My Favorite ESL Listening Resources

My last post gave a run-down of how I teach listening in class.

I wrote briefly about authentic listening material and why it’s so important. This post is a collection of different sources and examples of listening materials that I think work the best for in ESL classes.

First, I’ll go through examples of listening materials I use in class.

Then we’ll look at resources that you can use to give your students outside of class listening homework.

Finally, I’ll talk about my favorite listening textbooks out of the ones I’ve used.

Let’s get started

Part 1: In-class Listening

Aside from the listening material from class textbooks, I only really use two websites for in-class listening materials: YouTube and TED.

YouTube

I use YouTube for about 95% of my self-prepared in-class listenings. It just has everything. Here are some examples of short videos I’ve used for different purposes.

  • Little Miss Sunshine – Play this video until 1:10 for an example of authentic restaurant English. You can elicit phrases for ordering and have students listen for types of foods/drinks. Useful at lower and intermediate levels. (Quality is a little poor)
  • Mark Zuckerberg Interview – More challenging. I used this interview to teach filler words. Zuckerberg uses a lot of them. Here is the lesson plan I made for this video. Directions for the teacher (with the times to play and stop the video) are on the third page.
  • Steve Jobs iPhone Presentation – Steve Jobs is a master presenter and speaker. This clip could be used to teach several things for presentations: thought groups, PowerPoint/slide design (minimal text, good pictures), gestures, body language, eye contact, meaningful pauses. Play up until 3:11 or so.

Browse around on YouTube. No matter what skill you’re teaching, there will be authentic material you can use in your class.

TED Talks

TED Talks are loved by several of my colleagues. They’re a great resource for in-class listenings for a variety of reasons:

  • You can find a TED talk on nearly anything. No matter what content you’re teaching, there’s a related TED talk.
  • There are speakers from several different backgrounds. If you’re into teaching World Englishes, you can find speakers will all different accents and flavors of English.
  • The interactive transcripts make it a breeze to create scripts for your classes if you intend to use them.interactive transcript button

Part 2: Listening Logs (homework/practice)

The subject of listening homework deserves a blog post on its own, but here’s a quick rundown of how it can be done and what resources you can show your students to get them listening to more English.

What are Listening Logs?

Listening logs are a way to facilitate listening outside of the class. The most common way to do it is assign a listening log due every week. For each log, students need to listen to a certain duration of English (30 min, 1 hour, 2 hours, etc.) depending on level.

There are different ways to do listening logs, but essentially they are simply assignments that students hand in to show that they’ve done listening outside of class. Here’s one example of how to do it. And here’s an example worksheet.

What can students listen to?

With the internet, this can be an ESL or EFL activity.

Podcasts: They’re getting more and more popular all the time. Show your students how to download a podcast app on their phones and get listening. Here are a few that would be good for adult ESL students:

  • Serial – A super popular podcast. A crime story told over several episodes. Interesting story, includes information about American culture, but has some “adult” and/or controversial material.
  • This American Life – The classic podcast. Stories from around America that are sometimes serious, sometimes funny, and sometimes both.
  • Revisionist History – Malcolm Gladwell’s new podcast. In-depth stories about different phenomena. Most recently had a three part series about college education inequality in America.
  • Planet Money – For students who want to study business, but also for everyone else. Stories about money and business that are actually fun and interesting. Also shorter than most podcasts (about 20 minutes or less on average). Part of the huge NPR network, which has tons of other things for students to listen to.
  • A Way With Words – A podcast for the word nerds. The hosts have conversations about strange or interesting phrases or etymologies. There are callers and word games as well.

TV: My grandmother came to the U.S. from Germany and says that she learned a lot of English from watching soap operas (when she first started watching, she thought they were movies and got frustrated because they never ended). American TV is so well known around the world. Most of your students are probably watching it already. Use it to your advantage: get them to focus on the language.

