Listening at Upper
by Sam Smith
- Lesson plan 1
This lesson comes just over 2 months into a general English
extensive course. The group meets twice a week for one and
a half hours, so we have been together for about 30 hours.
The course book we are using is Cutting Edge Upper Intermediate
and we have completed the first 3 units. The fourth unit focuses
on 'Developing the Mind'. The content that inspired the videoed
discussion comes from the course book and the students will
be asked to do the same thing as the 2 teachers on the video.
Listening and particularly listening to native speakers using
natural fast speech is something that the students have expressed
an interest in and over the previous 2 months we have done
this as often as sensibly possible. However, before it has
usually been me speaking, so this is the 1st time students
will here some different and unfamiliar accents.
This lesson will be the 1st in which students are presented
with a really difficult piece of 'authentic' listening and
will be in the form of watching a video.
In class before we have done quite a lot of work with natural
fast speech, unfortunately however the provider has previously
been me in the form of anecdotes, stories, dictations, dictogloss
and general discussion. While trying to be as natural as possible,
the students have had the chance to ask for clarification,
making things easier on one hand and more in accordance with
natural communication on the other.
We have also looked at features of speech such as weak forms,
assimilation and elision and at tone units and pausing when
We are now going to look at a video recording for a number
The fact that there are 2 native speakers interacting will
provide features of conversation not previously available;
interruptions, clarification, repetition, agreeing and disagreeing
and 2 people speaking at the same time.
This should make the extract more challenging and more real
but also will sadly relegate the listeners to the role of
'only observers', something unnatural though I believe it
will help them to improve their perception skills, listening
strategies and provide focus on conversational features.
The fact that it is video not audio will help the learners
through paralinguistic features.
The 2 speakers (one American and one from Yarmouth) have very
different accents and styles of speaking from me and my northern
Lastly one thing that most learners put on their needs analysis
was 'to understand native speakers' and over half stated their
reasons for learning English were for use in English speaking
countries, so I believe it is vital to give them as much practice
as possible with 'real' not 'course-book' English and especially
with a variety of accents and ideolects.
The first 2 stages of the lesson, as well as providing speaking
practice, are aimed at introducing the topic, activating the
learners' schemata in preparation for the difficult listening
to come and getting the learners to think about ways of agreeing,
interrupting and paralinguistic features.
The 1st listening stage is designed to focus the learners
on the paralinguistic clues in the video, the relationship
of the speakers and the context i.e. That they are 2 friends
discussing it for fun and will therefore be comfortable with
interruption and a casual style of discussion.
The 2nd listening stage should give the students practice
in the micro-skill, identifying topic areas in conversation
and give the students a better feel for the content of the
The 3rd listening is aimed at focusing students' perception
skills on points important to meaning in the stream of fast
speech. I have decided to give the students 2 chances to do
the task, with a chance to compare answers in between as I
feel this will be incredibly difficult for them.
By following this by giving the students the tape-script to
check answers and also to listen and read at the same time
it will allow learners to focus specifically on the areas
that caused them difficulty and why this was so, hopefully
improving their strategies in future listening activities
and also comparing ideas and helping each other by sharing
The next activity is aimed at increasing students' awareness
of speech features such as fillers, correction, error and
clarifyers. By highlighting these 'faults' in native speaker
speech, I hope to help learners feel better about their own
speech and the fact that they may not have understand this
'purposeless' part of speech and also simply raise awareness
of it and that you don't have to understand it to understand
Next we focus on some simple ways of agreeing, to simply raise
awareness of these native utterances before going on to practice
a small part of the dialogue at native-like speed. This is
aimed at helping students produce natural fast speech and
also to help raise motivation. i.e. that after listening to
such a difficult two and a half minutes of speech, students
will hopefully feel better when they themselves spend a few
minutes trying and I hope succeeding in producing a small
part of the speech at the same time as they watch and listen.
The last activity is again a discussion of questions related
to this topic and is designed to provide students with freer
speaking practice while still having the speech features of
agreeing, interrupting and paralinguistic features in mind.
The group is an open group in the general English school.
Their level is upper-intermediate, however as always there
is a significant difference in levels within the group, different
students being better and worse in the various skills and
in language and learning ability.
Their reasons for, goals in and experience in learning are
also diverse, the group comprising of school and university
students and working people, either paying for themselves
or their company paying.
Their reasons for learning range from work / self to living
in an English speaking country.
Their goals range from 'maintain my level' to 'speak like
a native speaker' however in a needs analysis, half the group
stated that they want to 'speak fluently and understand native
Their learning history is, of course, significantly diverse,
however after being together now for 30 hours we have a good,
supportive environment and students do want to learn.
I was surprised and pleased by the results of their needs
analysis. The thing they saw as most important was speaking,
however it was very closely followed by listening, vocabulary
and then pronunciation. They have a good attitude to trying
to understand from context and trying to pick out words when
One worrying point though is their tendency to miss classes
and turn up late. Usually about 8 turn up and they can be
up to 20 - 30 minutes late. I understand that they are working
and have other commitments and they do generally tell me if
they will be missing for a few lessons due to a business trip
or something predictable.
is generally good all round, her spoken English is quite slow
and deliberate, however she has a good attitude to learning,
and picks things up well. Listening is one of her weakest
points but she is making progress.
Anna (1) is one of the weakest in the group in terms of her
overall level and again for her listening is a problem, but
she methodically applies herself and is improving, particularly
her grammatical knowledge.
Anna(2) has little problem in any skills work, her grammar
and vocabulary are weaker though. Unfortunately, due to work,
she attends poorly and is not progressing very quickly.
Valle struggles a little bit with grammar and her listening
and speaking skills are quite poor, however she copes well,
making use of what she knows.
Isabel is a very strong student in all areas and picks things
up very quickly. She has recently been away on business though
and has missed the last few lessons.
Patricia again is very strong and outspoken. She participates
fully in all activities and is happy to help other students
in the class.
Maria has recently done 2 intensive courses and has increased
her level very noticeably. She attends well and works well
in class and at home and has a very sound grounding in English
on which to build.
Carmen is the youngest in the group, still at school, but
is very mature and makes the classes more lively. Her English
is good in all areas but particularly in speaking and listening.
Manuel has a good level for the group but attends infrequently
due to work. When he is in class he works well and is one
of the strongest in the group.
Joaquin is probably the best student all round, speaking quite
fluently and understanding very well.
Carlos is Maria's brother and has followed the same route
as her, however while his sister has attended well, he has
not and relies on his existing knowledge to progress. His
vocabulary is now slightly lacking but he employs coping strategies
Elena is a mystery to me, she attended at the beginning of
the course, but now has not been to class for over a month.
She works for a translation company based in America and told
me she would have to travel, though if this is her reason
for not attending, she did not inform me. She is generally
quite weak, particularly in listening.
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