to speculate or construct a story that relates to the image quite openly while also having an opportunity to expand and include their personal twist or interpretation.

As is the case with any classroom activity, it is important for teachers to be selective and use discretion. However, if you want to allow the students to take greater control of their own learning, you can extend this activity by having them send pictures, preferably ones that they have collected themselves, to their peers for verbal description or as storytelling prompts. Taking this further step of using student-collected material as a prompt also assists in making the communicative objectives of this activity more explicit to the students. An additional step could have the students work in a group setting to co-construct a more creative, complete, and in-depth oral story in relation to the shared images; the happy by-product of this group-based task is that students negotiate and communicate in the target language throughout the planning, development, and revision of their oral recording.

A suggested step-by-step summary of the Picture Prompt activity in pair or small group work follows:

  • The teacher places students in pairs or small groups and sends them a photo, or selection of photos, via picture message.
  • Students are given a brief period of time—two to three minutes—to brainstorm their ideas; they can use their dictionaries as required for needed vocabulary.
  • Students then describe their photo(s) and record themselves doing so via their smartphones. A suggested length of time is three minutes, depending on students’ speaking ability. Students can record themselves individually, or they may co-construct a recording within their pair or group.
  • Students listen to their recordings, and if they are happy with their attempt, they send it to the teacher. If they are unhappy with it, students are free to attempt it once more. The reason for only allowing one more attempt is to prevent faster-finishing students from being left without a task.
  • The teacher listens to the student recordings outside of class time and offers feedback. Feedback should be based on organization and content and should not be over-corrective. Oral feedback via audio recording is preferable to written feedback.
  • An optional follow-up is to have students make transcriptions of their recordings, and to edit and revise their work in line with consciousness-raising and noticing, as detailed in the Transcription, Consciousness-Raising, and Noticing activity that follows.

It is worth noting that while I have introduced Picture Prompt as an in-class activity, it can be extended to an out-of-class assignment where students find something of interest to photograph with their smartphones. With their self-selected image, they produce an oral recording that meets the two- to three-minute guideline, as detailed. The major difference with Picture Prompt as a homework assignment rather than an in-class activity is that the students must submit the photo in addition to the audio recording to the teacher.

Transcription, Consciousness-Raising, and Noticing activity
The two previous activities stand on their own as pedagogically sound initiatives; however, a twist I like to incorporate is to combine transcribing with consciousness-raising and noticing. Having students listen to the audio recordings they produced for the Spoken Response or Picture Prompt assignment and then make transcriptions moves the primary focus from speaking skills onto listening, noticing, and consciousness-raising. When students transcribe their audio recordings, they create a written text, with which they are able to switch hats and transition into the realm of consciousness-raising and noticing; these are effectively aspects of self-monitoring (Schmidt 2001; Thornbury 2005; Ellis 2008). This transition also draws attention onto reading skills and a more explicit focus on form.

The primary intention of noticing is to raise the awareness of students in respect to their own spoken production and have them monitor areas for improvement. Utilizing noticing also allows the fluency–accuracy continuum to be partially balanced, as per Ellis’s (2008) suggestion. It is worth stating that noticing is effectively performed as a review activity where students access the recordings that they have produced previously, either from another class or from an earlier part of the current class. In this instance, the activity utilizes the messaging app and smartphone as a personal listening device rather than a recording device, which posits that students may also require a pair of headphones for personal use. Students dictate their recorded speech and perform the noticing activities on the transcription they have created, thereby engaging in a student-controlled and -maintained form of delayed corrective feedback.

Depending on the objectives and direction of your classes, it may be beneficial to give further guidance to your students with respect to the areas where they should be paying extra attention. The main premise of noticing is a focus on grammatical accuracy. For example, the first Spoken Response prompt I listed—“How was your vacation?”—covered the thematic area of vacation combined with “–ed” and “–ing” adjectives. Therefore, the focus for the noticing activity when the students inspect their written transcriptions would explicitly be the usage of “–ed” and “–ing” adjectives. However, if the students notice any other errors, they are free to suggest corrections. The second prompt I listed—“What is the most memorable thing you have done?”—covers present perfect plus the superlative, allowing the students to explicitly focus their attention on these aspects.

In addition to grammatical accuracy, however, other areas of accuracy may be the primary focus of your students. For instance, lexical selection may be a core issue in your class or for specific students. If this is the case, you may suggest that students pay attention to the correct word choice during the noticing activities. Likewise, if your class has paid attention to intonation or connected speech, students have the opportunity to focus on these aspects in their recorded production. One way to implement this focus is to have students note the stress or intonation contours of their utterances from their audio recordings. For example, they can notice whether they are successfully using a rising intonation when listing items present in a Picture Prompt recording. The important thing here is to set goals and tasks that are aligned to the class syllabus (Widdowson 1990).

The activities outlined above are relatively simple to set up and appear to provide motivation to the language learner, along with introducing and developing the notion of learner autonomy. If our students are aware that they need not be in the classroom in order to practice their English, then that is a step along the path to language proficiency.

Spoken assignments through free messaging apps may not be the answer for every teacher and learner. As is the case with all learning situations, the teacher must make a judgment about the suitability of an activity. While I suggest that audio assignments are motivating and assist with building autonomy, they may also have the opposite effect if the particular teaching context does not offer equality or inclusivity. In the context of Korea, it is rare to encounter a student without a smartphone that has unlimited data transfer capabilities, or an iPod Touch with a wi-fi connection. However, in other contexts this is likely not to be the norm. It is a serious issue in need of consideration, although there are ways of getting around the challenge with the use of an ordinary mobile phone.

