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Ten Pre-Listening Activities

Ten Pre-Listening Activities

In my previous article for EFL Magazine, I described the features of the three stages of a listening lesson (pre-listening, while-listening, and post-listening). In this article, I will share with you ten activities that you can use in the pre-listening stage. These activities are focused on one or more of the following aims: activating schema (getting students to recall what they already know about the subject), predicting, and developing student curiosity and interest.

For this article, I will organize all the activities around “Gardens”, a listening track from Sean Banville’s Listen a Minute site ( The listening track is here. You might wish to adapt these activities for your own teaching materials. I recommend that you use only one, as you don’t want the pre-listening stage to take up too much time.

1. Mind map – Write the word gardens in the middle of the board, in big letters. Draw a circle around it. Give a student a board marker, and ask the student to think of a word that relates to gardens and write it on the board. Then ask him to draw a line from “gardens” to the word, and write a circle around the word. Repeat these steps until there are seven different words on the board.

2. Slide show – Prepare a PowerPoint slide show with about 10 different images of gardens. Show these images to your students in the pre-listening stage. Each time you present an image, ask a student a question to get them to describe the pictures and get their reactions. Example questions: Would you like to visit this garden? How do you feel looking at this garden? What different colors do you see here? Would you like to have a garden like this? Do gardens look like this in your country? Ask students follow-up questions (Why? or Can you tell me more?) to get more information.

3. KWL Chart – Give each student a copy of a KWL chart. (Here’s an example.) Ask students to think about gardens and write down what they know in the first column. Next, ask students to write any questions they have about gardens in the second column. Put students into pairs to compare their work in both columns. Later on, during the while-listening stage, students can take notes on what they hear in the third column.

4. Words on the board – Write these words in different places all over the board: artists, amazing, perfect, Japan, walk, famous, colorful, peaceful, garden, sit, visit. Hand one student a board marker. Ask her to circle two words, and make a good sentence using both. Repeat the previous two steps several times.

5. Discussion questions – Write the following questions on the board.

  1. What is the most famous garden in your country? Why is it famous?
  2. Do you have a garden in your home? Why or why not?
  3. Which country is well-known for its gardens?

Put students into pairs, and ask them to discuss. After a few minutes, call on several students to give you their answers.

6. Discussion with mingle – Write the questions from activity 5 on the board. Give each student a number, and tell them to practice saying the question that corresponds with their number. Next, ask students to stand up and walk around. Give them 3 minutes to ask as many people as possible their question. After 3 minutes, tell them to return to their seats. Ask a few students what answers they got to their questions.

7. Gap fill – Write these on the board.

I’d like to spend my life ___________________________________.
The best _________________________ are in England.
_____________________________ famous all over the world.
I can ______________________ all day.
Every __________________ is different.

Ask students to choose one of the sentences and complete it with their own ideas. Give them four or five minutes to think, then call on several students to read out their ideas.

8. Questions – Write some question words up on the board, such as Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? as well as How much? How often? Will? Does? Is?

Tell the class that you are going to give them a topic and see how many questions they can write related to the topic in 2 minutes. Write gardens on the board, and ask them to begin writing. When the 2 minutes are over, put students into pairs. Ask each pair to choose their best question. Finally, ask each pair to put their best question on the board. (Later on in the lesson, you can refer back to the questions.)

9. Exploring pictures – Find pictures of English and Japanese gardens and put these on PowerPoint slides to show to the class. Each time you present a picture, ask a student to give you an adjective that describes the picture. Option: Put pictures (preferably color) of English and Japanese gardens on large sheets of poster paper (one picture per poster). Tape the paper up on the wall, and ask students to circulate. Encourage them to write their reactions on the posters, next to the picture.

10. Recalling a dream – Tell your students that you had a fantastic dream last night. Tell them about the dream and pause several times to elicit language from them. First, tell them that, in your dream, someone had built an extraordinary garden just outside your apartment. Ask several students how they would react if this happened to them. Say that in your dream you saw every kind of plant and flower imaginable in this garden. Ask students to tell you some names of plants and flowers. Tell them that you went outside to explore the garden and every time you took a step, the garden expanded even further. Ask them what kinds of colors they would expect to see in a garden. Ask them what words they would use to describe the garden in your dream.


Sean Banville’s Listen A Minute site features many short listening lessons on a diverse range of topics including guns, friends, drugs, aliens, and perfume. Each listening track includes a transcript and several activities that are related to the listening. If you don’t think your students would be very interested in the topic of gardens, choose another topic covered on Listen a Minute, and adapt some one of the pre-listening activities described above.

What other pre-listening activities have you used in your lessons? Can you recommend some additional ways to prepare students for a listening text?

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  • Rita Baker

    Great. You can never have too many practical tips and ideas! Thanks Hall.