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Teaching Listening at Upper
Intermediate Level
by Sam Smith
- Lesson plan 1

Preliminary Information

Level: Upper Intermediate

Time: 1 hr

Timetable fit:
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 speaking.
We are now going to look at a video recording for a number of reasons:
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 English accent.
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 discussion.
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 strategies.
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 the message.
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.

Class Profile:
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 speakers'.
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 listening.
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.

Blanca 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 well.
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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