A typical mobile phone still has voice recording capabilities, and many have the capability to receive a photo as a message. Therefore, students will still have the opportunity to record their audio assignments, as in the Spoken Response and Picture Prompt activities, and to receive a photograph, as in the Picture Prompt. They will also have the opportunity to perform transcription and noticing exercises. The major caveat would be not requiring students to return their responses to you, as the costs involved could lead to a demotivating association with English education.

Bearing this in mind, however, language learners often wish to improve their spoken proficiency ahead of the other skills. They may not be aware, though, that they can revise their speaking in similar ways as they are trained to revise their writing. Therefore, if your classroom context permits you to attempt spoken assignments of this nature, then you have the ability to offer your students one of the keys to language development in a fun and friendly manner. At the end of the day, the more motivation and opportunity we can offer our students to communicate in English outside the classroom, the more we have succeeded in facilitating their aspirations of developing their English proficiency.

Boramy, S. 2010. Using directive and facilitative feedback to improve student writing: A case study of a higher education setting in Cambodia. Language Education in Asia 1 (1): 23–47.
Bygate, M. 2005. Structuring learning within the flux of communication: A role for constructive repetition in oral language pedagogy. In New dimensions in the teaching of oral communication, ed. J. A. Foley, 70–90. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre.

Council of Europe. 2001. Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Educational Testing Service. 2014. Test content. TOEIC.
Ellis, R. 2008. The study of second language acquisition. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kramsch, C. J. 1987. Interactive discourse in small and large groups. In Interactive language teaching, ed. W. M. Rivers, 17–30. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nation, I. S. P. 2001. Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nation, P. 1989. Improving speaking fluency. System 17 (3): 377–384.
Pollard, A. 2014. Free messaging apps in the classroom. The Language Teacher 38 (1): 23–24.
Racoma, J. A. 2012. Korean cross-platform messaging app KakaoTalk heavily promoting in Japan.
Scharle, A., and A. Szabo. 2000. Learner autonomy: A guide to developing learner responsibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schmidt, R. 2001. Attention. In Cognition and second language instruction, ed. P. Robinson, 3–32. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thornbury, S. 2005. Uncovering grammar: How to help grammar emerge. Oxford: Macmillan Education.
West, M. 1960. Teaching English in difficult circumstances. London: Longman.
Widdowson, H. G. 1990. Aspects of language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Yap, J. 2012. Taiwan Mobile revamps messaging app to fend off rivals. ZDNet.
Yeung, K. 2013. WhatsApp processed a whopping (record) 18 billion messages on the last day of 2012. The Next Web.

Andrew Pollard is currently attached to the School of Education at Curtin University. Andrew’s research interests primarily lie in English as a lingua franca, with an emphasis on prosodic and paralinguistic features of English varieties and their effects on listening comprehension.

Author: Andrew Pollard
Format: Text

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Reader's GuideExpand

This guide is designed to enrich your reading of the articles in this issue. You may choose to read them on your own, taking notes or jotting down answers to the discussion questions below. Or you may use the guide to explore the articles with colleagues.

For example, many teachers discuss Forum at regularly scheduled meetings with department colleagues and members of teachers’ groups, or in teacher-training courses and workshops. Often, teachers choose an article for their group to read before the meeting or class, then discuss that article when they meet. Teachers have found it helpful to take notes on articles or write a response to an article and bring that response to share in a discussion group. Another idea is for teachers to try a selected activity or technique described in one of the articles, then report back to the group on their experiences and discuss positives, negatives, and possible adaptations for their teaching context.

* * *

Practical Tips for Increasing Listening Practice Time


  1. What makes a good listening activity? When you answer, consider your experience as either a teacher or a learner.
  2. If the goal is for students to use English successfully outside the classroom, what kinds of listening activities would be most beneficial?
  3. Look at the title of the article. Do you have any practical tips to share? What particular techniques do you use or have you seen that can improve textbook listening activities?



  1. Take the listening activity quiz. Discuss your answers with a partner or a group of colleagues.
  2. The author suggests that listening activities may be about “product rather than process.” What does this phrase mean to you? What does the author recommend for a more process-oriented approach?
  3. Have you ever used authentic listening texts in your classroom? What was your students’ reaction? Find an authentic listening text and share with a partner how you would teach it.
  4. The author suggests five tips for teaching listening. Which ones would work best in your classroom? Can you brainstorm a new activity based on any of these tips?

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Observation Tools for Professional Development


  1. What experiences have you had with classroom observation? Have you ever observed another teacher or been observed by a colleague or supervisor? If so, what do you remember about the experience?
  2. In what ways and circumstances do you think classroom observations can be helpful? Do you know of any specific techniques that observers can use to give teachers effective feedback?


Complete the activities and questions suggested by the author. Share your answers in a group of colleagues, if possible.


Is there any specific change you want to make in your teaching? How could you use the techniques presented in this article to help make that change?

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Increasing Awareness and Talk Time through Free Messaging Apps


  1. Do you use any free messaging apps on your mobile phone? If your students have mobile phones, do they use free messaging apps?
  2. Have you ever used phone messaging to improve your students’ English? If so, what were the results?


  1. Reread the second paragraph under the heading “Goals of the KakaoTalk project.” Have you had experiences with your students similar to the ones described? If so, how do you think the activities in this article can help your students?
  2. The author suggests three activities. If you were to use free messaging apps to supplement your students’ learning, which activity would you use first—and why?
  3. Can you think of any other ways to engage your students through free messaging apps?
Format: Text

International Subscriptions: English Teaching Forum is distributed through U.S. embassies. If you would like to subscribe to the print version of English Teaching Forum, please contact the Public Affairs or Cultural Affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in your country.

U.S. Subscriptions: English Teaching Forum is exempted from the Congressional restriction on distribution of Department of State-produced materials in the United States. U.S. residents who want to order the printed edition can order from the U.S. Superintendent of Documents.


