Extensive Listening: What, why, and how?

Music Beats Headphones 122/365, by CC Louish Pixel, 2011. https://flic.kr/p/9EcvFd
Music Beats Headphones 122/365, by CC Louish Pixel, 2011. https://flic.kr/p/9EcvFd

Extensive listening (EL) is intended to give students addtional English listening practice. It should be enjoyable, and something where there is no pressure of understand all of it (Field, 2008), and no pressure to complete comprehension questions. Research cited in Renandya and Farrell (2011) suggest that EL is more effective than teaching listening strategies; a point I strongly support (Blyth, 2012). Ramírex and Alonso (2007, cited in Lynch, 2009, p153) found that students’ listening improved more from web-based audio materials than from conventional textbook materials (class CDs). They say probably because of the control the individual student had in controlling and playing the audio file, and the increased concentration this allows. So, how can EL be implemented? EL is done weekly, between daily classes, or somehow regularly as apart of the student’s routine; and is done for the duration of the course. Each teacher or system will have their way, but this is one possible means:

  1. Tell them what EL is (what)
  2. Tell them the benefits of it (why)
  3. Show them examples of EL sources (here; how)
  4. Have them practice doing the listening with one of the sources (with the aim of showing it’s not so hard, and giving students the chance to get help with technology issues)
  5. Tell them this is their homework (give some sort of sheet or report to fill in like these EL Reports, so they have notes to refer to for talking about their EL in the next class)
  6. Next lesson: Ask if they had any major problems
  7. Have them talk in pairs (in English) about what they did for EL, and share their experiences (see this EL Discussion handout)
  8. Repeat steps 5-7 most lessons.

Steps 1-4 are done in the first two or three classes as introduction and review/reminder of what, why, and how to do EL. If you don’t have a computer room, you can ask students to use their smartphones. The assumption is that class time is needed to set up, check, and follow up on EL. That is to say, EL is not a thing you can assign for homework and forget about. Also, giving students class time to discuss their EL they had done, is a chance for them to learn about which other sources are interesting, good, or to be avoided. Allow your students to suggest any other new or interesting sources not on the EL list, or establish your class’s own EL library or list of sources.


Blyth, A. (2012) Extensive listening vs. listening strategies: Response to Seigel. ELT Journal, 66 (2), 236-239.

Field, J. (2008a) Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lynch. T (2009). Teaching Second Language Listening. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Renandya, W., and Farrell, T. (2011). ‘Teacher, the tape is too fast!’ Extensive listening in ELT. ELT Journal, 65(1), 52-59.

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