Using graphic organizers as scaffolds while listening

Betsy Parrish

Betsy Parrish is a professor in ESL/EFL teacher education at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. In the last article in this series, Using graphic organizers as while-reading tasks, she shared the benefits of using graphic organizers to help learners organize information as they read, recognize the structure of texts, and practice valuable note-taking skills.  In this article, Betsy shows how these same principles can apply in listening lessons.

One-minute talks

To incorporate practice with listening to unscripted language in any lesson or unit, I like to create 1-minute videos on topics related to the themes in a curriculum.  In a unit on Crossing Cultures, I asked people who have lived and worked in another country to reply to this prompt:

What is something that surprised you when you went to live in a new country?

I recorded both US-born and immigrant speakers. One speaker, who moved to the US from Iran, notes that in the US people often eat alone in their offices; people will eat in front of you without necessarily offering you something.  A speaker from the US shares how different the life of teenagers is in Portugal. US teens drive very young and are often out of the house after school and the in the evenings. She notes that kids in Portugal don’t usually have after-school jobs; they come home to do homework.

Including graphic organizers

When listening to unscripted videos of any kind, a graphic organizer can provide a scaffold for gleaning what is important and then organizing that information.

1. Pre-listening: Students answer the same question as above. In an EFL setting with learners who may not have traveled or lived abroad, they can reflect on places they have visited or learned about. Then, the class generates a list of the types of cross-cultural differences they have encountered. For example, with a group I worked with recently, these themes emerged:

Listening for gist: Learners write the list they generated in their notebook. The first time they watch the video, they check off those topics addressed by the speakers. To give practice with the higher-order skill of providing evidence to support a claim, ask students for one idea to support each theme they checked off.

Student 1:  I said education because Meghan talks about kids doing more homework in Portugal.

Student 2: I think work, because Nader talks about people eating alone at work.

3. Listening: Jigsaw listening grids (a graphic organizer)

Assign half the class an A grid and half the class a B grid, each with half the information missing. Listen, take notes, and compare with members of the same group.  Listen again to fill in any gaps.

Group A

Where did the person live? What is the practice or custom? How is it different in their own country? How do they feel about the practice?
Christina India In the US, easy to cross the street. Fireworks are very far from a crowd.
Meghan Children and parents together more. Long family meals.  




She appreciates long dinners in Portugal.
Nader The United States In Iran, people don’t eat in public.

Eat meals together. Always offer you food.

 Group B

Where did the person live? What is the practice or custom? How is it different in their country? How do they feel about the practice?
Christina Dangerous for pedestrians.

Use of fireworks in crowds.

She had to be very careful. It was scary.


Meghan Portugal Teenagers more independent in US.
Nader People eat and drink in public.

Eat alone at work. Don’t offer you food.






He still doesn’t like it after 20 years in the US.

4. Jigsaw exchange: Learners stand and mingle to find someone from the other group. Without showing their grids, they report what they found. This step gives learners practice with effective communication skills such as asking for clarification, confirming information, and giving examples.

5. Follow-up: Learners create their own questions and conduct interviews with others (inside and outside of class) on the same topics addressed in the video. This can extend to a discussion around tolerance and avoiding stereotypes as they discover that there are a multitude of perspectives, and that the speakers in the videos don’t represent the views or practices of an entire cultural group.

Using the grid graphic organizer and jigsaw approach with short listening passages has the following benefits and promotes valuable 21st skills.


  • categorize information
  • employ selective listening
  • practice note-taking needed in professional and academic settings
  • employ critical thinking: comparing and contrasting, synthesizing information, and questioning beliefs
  • practice with authentic, non-scripted language
  • use communication strategies (exchanging information, clarifying)


Other listening sources and graphic organizers

YouTube clips, TedTalks, and podcasts are great sources for authentic listening clips. With a short YouTube clip on the benefits of a micro-loan to start a small business in Bangladesh, I created a task like this:

Watch a clip about a woman who received a micro-loan to be a “Phone Lady” in Bangladesh.  What have been the benefits to her personally?  What have been the benefits to her community?

The flow chart provides a visual representation in keeping with the structure of the listening passage: describing cause-effect.

How-to videos that describe a process are another great source and they exist for a wide range of topics.  A linear string graphic organizer makes the ideal task for this type of video clip.

Have students listen again for the words that signal a new step in the process.

To see teachers using techniques like these in their classes, visit New American Horizons adult ESL training videos on listening, reading, and writing (techniques suitable for all ages). In the next article, we explore how teachers create Communities of Practice to support one another in incorporating instruction in 21st Century Skills in their classes.

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