Teaching Techniques: Guided Meditation in the English Language ClassroomExpand
We live in a busy world with frequent distractions and many things to think about. The speed of the Internet, noise pollution, smartphones, and instantaneous thought-sharing on social media keep our world in constant motion. Students entering the classroom are thinking about a thousand things: Did I get my homework done correctly? Who will I eat with at lunch? Why didn’t my friend stop at my locker to say hi? Is my hair a mess? Students also have burdens from home on their minds. But when they come into the classroom, teachers expect them to be ready to learn, ready to receive information and retain it. How can students do this with so much on their minds? 

As a teacher of English as a second or foreign language (ESL/EFL), I have concerns specifically related to English learners. Krashen’s (1982) theory of the “affective filter” is often on my mind. I could have a lesson packed with excellent activities delivered in a safe classroom environment, but a student experiencing anxiety will struggle to acquire the day’s language. Research has shown that anxiety can affect a language learner’s ability to acquire a language. “Low anxiety appears to be conducive to second language acquisition, whether measured as personal or classroom anxiety” (Krashen 1982, 31). What can a teacher do to reduce anxiety and lower a student’s affective filter? One answer may be to use guided meditation at the beginning of English class. Meditation may help students achieve a relaxed state and become more open to acquiring a language.

Benefits of meditation

Meditation has been linked to increased ability to focus and to lowering depression, anxiety, and stress. Meditation is an act of focusing one’s thoughts completely and fully. It is being present in the moment, silencing other thoughts and noise running through our minds. Neuroscience has shown that the brain can absorb information and retain memory when in a relaxed state. Meditation can help one achieve such a state, thereby improving a student’s memory and attention (Machado 2014).

Schools that have implemented meditation school-wide have found a reduction in suspensions, increased student attendance, and fewer behavior problems—results that lead to increased focus and learning (Campbell 2013; Kirp 2014).

How to meditate in the classroom

Knowing that I needed my students to focus and to have a low affective filter to acquire English, I tried using meditation in my classroom. I was teaching seventh-grade (ages 12 and 13) ESL classes with students representing over a dozen ethnicities.

Set the tone

When my students entered the classroom, they sat down and worked on a “bell ringer.” This is a daily exercise that gets students settled and working quietly at the beginning of class. It is typically a sentence with errors in it that students need to rewrite correctly.

After we shared the correctly written sentence, we did guided meditation for about three minutes. (You can do this longer, but I found that three to five minutes reaped the results I was looking for.) Meditation works as a classroom management technique, a way to introduce new vocabulary, and a quick way to create a calm, focused environment that leads to a lower affective filter.

Before the first guided meditation with my students, I explained meditation and the benefits of meditating. I told students that meditation will help to clear their minds and prepare them for learning. Meditation increases their focus and opens their minds to receive and remember information. I told them that our classroom is a safe place to relax and feel calm. I also described how we would use a meditation message each day, and then I demonstrated the meditation.

Choose a word

There are various forms of meditation; however, I chose to use guided meditation with my students because it provided an opportunity for vocabulary learning.

For each meditation message, I like to use one word that summarizes the thought students will meditate on. This focus word can be a new vocabulary word, a review word, or a word that is a theme of the students’ current literary study. You may choose a vocabulary word from the reading of the day or any other word you like. Once you decide on a word, you may define it and provide examples of the meaning. You may also pull examples of the meaning from a text you will read in the day’s lesson. For more advanced students, you may choose a famous quote that relates to the word. You can tailor the daily meditation messages to your students’ level, making the messages basic or more advanced in thought and word usage. You may also provide pictures to illustrate the message.

And you don’t have to choose only positive words. You can also select a word that normally carries a negative connotation and use it to help students find the positive. It is important, however, to demonstrate a positive message overall because this helps build students’ self-confidence and motivates students to learn, thus lowering the affective filter.

The Sample Meditation Messages below give examples of a positive word and a negative word; messages can be adapted for a variety of age groups and levels of learners. The Word Bank provides suggestions of other positive words you can use.

Set the scene

To set the scene for the meditation, you may play a calming sound in the background. I like to use a sound machine that plays the sounds of ocean waves, rain, a waterfall, a rainforest, and a heartbeat. You could play gentle, calming, relaxing music, or you can have silence. You may have students stay in their seats, or you may have them sit or lie in an open area in the room, depending on how much space there is.

Once you have set the scene, read the message in a positive, calm, clear voice as students begin meditating.

Sample Meditation Messages

Sample 1 (happiness):

Before class, write the focus word, along with its definition and examples of the word in short sentences, on the board:

Happiness (noun)—“the state of being happy” (Merriam-Webster). Happiness is floating in the pool. Happiness is the calm beauty of a sunset. Happiness is my friend’s smile.

You may also put up pictures to help students understand the word. For this message, you could show a picture of someone floating in a pool, a picture of a sunset, or a picture of a smiling friend. Read out loud with students the word, meaning, and usage.

Next, use a spoken script such as this to guide students into meditation: 

Now clear your mind of all your outside thoughts. Be present, be here, in this moment. Let’s focus on one thought. Happiness. Think about what happiness is to you. Think of a moment when you were happy. As you close your eyes, picture happiness. As you breathe in, see your picture. As you breathe out, let yourself feel the happiness you are picturing and say silently to yourself, “I am happy.” Feel yourself relax and feel happy. Breathe in. Breathe out. “I am happy.” Breathe in. “I am happy.”

Give students a couple of minutes to focus on their breathing and say silently to themselves as they breathe out, “I am happy.”

Once the time is up, fade any background music or sound to a quiet stop and say in a soft, energized voice, “You may open your eyes now. Let’s learn English!” Then move directly into the lesson for the day.

