Ken Wilson teaches us how to get learners to really listen to each other

Students listen to the teacher and to a machine… but do they listen to each other? Why are we under using this valuable resource when trying to develop listening skills? Ken’s session showcased seven activities for stimulating this kind of listening in classes.

Activity 1

5 people each looked at one picture described to others and tried to find connections – each person had to really listen to others for the connection. The listening kicked in when we had to carefully work out the details of each others’ pictures and come up with the ‘theme’.

This is a simple activity that could easily be used to get learners talking and listening to each other around the contents of a given unit of work.

Activity 2

Ken got us to really use the map that we see at the front of the student’s course book. He projected a list and then asked us if anyone knew anything about these topics. He promised that no one will have to talk then got us to respond – we then wrote a fact about one of the topics on a paper – only then did we show our written fact to those around us.

My example…

New Zealand: It is in the southern hemisphere

We would then write the fact on a post-it note and post it on the first page of that unit. When the class eventually make it to that unit, the post-it acts as a springboard for discussion.

This is a great way to get learners to interact with a coursebook and to have some personal input into discussing it as a whole.

Activity 3

For Ken’s ‘music brainstorming’ we divided a page into three rows. In 1 we wrote down the first words that came to mind for us while listening to the piece of music. We repeated this for the second and then third pieces of music.

We then mingled and compared our notes with what others had written. Our goal was to talk, listen and find someone with the same ideas.

As with each of these activities, this promoted the idea of the individual have a personal perspective to share, rather than there being any right or wrong answer.

Activity 4

My apologies if activities four and five are a bit fuzzy, but Ken spotted me taking notes rather than participating and got me to join in (I’m happy he did).

For the fourth activity, we started with the phrase ‘I want to…’ followed by the following

-I’m afraid you can’t
-Why not?
-Because + reason why not

We would then mingle and tell people what we wanted to do, get the rejection and reason why. As we moved on, we would not accept any repeated reason as to why we couldn’t, creating a need for the other to listen and respond.

This is a great activity which again would give the learners a real need to listen to each other and adapt their responses accordingly.

Activity 5

Ken organized us into groups of five and then showed us a list of facts. Each member of the group had a set time limit in which to memorize one of the facts and then recite it to the others.

The key to this was supplying us with interesting facts that we could use to engage each other. This activity could easily be applied to any particular subject.

Activity 6

In ‘Meet Jane and Alex’ we had to predict the conversation. This was a pretty straightforward course book standard…

Jane: Hi Alex!
Alex: Hi Jane!
J: How are you?
A: I’m fine, and you?
J: I’m fine, too.
A: What did you do last night?
J: I went to the cinema.
A: What did you see?
J: The new Harry Potter movie.
A: Did you enjoy it?
J: Yes, it was great.

Ken asked us to predict each line before uncovering it. Then we practiced it, then we changed the ‘Wh-‘ question/answer to something more personal to us.

Activity 7

In his final activity we had to write the three words Where / When / How underneath each other. He then played a piece of music. We closed our eyes and listened. First, we had to think ‘where’ came to mind, then when in the year, and finally how we would travel to the place.

For example:


We then imagined that we went to that place at that time of the year by that means of transport, and then tried to find others who had chosen the same as us.

Each of Ken’s easy-to-use activities promoted a genuine need for one learner to listen to another and interact with the information they had heard.

Adam Simpson for the roving reporter team