Teaching listening #5 – Listening Strategies

Jack Richards

In his current series of posts, Interchange author Jack C. Richards is considering how we teach listening. Today, he explores listening strategies.

Successful listening can also be looked at in terms of the strategies the listener uses when listening. Does the learner focus mainly on the content of a text, or does he or she also consider how to listen? A focus on how to listen raises the issue of listening strategies. Strategies can be thought of as the ways in which a learner approaches and manages a task, and listeners can be taught effective ways of approaching and managing their listening. These activities seek to involve listeners actively in the process of listening.

Buck (2001:104) identifies two kinds of strategies in listening:

Cognitive strategies: Mental activities related to comprehending and storing input in working memory or long-term memory for later retrieval

  • Comprehension processes: Associated with the processing of linguistic and nonlinguistic input
  • Storing and memory processes: Associated with the storing of linguistic and nonlinguistic input in working memory or long-term memory
  • Using and retrieval processes: Associated with accessing memory, to be readied for output


Metacognitive strategies: Those conscious or unconscious mental activities that perform an executive function in the management of cognitive strategies

  • Assessing the situation: Taking stock of conditions surrounding a language task by assessing one’s own knowledge, one’s available internal and external resources, and the constraints of the situation before engaging in a task
  • Monitoring: Determining the effectiveness of one’s own or another’s performance while engaged in a task
  • Self-evaluating: Determining the effectiveness of one’s own or another’s performance after engaging in the activity
  • Self-testing: Testing oneself to determine the effectiveness of one’s own language use or the lack thereof

Goh (1997, 1998) shows how the metacognitive activities of planning, monitoring, and evaluating can be applied to the teaching of listening:

Metacognitive strategies for self-regulation in learner listening (Goh 1997, 1998)


This is a strategy for determining learning objectives and deciding the means by which the objectives can be achieved.

General listening development

  • Identify learning objectives for listening development.
  • Determine ways to achieve these objectives.
  • Set realistic short-term and long-term goals.
  • Seek opportunities for listening practice.


Specific listening task

  • Preview main ideas before listening.
  • Rehearse language (e.g., pronunciation) necessary for the task.
  • Decide in advance which aspects of the text to concentrate on.



This is a strategy for checking on the progress in the course of learning or carrying out a learning task.

General listening development

  • Consider progress against a set of predetermined criteria.
  • Determine how close it is to achieving short-term or long-term goals.
  • Check and see if the same mistakes are still being made.


Specific listening task

  • Check understanding during listening.
  • Check the appropriateness and the accuracy of what is understood and compare it with new information.
  • Identify the source of difficulty.



This is a strategy for determining the success of the outcome of an attempt to learn or complete a learning task.

General listening development

  • Assess listening progress against a set of predetermined criteria.
  • Assess the effectiveness of learning and practice strategies.
  • Assess the appropriateness of learning goals and objectives set.


Specific listening task

  • Check the appropriateness and the accuracy of what has been understood.
  • Determine the effectiveness of strategies used in the task.
  • Assess overall comprehension of the text.


Goh and Yusnita (2006) describe the effectiveness of strategy instruction among a group of 11- and 12-year old ESL learners in Singapore:

Eight listening lessons which combined guided reflection and teacher-led process-based discussions were conducted. At the end of the period of metacognitive instruction, the children reported in their written diaries a deeper understanding of the nature and the demands of listening, increased confidence in completing listening tasks, and better strategic knowledge for coping with comprehension difficulties. There was also an increase in the scores in the listening examinations of the majority of the students, particularly the weaker listeners, suggesting that metacognitive instruction also had a direct impact on listening performance.

Another approach to incorporating listening strategies in a listening lesson involves a cycle of activities, as seen below.

Steps in guided metacognitive sequence in a listening lesson from Goh and Yusnita (2006)

Step 1 Pre-listening activity

In pairs, students predict the possible words and phrases that they might hear. They write down their predictions. They may write some words in their first language.

Step 2 First listen

As they are listening to the text, students underline or circle those words or phrases (including first-language equivalents) that they have predicted correctly. They also write down new information they hear.

Step 3 Pair process-based discussion

In pairs, students compare what they have understood so far and explain how they arrived at the understanding. They identify the parts that caused confusion and disagreement and make a note of the parts of the text that will require special attention in the second listen.

Step 4 Second listen

Students listen to those parts that have caused confusion or disagree- ment areas and make notes of any new information they hear.

Step 5 Whole-class process-based discussion

The teacher leads a discussion to confirm comprehension before discussing with students the strategies that they reported using.

In his next post, Jack Richards will look at Listening as acquisition. To read other posts by Jack Richards, click here.

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