If you need to transition students back to their seats, I suggest saying, “You may now open your eyes and slowly stand up. Walk quietly, mindfully back to your seat, ready to learn English.” You may also do extension activities such as journal writing about the meditation message.

Sample 2 (failure):

Write on the board the focus word, its definition, and examples of its usage: 

Failure (noun)—“omission of occurrence or performance … a state of inability to perform a normal function … a lack of success” (Merriam-Webster). Everyone experiences failure; it is a part of life. Failure can often lead to discoveries and eventual success. We learn from our failures.

When going over the definition and examples, you might give examples of famous people your students are familiar with. If they know Bill Gates, tell them that Bill Gates’ first business was a failure. Or you could use a name from a unit you’ve studied; for example, if your students have studied American inventors, you could use the following quote by Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” You could also ask students if they remember a character in a book your class has read who experienced failure and later found success.

A spoken script to guide students into meditation could read as follows: 

Today let’s clear our minds of negative thoughts, and let’s dare to fail and learn by trying. See yourself trying and learning more each time you try. Clear your mind and let yourself feel the happiness you feel once you learn from something that didn’t work. Now focus on your breathing. Breathe in. And as you breathe out, say to yourself, “Through failure, I learn.” Breathe in. “Through failure, I learn.”

Word Bank to get you started on meditation messages



Meditating in class helped my students to be more focused and open to language acquisition. The technique described here can be used for nearly any age and for any language level.


Campbell, E. 2013. Research round-up: Mindfulness in schools. Greater Good (October 10).

Kirp, D. L. 2014. Meditation transforms roughest San Francisco schools. SFGate (January 12).

Krashen, S. 1982. Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Machado, A. 2014. Should schools teach kids to meditate? The Atlantic (January 27).


Amy Jenkins holds an MA in TESOL from Teachers College, Columbia University, and has taught ESL/EFL for ten years both overseas and in the United States. She works for the U.S. Department of Education with English Programs.

Author: Amy Jenkins
Format: Text

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Teaching Techniques: Speed Drawing for Vocabulary RetentionExpand

This exciting drawing activity helps students remember vocabulary. I created the activity when I was working with beginning students at a middle school in Japan. The students were 12 to 14 years old and had a limited vocabulary. Speed drawing was a fun and successful way to help them practice asking questions and using targeted vocabulary.

The activity can work in any style of classroom with a minimum of supplies. The only things necessary are a vocabulary list, scraps of paper, and things that students can use to draw pictures (e.g., pencils, pens, markers). In order to save paper, you may cut the paper into small squares so that students use a small amount of paper for each drawing.

Begin by providing a list of about 12 new English vocabulary words; the activity works best if the words are nouns, especially at lower levels of proficiency. This list can be written on the board or a piece of poster paper, taken from a textbook, or distributed on a handout. Go over the meanings of the words. The students should have some time to study the words, but it’s not necessary to memorize them, as the students can refer to the list during the activity. You can lead the class in repeating the words or allow students to read and practice saying the words alone, in pairs, or in small groups. Familiar vocabulary can be mixed in and used for review as well.

It’s often good to have the words center on a theme, like animals, occupations, or weather. One reason is that it focuses students’ attention on words that are related thematically. Another reason is that using nouns that may be similar—such as a dozen words about animals—really makes the drawing and guessing parts of the game challenging and fun.

After a few minutes, explain that the students will play a drawing game so that they can practice using the words. Emphasize that the goal is to practice English, rather than to showcase artistic talent. For a lower-level class, you might say, “This is English class. Which is more important? Practicing English or drawing a picture?”

Once students feel reassured that they don’t need to be artists to participate, you can explain that they will pair off and take turns choosing a vocabulary word and trying to draw it so that their partner can guess which word it is.

But wait! It’s not that easy! The students will have only ten seconds to draw their picture. And wait again! They must also close their eyes while they draw! 

At this point you should model the activity by closing your eyes and drawing a picture either on the board or on a large piece of paper while counting to ten (or, better yet, have the students do the counting). Once the picture is “finished,” encourage the students to guess what it is, even if they aren’t sure about the answer. Obviously, the picture will be terrible because of the time limit and closed eyes; that’s what makes this activity fun. The point here is for students to practice saying the vocabulary words over and over again, so if they need to guess three or four or nine words, that’s just more practice. Depending on the students’ level, you can provide simple phrases (either on the board or through speaking practice) for students to use—for example, “Is it a table? Is it an oven?” You can also provide responses, such as “Yes, that’s right!” or “No, it isn’t. Please try again.”

For higher levels, you might ask students to provide and model a few useful phrases, such as the following:

  • “I think it might be a ________.”
  • “I’m not sure, but is it a _______?”
  • “It looks a little bit like a _________.”

If you are confident that most of the students understand the activity and will be able to ask the question phrases with the vocabulary words, ask the students to break into pairs. Students in each pair decide who will draw first and then secretly choose a vocabulary word. After that, ask the students who will draw first to raise their hands. Make sure the students with their hands raised are prepared with paper and something to draw with. Your directions might sound something like this:

Now please find a friend. Two students will work together. One student will draw first. Who will draw first? … OK, the student who will draw first should have paper and pencil. Please raise your hand if you will draw. Thank you! Do you know what you will draw? Don’t say it! Shhh! It’s a secret. Are you ready? I will count to ten. Ready, set, go!

After ten seconds, students stop drawing, and you can walk around to help them use their questioning phrases with the vocabulary words. If you like, you can encourage them to show nearby students their pictures and have those students guess the vocabulary words in English. Discreetly help any students who may have done the activity incorrectly while the rest of the class guesses and shares their pictures. Continue to emphasize that this is a game for practicing English, so students should have fun while using their time wisely to practice their vocabulary words, and of course, remind them to guess and respond in English.

