Using Listening Strategies

Supporting Good Strategy Use
As with all skills, teachers should help students talk about the listening strategies they are using so that they can build an awareness and more intentionally choose when, where, and how to draw upon their repertoire. Once a strategy has been introduced look for other ways for students to use it. Present a real or imaginary task and ask students how they would go about doing it.

Applying Listening Strategies

You might get ready to listen by thinking about:
  • the speaker and the speaker’s purpose
  • your purpose for listening: to learn specific information; to decide whether to continue listening; to understand most or all of the message, etc. What do you want to find out?
  • your knowledge/experience with the subject: think about what you already know about the subject and predict the language and information you might expect to hear, including specific words and phrases. For ESOL, learn new vocabulary relevant to the subject that you are likely to hear.

Based on these clues, predict what you will be hearing:

  • the format (how the message is organized and in what sequence)
  • key words or phrases
  • the information or opinions

Talk about the process and strategies you might use for listening effectively

  • Determine the combination of strategies that will be useful in this situation
  • If listening in a non-native language, think about how you would listen in your native language; clarify any cultural information that may be necessary to comprehend the message.

While you listen you’ll need to monitor your comprehension:

  • Use visual clues to help you understand: the setting, the interaction, facial expressions, and gestures
  • Check the accuracy of your predictions
  • Decide what is and is not important to understand
  • Ask for help if you do not understand
    • Ask for clarification or repetition from the speaker or ask if what you understood is correct
    • Ask additional questions to flesh out your understanding

After you listen these strategies might help you synthesize, interpret and evaluate what you’ve heard:

  • See if you can paraphrase what you heard
  • Consider what you heard and how it fits with what you know
  • Discuss or respond to what you heard through writing, drawing, drama, etc.
  • Identify facts vs. opinions, more and less important details, supported vs. unsupported ideas
  • Discuss the process and strategies you used to listen – which worked well?

Factors That Influence Listening Abilities

  • physical factors (e.g., hearing loss, limited attention span, etc.)
  • emotional factors (e.g., conditions of trust that exist, level of listener's confidence)
  • fluency in English
  • clarity of the speaker’s speech
  • perception of the importance of the message
  • attitudes toward the speaker
  • difficulty making connections between new ideas and prior knowledge or constructing meaning

Types of Listening Strategies
Top-down strategies are based on the knowledge the listener brings - background knowledge of the topic, the situation, the speaker, and the language. This prior knowledge helps the listener activate a set of expectations, interpret what is heard, and anticipate what will come next. Top-down strategies include:

  • predicting
  • summarizing
  • distinguishing fact from opinion
  • interpreting tone
  • drawing inferences

Bottom-up strategies are based on the information coming from the message itself. The listener relies on the language in the message - the combination of sounds, words, and grammar that helps the listener create meaning. Bottom-up strategies include:

  • listening for specific words
  • recognizing cognates
  • recognizing word-order patterns
  • recognizing prefixes, roots, and suffixes

Strategic listeners also use metacognitive strategies to plan, monitor, and evaluate their listening.

  • They decide which listening strategies will best serve a particular situation.
  • They monitor their comprehension and the effectiveness of the selected strategies.
  • They evaluate by determining whether they have achieved their listening goals.