YouTube Channels: Yes, YouTube again. It’s also great for listening logs. Get your students hooked on a YouTube channel and they will listen to tons of English. Some recommendations:

  • Vlogs – Video blogs are popular and there’s tons of them. Some Vloggers post daily. There are Vlogs about almost everything, from fashion to travel; just type “vlog” and any topic into the YouTube search bar and you’re bound to find something. Casey Neistat has maybe the most popular Vlog. He talks about many different topics and is a master filmmaker.
  • Crash Course – Tons of different subjects; my favorites are the history ones. Compelling graphics and fast speaking/presentation (which might be difficult for some students). Something for everyone.
  • Rachel’s English – For the students who want to improve pronunciation. My favorite ESL pronunciation channel.

TED Talks: Again, TED talks are great. Their website is easily searchable and browsable, so every student can find something for them. You can also teach your students how to use the interactive transcript feature if they’re having difficulty understanding the speaker. TED is useful for getting students authentic listening material in their field of study.

The text that is being spoken in the video at that moment is underlined in the interactive transcript. You can also click on different parts of the transcript to skip the video ahead or backwards. It’s a great tool for students.

interactive transcript

Virtual Reality: Still growing in popularity, but I suspect we’ll be seeing more VR in the classrooms in the future. For now, you can encourage students to get a VR headset for their phone, download the Within app, and listen to some authentic English while immersed in a 360 degree virtual world. Pretty cool stuff.

Part 3: Textbooks

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission (at no cost to you) if you buy a textbook through one of the Amazon affiliate links.

Textbooks have their benefits and drawbacks, and listening teachers should always supplement their classes with additional listening materials like the ones listed above.

If you’re going to use a textbook, make sure you use a good one (if you can help it). There are a lot of bad textbooks out there, with boring topics and fake-sounding conversations. Avoid those. The ones I list here are the best I’ve used.

Audio Only

Like I mentioned in my previous post, I think using video for listening is better than just audio. However, it’s still difficult to find textbooks that use video. If you’re going to pick a textbook that use only audio, these are the best.

Consider the Issues: I used this textbook for an advanced speaking class. The listening materials are all from NPR, so they’re all authentic English. Just as importantly, all the topics are interesting. My students had tons to say about each topic.

The book’s organization is structured with a method similar to mine for teaching listening. There is schema activation at the beginning, followed by main ideas, and then specific details. Later, there is segmented audio for practicing pronunciation and/or grammar points that arise in the listening material.

Overall, a very good textbook for a combined listening/speaking class.

North Star: A textbook very similar to Consider the Issues, but with different levels (I’ve used North Star 4, which is for about the same level as Consider the Issues).

Again, the content is authentic and interesting. The audio is from actual radio programs and the topics include philanthropy, technology, and medicine.

The main difference with North Star is that, for me, the speaking activities are better than Consider the Issues, but the listening activities aren’t as well structured. Check them both out and see which one works best for your class.

Video

Lecture Ready: This textbook is for students who are preparing to enter English-speaking universities. There are video lectures that are scripted, but realistic. The topics are usually engaging for students. However, some of my students complained about the uninteresting visuals – it’s just one speaker giving a lecture. But hey, that’s often what it’s like at the university! So it’s good preparation for them. The textbook focuses mainly on listening strategies, including note taking.

Present Yourself: More of a presentation book (obviously), but with good vidheo listening materials that clearly show students the characteristics of good presentations. Like Lecture Ready, the videos are scripted and performed by actors, but they don’t feel cheesy or inauthentic. The textbook focuses on helping students give their own presentations, while using the video presentations as models. The link above is for the student book; you’ll need the teacher book with DVD to get the video materials.

Conclusion: Use Good Materials

Having a good plan for teaching listening is great, but teaching listening is usually only successful if you have good materials. Put good videos in front of your students in class and give them good stuff to listen to at home and they will flourish. If your program uses textbooks and you have any say in which ones you’ll use, choose good ones with authentic and interesting content.

Now that the internet is flooded with so much media, it’s possible to find someone speaking in English about nearly anything. Get out there and find useful listening material for your students.

Thanks for reading.

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Featured Image Credit: Fred von Lohmann

3 thoughts on “My Favorite ESL Listening Resources

  1. These are all great suggestions! I am teaching a lot of listening/speaking this semester and I agree, the better the quality of the listening selected, the more engaged the students will be. In the past I have used a lot of TED talk and news type of video, this year I am experimenting with more videos of conversations. Thank you for sharing all of these wonderful resources!

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