Have the students change who is drawing and then play the game again. One option is to have the partners take turns counting to ten; that is, one person draws while the other person counts and then guesses what the drawing is, and then they switch roles.

This game can be repeated up to about ten times, or more if students are still engaged. It should be played enough to use nearly all the vocabulary words, but not so many times that the students get bored. The explanation and demonstration may take about ten minutes, with the actual playing of the game taking another ten to 15 minutes or so. The game is appropriate for students of almost any age and is recommended for use with students whose English skills are at the beginning to intermediate level. You can play it again from time to time with different vocabulary lists. 

Sara Hendricks has her master’s degree in TESOL from University of Wisconsin–River Falls and enjoys living in Japan with her husband and two children while teaching English at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University.

Author: Sara Hendricks
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My Classroom: IndonesiaExpand

Alief Noor Farida is a junior lecturer at Indonesia’s Universitas Negeri Semarang (Semarang State University [UNNES]). Now teaching her fourth semester and an alumna of the English Education program at UNNES, Ms. Farida is an especially motivated and dedicated educator. She teaches 18 hours per week, specializing in grammar and writing-skills courses. The Intensive Course she teaches, focusing on reading, writing, speaking, and grammar skills, serves as a foundation for incoming English Department students.

Ms. Farida begins each class by welcoming students with small talk in English before reviewing previous material. Each class ends with a review, comprehension-check questions, encouragement to complete the homework, and a friendly reminder to students that the course serves as a building block for the rest of their academic journey within the department.

Of her classroom, she is most proud of the atmosphere she has established with her students, who, she said, are “energetic, active, and not afraid to try new things.” She pointed out that “traditionally, Indonesian classrooms are very teacher-centered. Students usually feel a lot of pressure about making mistakes in class, both from the teacher and their peers.” Ms. Farida combats this cultural norm by reducing her lecturing time, trying different seating arrangements, and moving around the classroom. “When I was studying English in junior high school,” she recalled, “my teacher only read from the textbook, and the class was very boring. I do not want my students to feel this way about English. I especially like to assign role plays and let students become another character. This way they feel less pressure to be perfect.”

The current students, who are enrolled in either the English Education or the English Literature program, received their English education beginning in the first grade of elementary school, when they were about six years old, and in general achieved intermediate proficiency by the time they completed high school, at about age 18. A topic of intense debate, the national curriculum of Indonesia underwent major changes in 2013, and English language study is no longer a compulsory subject in elementary schools. English is now optional at the primary-school level, with compulsory lessons beginning in junior high school.

“I understand the motive behind the change is to alleviate the pressure on students to learn a foreign language,” Ms. Farida said. “However, without early exposure to English, how will students become interested? How will students build their language foundation?”

Ms. Farida believes that at the elementary-school age, students are more inquisitive and curious, and more capable of taking in new information. As a mother, she is keen to the changes she sees in her six-year-old son’s learning experience. “My son hears the English I use around the house and has already begun mixing English vocabulary with Bahasa Indonesia. He tells me ‘Bunda, saya mau star fruit’ (‘Momma, I want a star fruit’). He does this out of his own curiosity and natural thirst for learning. I hope he can continue to learn English like this without feeling too much pressure. My son is exposed to English because of my career as a teacher.”

Also in the most recent national curriculum is a focus on student-centered learning. Ms. Farida hopes that this will shift the emphasis from reading and mechanical study to more active classes in which students are able to comprehend and use English to complete a task.

“The new curriculum’s focus on student-centered learning is often quite different from what the majority of students have experienced in language classes,” she said. “In my own lessons, I have incorporated more student presentations and teaching practices in order to give them hands-on experience. Up till now, these future English teachers have not had many role models for student-centered learning. Now, we must make up for this so our students are fully prepared to carry out the new curriculum.”

At UNNES, English Department lecturers use classrooms equipped with the same basic facilities: desks, chairs, blackboards and whiteboards, and LCD overhead projectors. Ms. Farida’s main resource in class is a textbook that provides students with a base knowledge of English so that they may continue in their respective programs. Both disciplines within the English Department—English Education and English Literature—instruct the majority of classes in English.  

The English Department provides lecturers with a curriculum to follow, but they are also given the freedom to improvise and use their own materials. In Indonesia, students are able to choose their own majors, and therefore the students of the well-known program at UNNES are highly motivated and eager to learn. Finding engaging and authentic materials can sometimes pose a challenge to Ms. Farida, who said the greatest resource for such materials is the Internet, although she makes use of local materials as well—for example, by assigning her translation class to translate local brochures into English.

As a young lecturer, Ms. Farida hopes to continue improving her teaching technique as well as her personal knowledge of English. She actively seeks professional development and training opportunities and has participated in Shaping the Way We Teach webinars and MOOCs (massive open online courses) offered by the U.S. Department of State and the University of California–Berkeley. (For more information on MOOCs or to sign up for a course, go to or Her future goals include attending and presenting at local conferences and seminars as well as completing an exchange program overseas. Her advice to teenagers hoping to begin a career in English education is to first build a base knowledge of English grammar. She said, “It is one of the things students ask about most. For students to succeed, the teacher must be able to explain the grammar rules to them.” She also pointed out that along with achieving a high proficiency in English, prospective teachers must also hone their teaching methods and skills.

Following up on her undergraduate and postgraduate work, Ms. Farida develops her own teaching skills by experience and reflection. During her UNNES studies, she taught privately from her second semester onward and therefore was able to immediately apply the theories she learned in the classroom. She learned from her challenges and successes. Ms. Farida thinks critically of her own lesson planning, reflecting on past classes and working to improve the next. She is also an active observer; as a student and still now as a lecturer she observes her more senior colleagues and takes note of techniques that work well and methods she hopes to try in her classroom.

