February 2017
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Hall Houston, Kainan University, Taiwan

Rost, M. (2015). Listening in action: 101 ways to teach listening. Available from:

The first edition of Listening in Action was published in 1991, in an age without podcasts, downloadable listening tracks, or YouTube videos. The book was a classic collection of 37 activities for teaching listening in EFL/ESL classrooms. Recently, Michael Rost has published a second edition of this book, with a few minor changes. Unlike the first edition, the new edition does not include a list of books and resources for teachers who want to learn more about teaching listening. One change that I noticed is the addition of many links to online resources, such as videos, online audio tracks, and online articles. This makes the book much more relevant for 21st-century educators.

The book’s introduction gives a good overview of the four sections of the book, as well as some useful information about teaching listening. Rost provides many practical tips for helping students improve their listening abilities. For example, he suggests that language teachers should focus on teaching listening not testing listening. Furthermore, he recommends that teachers encourage students to become independent learners by seeking out their own listening materials outside of class.

The book’s four sections each cover one type of listening activity. In the introduction, Rost explains that the order of the sections follows a progression from a minimum to a maximum of verbal interaction.

The first section, Attentive Listening, contains activities that focus on students listening and responding in basic ways. Because most of the activities here require very simple responses from the listener, they are ideal for beginning- and elementary-level students. These activities all provide support (linguistic, nonlinguistic, and interactional) for the listener, making it easier for them to comprehend the message. One activity that I liked is called “Demonstrations.” In this activity, students listen to a procedure that is demonstrated for them, such as making a sandwich or juggling. Next, students must recall different steps of the demonstration. I enjoy doing this kind of listening activity with my students, and this activity has some additional follow-up options, such as asking students questions about the demonstration and giving students an opportunity to do their own demonstrations.

The second section, Intensive Listening, has a number of activities where students concentrate on the language form of a message. The activities in this section help students notice how sound, structure, and lexical choice can affect meaning. One activity I found interesting is called “Short Forms.” In this activity, students listen for short forms in connected speech, such as assimilated consonant clusters and reductions of vowels. Short forms can be extremely challenging for second language learners, so I think it’s important to help students notice and understand them better.

The third section, Selective Listening, shares several activities with two different goals: listening as a way of predicting information and selecting cues, and listening to become more familiar with different types of discourse. One activity that caught my attention is called “Facts and Figures.” In this activity, students listen to descriptions of important people, places, and things and write down key information. Rost provides a helpful list of links to a broad range of texts, covering topics such as world records, Leonardo da Vinci, and Marilyn Monroe. This is a superb activity for helping students understand a text about a person or an event.

The fourth section, Interactive Listening, has activities for listening in combination with speaking. It includes many activities that guide students in taking an active role in a conversation. An activity that I like is called “Group Survey,” in which students ask each other questions on a topic as part of a survey. This activity gives students a lot of opportunities to practice speaking and listening.

One more feature worth mentioning is the Teacher’s Diary section that follows each activity. These sections feature questions that encourage the reader to reflect on how well an activity went, what improvements could be made on the activity, and what other activities come to mind that have some similarities to the activity.

Overall, this is an excellent resource for teachers of listening courses. The book contains a lot of variety, so there is something for every teaching context. Each activity is described in great detail, so the reader knows which level the activity is for, the purpose of the activity, and how to prepare for the activity in class. In addition, each activity contains one or more variations, which allows the reader to imagine a number of different ways an activity could be taught.

Earlier this month, I tried out several of the activities introduced in Rost’s (2015) Listening in Action with the university students I teach at Kainan University. The following are my observations of how my students learned in those activities.

I tried out an activity called “In Order” from the Selective Listening section of the book. In this activity, students get slips of paper containing sentences from a dialogue. They must listen and put the sentences in the correct order. I used this activity with an evening class, right after a mingle activity. I think it made sense to make a transition from an activity where students are in motion and focusing on fluency to an activity where students are sitting down and focused on accuracy. The students had not yet heard or read the dialogue, so they were challenged to put the sentences back in order. As I looked around the classroom, they were engaged and motivated to get the order right. Once I played the listening track, they were quick to move the sentences around. I thought it was a fun way to introduce the dialogue in the coursebook.

Another activity I used is called “Music Images” from the Attentive Listening section. In “Music Images,” students listen to excerpts from instrumental music tracks and write down what images come to mind while they listen. Rost includes links to a number of excellent instrumental music tracks on YouTube. I ended up using five different pieces of music. I did this activity with a freshman class that meets on Wednesday mornings. I think they were quite curious about what we were going to do when I handed out some paper and asked them to write the numbers 1 to 5 on their paper. They came up with quite an impressive range of vocabulary. Some students just wrote one or two words, while others wrote several sentences. I thought it was a nice warm-up activity to encourage students to use the words and expressions they knew to describe what they imagined.

One more activity I tried out is called “Cues Game,” from the Selective Listening section. In this activity, students listen to cues given by the teacher and try to guess what word the cues relate to. I used this in a sophomore listening and speaking class to review some vocabulary related to fashion. The activity caught the students’ attention immediately, and they were all eager to guess the word I was referring to. I will definitely use this activity again.

Teachers who would like to find more activities for teaching listening may want to check out another recent book, Active Listening, written by Michael Rost and J.J. Wilson, and published by Pearson in 2013. Here are a few more recommended books of activities for teaching listening:

Ur, Teaching Listening Comprehension (1984; Cambridge)
White, Listening (1998; Oxford)

Nunan and Miller, eds., New Ways in Teaching Listening (1995; TESOL)

Hall Houston teaches undergraduate students at Kainan University in Taoyuan, Taiwan. He has a master’s degree in foreign language education from The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of several books and articles about ELT.

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