In addition to online training, Ms. Farida is a fan of resources found on the Internet. “There are so many resources available on the Internet, and teachers from all over the world can access them for free,” she said. She is especially a fan of and Now that she is a full-time teacher, she has even fewer chances to observe others in practice. Sometimes Ms. Farida finds videos of teaching on YouTube to imitate in class. Her senior colleagues are often too busy to observe her teaching and provide feedback, as the demand for English in Indonesia is quite high and UNNES has one of the best programs in the area.

Ms. Farida first became interested in the English language when she was in kindergarten. She borrowed a cassette tape of Mariah Carey songs from a cousin and fell in love with the language. Not only did she learn all the lyrics by heart, she had her mother translate them so she could understand the meaning. She did not return the cassette to her cousin for many months. And now she uses songs in her teaching. “Students are much more engaged during class when they see language in action, not just in a textbook,” she explained. “Sometimes I still use songs in translation, idiom, phonetics, and even grammar lessons.” She also uses songs to introduce a topic and get students “excited—even if the song itself is not the main focus of the lesson.” As an example, she said she plays the Backstreet Boys’ “As Long as You Love Me” to introduce adverb clauses.

Ms. Farida shows no signs of losing her passion for learning and teaching English. “I like English because it gives me a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “Compared to Bahasa Indonesia, the grammar rules are much more complicated and complex. When I fully understand one and how to use it, I feel like I have solved a puzzle. When I teach, I try to pass this passion on to my students.”
Most important, she said, “is my continued use of English with my son. I want him to be able to speak English well and have the same passion that I do. Indonesia is growing and developing rapidly, and I hope for him to be successful. I think English proficiency will be a key factor in that.”

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Try This: Listening and LogicExpand

Level: Low Intermediate and above

Time required: 45 minutes

Goals: To practice listening for details; to practice or review vocabulary; to use teamwork and logic to solve puzzles

Background: The word logic refers to a systematic, reasoned way of thinking, usually used to solve a problem or to understand a situation. Logic grid puzzles include a graphic organizer (in this case, a grid) that helps students keep track of information in the puzzle’s clues, use the process of elimination, and make inferences that will lead them to the puzzle’s solution.     

The puzzles in this activity require members in a student pair (or small team, if you prefer) to communicate actively. Nobody in the pair or team has all the information needed to solve the puzzle. Students can share their clues orally, but they can’t show each other the written information. Therefore, everyone must listen carefully to identify important details. Beyond developing listening and critical thinking skills, these puzzles are a fun and challenging way for students to practice speaking, review vocabulary, and apply social skills related to teamwork.             

The activity instructions and first two puzzles use the theme of ordering food in American restaurants. Puzzles related to free-time activities, pets, and birthdays are also provided. Teachers and students can create their own logic puzzles by following the steps in the Extension section.

Materials: Copies of the logic grids and clues, scissors, blackboard and chalk or whiteboard and markers, and pencils or pens

1. Review vocabulary in the logic grid puzzles to determine whether any words or phrases need to be presented or reviewed.
2. Photocopy and cut up the logic grids and clues so that you have one puzzle set for each pair of students. (A puzzle set includes a logic grid for the partners to share and one list of clues for each partner.) See the Variation section for a photocopy-free option in which students draw their own grids.

1. Tell students they are going to work together to solve puzzles. Explain that to demonstrate the process, you and the class will work together to complete a puzzle about people’s food orders in an American restaurant.
2. Present or review any target vocabulary items you have identified. Use descriptions, text, drawing, miming, elicitation, or other preferred techniques.
3. Explain to students that they will use these vocabulary items and a graphic organizer called a logic grid to figure out which person ordered each meal. Model how to complete a logic grid by using provided clues about breakfast orders:

  • Draw the following grid on the board. Write the list of clues below the grid.


Scrambled eggs and sausage

Omelet with cheese and toast

Yogurt with fruit and honey













  • Paul does not like to eat sweet things for breakfast.
  • Carol does not like eggs.
  • Kevin always eats eggs and meat for breakfast.
  • Tell students, “Three people, named Paul, Kevin, and Carol, have ordered breakfast. One person ordered scrambled eggs and sausage; another ordered an omelet with cheese and toast; and the other ordered yogurt with fruit and honey. Which person ordered each breakfast?”
  • Explain that the breakfast orders are listed across the top of the grid, and the people’s names are listed in the left-hand column. Tell the students they must use the clues to identify each person’s breakfast order. Explain that each person ordered a different meal.
  • Work through the clues with the class and show them how to mark a logic grid to keep track of the information. Ask a volunteer to read the first clue aloud. Ask the class to tell you which item Paul did not order since he doesn’t like sweet things for breakfast (the answer is “yogurt with fruit and honey”). Put an X in the box that aligns with “Paul” and “yogurt with fruit and honey,” and tell students that an X represents an incorrect combination of person and meal choice. Depending on your students’ level, you can explain that this logic technique of removing incorrect information from a problem is called “the process of elimination.”
  • Repeat the process with the next clue. Since Carol doesn’t like eggs, you can place an X in each of the first two columns in Carol’s row:


Scrambled eggs and sausage

Omelet with cheese and toast

Yogurt with fruit and honey













  • Ask the students if they know what Carol ordered, since two choices have been eliminated. When they reply, “Yes, yogurt with fruit and honey,” place an O in the box that aligns with “Carol” and “yogurt with fruit and honey.” Explain that an O represents a correct match. Also, put an X in the middle square in the last column to show that only Carol ordered yogurt with fruit and honey (and that therefore, Kevin didn’t).


Scrambled eggs and sausage

Omelet with cheese and toast

Yogurt with fruit and honey













  • Have a volunteer read the last clue aloud. Ask students if they know which item Kevin ordered (scrambled eggs and sausage). Place an O in the box that aligns with “Kevin” and “scrambled eggs and sausage.” Then demonstrate that since you know which item Kevin ordered, you can put an X in the remaining empty box in his row. Marking that information solves the rest of the puzzle through the process of elimination: you know that only one person, Kevin, ordered scrambled eggs and sausage, so you can put an X in the box that aligns with “Paul” and “scrambled eggs and sausage.” After that information is marked, the only possible combination that remains is that Paul ordered the omelet with cheese and toast:


Scrambled eggs and sausage

Omelet with cheese and toast

Yogurt with fruit and honey













  • Conclude your demonstration by writing on the board each person’s name and the breakfast he or she ordered:

Paul – omelet with cheese and toast
Kevin – scrambled eggs and sausage
Carol – yogurt with fruit and honey
4. Put students into pairs. If you have a large class, you can put students into groups of 4 or 6 and then divide each group into two teams of 2 or 3. Tell the students they will now work with their partner (or partner team) to solve a more complicated logic grid about food orders.
5. Tell the class that each partner (or partner team) will have a different set of clues. Students must not show their clues to their partners. Partners must solve the puzzle by taking turns talking about the clues, listening carefully for details, agreeing on the clues’ meaning, and then using a logic grid to mark their progress. The two partners (or partner teams) will share the same logic grid.
6. Pass out the clues and the logic grids (see page XX), and tell students they may want to use a pencil to complete the grid in case they need to make changes. Remind students not to show each other their clues. Based on your students’ English proficiency level, decide on the amount of time they will have to solve the puzzles; share that information with the class. Tell the partners (or partner teams) to begin solving the puzzle. When they are finished, the students should write a list showing each person’s food order.
7. Monitor the students’ progress and answer any questions that arise. When students think they have the solution, they should check their answers with you (solutions to the logic puzzles are on page XX) or compare answers with another pair or group. Partners that finish first can begin another puzzle, make their own logic grid puzzle (see the Extension), or complete another activity, such as silent reading.
8. When time is up, briefly review the solution with the whole class. If some partners (or partner teams) are still working, encourage the students who have finished to share their logic strategies with the group. 

Extension: Make Your Own Logic Grid Puzzles
Working in pairs or small groups, students can make their own puzzles using themes related to class content or other topics. To begin, pairs pick a theme, decide how many items to include in the puzzle (usually not more than six), and then develop two lists that contain equal numbers of names (people, animals, or other characters) and “mystery” targets. Examples include five people and five different movies they want to see this weekend, six animals and their six habitats, and four people and their four favorite sports.
Next, pairs draw a blank logic grid of the appropriate size, writing the names (first column) and target items (first row) as shown in this activity’s grids. Then pairs create the solution to the puzzle by matching each name to a different target item. Finally, they work backwards to develop a list of clues, testing each clue by marking the grid as they write it to make sure their logic is sound. Working together to develop and test clues can spark dynamic student conversations and provide a bit of writing practice, too! When students finish creating a puzzle, they should give it to another pair or small group to try.

If you cannot photocopy the puzzles, students can create their own materials with your support. Before class, write each set of clues in large letters on a separate piece of poster paper. Follow Steps 1 through 3 above. When putting students in pairs, in Step 4, arrange the class so that all pairs or partner teams sit facing each other; that is, all students in one half of the pair face one classroom wall, and the other students face the opposite wall. Complete Step 5. During Step 6, post the clues on opposite walls so that each half of the student pairs (or partner teams) can see only one set of clues. (Note: If you have a large class, you may need to post more than one copy on each wall.) Draw the logic grid on the board so that all can see it. Have the pairs copy the grid on a piece of paper to share. Remind students not to turn around and look at the clues posted behind them. Proceed with the rest of the steps described above.
Logic Grid Puzzle 1: What’s for Lunch? (Intermediate)
Match each person to his or her lunch order. Everyone has ordered something different.


Cheeseburger and French fries

Salad (lettuce and tomatoes) and vegetable soup

Steak and French fries

Cheese pizza

Baked fish with rice and spicy vegetables

Chicken sandwich with cheese and potato chips











































Clues – Set 1 
You can read and talk about the clues, but don’t show them to the person or people you are working with!

Clues – Set 2
You can read and talk about the clues, but don’t show them to the person or people you are working with!

  • Maria and Peter don’t need a spoon or a fork to eat lunch.
  • John did not order French fries.
  • Sheila eats healthy vegetables at every meal.
  • John thinks cheesy foods have too many calories, so he doesn’t order them.
  • Raul is allergic to dairy products (foods made from milk). He can’t eat them.
  • Katie is a vegetarian. She doesn’t eat meat (beef, chicken, pork, or lamb) or fish.
  • Peter always orders French fries, but Sheila never eats fried or spicy foods.
  • John thinks salads are boring. He likes spicy foods.


Logic Grid Puzzle 2: Who Ate What? (Upper Intermediate)
Match each person to his or her breakfast order. Everyone has ordered something different.


Tomato and cheese omelet,

Fried eggs, orange juice

Oatmeal (porridge), coffee

Toast and strawberry jam, coffee

Spinach and mushroom omelet, tea

Hard-boiled eggs and fried potatoes, tea












































Clues – Set 1
You can read and talk about the clues, but don’t show them to the person or people you are working with!

Clues – Set 2
You can read and talk about the clues, but don’t show them to the person or people you are working with!

  • Mike wears glasses to read the newspaper while he eats breakfast alone.
  • Kelly is wearing a green sweater, Alice is wearing a black dress, and Inna is wearing a purple shirt.
  • Richard has a mustache, and Mike has a beard.
  • Kelly, Inna, and Alice are having breakfast together.
  • Richard and Sarah are sitting at the same table.
  • The person wearing black and Richard both ordered omelets.
  • The person wearing glasses ordered an egg dish.
  • The person wearing green and the person having breakfast with the man who has a mustache never order eggs for breakfast.
  • The person with a beard doesn't like coffee or tea, but the person eating with Sarah always drinks coffee with breakfast.
  • The person eating with Inna and Alice loves toast with jam.


Logic Grid Puzzle 3: Having Fun! (Intermediate)
Can you figure out what each of these people likes to do in his or her free time?
Remember, every person likes a different activity.


in the ocean

books at the library

Playing soccer

Playing basketball (outside)

Going shopping

Surfing the Internet at a café











































Clues – Set 1
You can read and talk about the clues, but don’t show them to the person or people you are working with!

Clues – Set 2
You can read and talk about the clues, but don’t show them to the person or people you are working with!

  • The two people whose names begin with the same letter prefer outdoor activities.
  • Erin likes to exercise in her free time.
  • Julio and Erin don’t know how to swim.
  • Jenny and Erin don’t like to play basketball.
  • Bob and Olga can enjoy their favorite activities alone.
  • Mark doesn’t need a ball to enjoy his favorite activity.
  • Mark’s and Bob’s favorite activities can make their eyes tired.
  • Mark likes to read blogs, watch videos, and read the news in his free time.


Heather Benucci is an EFL teacher, teacher trainer, and materials development specialist. She has led virtual professional development programs for EFL teachers in over 100 countries and has worked face-to-face with teachers and students in Russia, Korea, England, and the United States.

Logic Grid Puzzles 4 and 5 were written by English Teaching Forum staff.


Logic Grid Puzzle 4: Pets (Low Intermediate)
A family has four pets: a dog, a cat, a bird, and a fish. The colors of the pets are brown, white, black, and gray. Which color is each pet?


























Clues – Set 1
You can read and talk about the clues, but don’t show them to the person or people you are working with!

Clues – Set 2
You can read and talk about the clues, but don’t show them to the person or people you are working with!

  • The white pet has four legs.
  • The gray pet does not have feathers.
  • The dog is not black.


  • The black pet cannot fly.
  • The gray pet does not bark.
  • The brown pet and the gray pet do not live in water.


Logic Grid Puzzle 5: Birthdays (Intermediate)

Four sisters—named Martha, Angela, Juanita, and Olive—were born in different months: March, April, July, and October. Which sister was born in which month?


























Clues – Set 1
You can read and talk about the clues, but don’t show them to the person or people you are working with!

Clues – Set 2
You can read and talk about the clues, but don’t show them to the person or people you are working with!

  • Juanita’s birthday comes before Olive’s.
  • Olive was born in a month that has 31 days.
  • Martha’s and Angela’s birthdays are exactly six months apart.
  • Juanita’s and Angela’s birthdays are one month apart.


  • Martha does not have the first birthday of the year.
  • Angela’s birthday is not the last birthday of the year.
  • There is an “r” in the name of Martha’s month.
  • Only one sister was born in a month that starts with the same letter that her name starts with.



Logic Grid Puzzle 1: What’s for Lunch?
John – baked fish with rice and spicy vegetables; Katie – cheese pizza; Raul – steak and French fries; Maria – chicken sandwich with cheese and potato chips; Sheila – salad and vegetable soup; Peter – cheeseburger and French fries

Logic Grid Puzzle 2: Who Ate What?
Sarah – oatmeal, coffee; Inna – hard-boiled eggs and fried potatoes, tea; Mike – fried eggs, orange juice; Alice – spinach and mushroom omelet, tea; Kelly – toast and strawberry jam, coffee; Richard – tomato and cheese omelet, coffee

Logic Grid Puzzle 3: Having Fun!
Erin – playing soccer; Jenny – swimming; Olga – going shopping; Bob – reading books; Julio – playing basketball; Mark – surfing the Internet

Logic Grid Puzzle 4: Pets
dog – white; cat – gray; bird – brown; fish – black

Logic Grid Puzzle 5: Birthdays
Martha – October; Angela – April; Juanita – March; Olive – July

Author: Heather Benucci
Format: Text

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The Lighter Side: You’re Not Listening!Expand

Below are five quotations on the art of listening. But if you’re listening when you read them, you will notice that something sounds wrong. The word in bold in each sentence doesn’t belong. Replace each word in bold with one from a different sentence to correct the quotes. Then you’ll have five sayings on listening to think about and discuss.

1. We talked for four people. Well, I talked for four, and she listened for two.

Change people to ________.

2. The word listen contains the same letters as the word intent.

Change intent to ________.

3. We have two hours and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.

Change hours to ________.

4. Most of the successful silent I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.

Change silent to ________.

5. Most people do not listen with the ears to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

Change ears to ________.

Sources of the quotations:
1. Jarod Kintz (American writer, born 1982)
2. Alfred Brendel (Austrian pianist and author, born 1931)
3. Diogenes (philosopher of ancient Greece)
4. Bernard M. Baruch (American financier and philanthropist, died 1965)
5. Stephen R. Covey (American educator and author, died 2012)

Answers to The Lighter Side: You're Not Listening!
1. Change people to hours.
2. Change intent to silent.
3. Change hours to ears.
4. Change silent to people.
5. Change ears to intent.

Format: Text

International Subscriptions: English Teaching Forum is distributed through U.S. embassies. If you would like to subscribe to the print version of English Teaching Forum, please contact the Public Affairs or Cultural Affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in your country.

U.S. Subscriptions: English Teaching Forum is exempted from the Congressional restriction on distribution of Department of State-produced materials in the United States. U.S. residents who want to order the printed edition can order from the U.S. Superintendent of Documents.