Ways to Help the Learner Succeed in Listening Comprehension
by Laureen Rabbe and Gail Shuster-Bouskila


Every teacherís aim is to help students function in English at the highest level possible.  We always try to be sensitive to each studentís capability for learning new material.  However this is difficult when faced with a classroom full of mixed ability learners.  The challenge we face is to pinpoint the differences and then teach accordingly.

There is a trend in recently published textbooks, both in Israel and abroad, to incorporate learning strategies.  Research has shown that this can contribute to the success of the EFL student. (Ehrman, M. 1996)  Although the learning strategies have been dealt with, there has been almost no reference to the learner styles that they reflect.  All learners use strategies, but not necessarily ones that will improve their English.

In our work in the field, we have seen many students struggle with listening comprehension exercises.  They donít seem to use the right strategies.  Consequently, we found ourselves trying to analyze their difficulties, in order to facilitate their learning.  We noticed that not every student handled listening comprehension activities in the same way.  We were looking for a methodology that would help all of our students to succeed in this aspect of their studies.


In the October 1995, ETAI Journal, David Mendelsohn wrote about listening comprehension in terms of "attainable dreams" for our students.  Four of these dreams were particularly pertinent to our approach to selecting and developing materials for our students.

Attainable Dream 1: ESL/EFL teachers recognize the real importance of listening comprehension and commit themselves to teaching it explicitly.

We cannot expect our students to pick up listening comprehension along the way - by osmosis.  We have to train our students because in listening more than in any other skill the listener is at the mercy of the speaker with regards to pace, intonation or manner.  The student has no control over what is going to be said. In 1983, Krashen and Terrell wrote that listening comprehension plays a fundamental role in second and foreign language acquisition and is critical to the communication process.

Attainable Dream 2: Teachers recognize that listening is an active process, and that good listening is a matter of interpreting.

Competent listeners cannot be passive. They are actively processing and interpreting what they hear.

Attainable Dream 4: Teachers see their role as being far more significant than merely providing comprehensible input.

The teacher is a strategy trainer - a person who helps foreign language learners use strategies from their native language and trains them in additional strategies.  This process enables the students to listen more effectively.

Attainable Dream 6: Teachers and material designers recognize that we listen to different things in different ways.


Another factor to consider is that no two students learn in the same manner. Rebecca Oxford in her book Language Learning Strategies (1990) opened our eyes to the fact that we as teachers must create a wide range of activities in order to expose our students to many different learning strategies. However, it wasnít until 1993, when we attended an International English Teachers Conference in Jerusalem and heard Rebecca Oxford speak, that we ever considered taking into account "how the learner actually learns".

 Language learning styles are the general approaches students use to learn a new language.  These are the same styles they employ in learning many other subjects and solving various problems. The four central dimensions of language learning styles are: the analytic-global aspect, sensory preferences, intuition-sensory/sequential learning, and the orientation  toward closure or openness. (Oxford, R. And Scarcella, R. 1992)

Consequently, we analyzed our work with her views and concepts in mind.  In so doing, we realized that  we had not taken into consideration the individual needs of the students who attend our classes.  Her lecture on learner styles and learning strategies had a profound impact on our work.  We painstakingly reviewed activities we had created or used for our EFL students. We tried to determine which learner styles and learning strategies were embedded in them.

Strategies are tools for active, self-directed involvement, which is essential for developing communication ability. Appropriate learning strategies result in improved proficiency and greater self-confidence in many instances. (Oxford, R. And Scarcella, R. 1992)

 As a result of this reflection, we realized that a variety of learning strategies could be found in the activities we had already created or used.  Now our goal is to reach the different types of learners and present them with a wide range of learning strategies when training them in listening comprehension.  This reflects Oxford and Scarcellaís ďTapestryĒ approach to listening instruction. (Oxford, R. And Scarcella, R. 1992)


Included in this paper are two different kinds of listening comprehension activities.  We have analyzed each and found that they suit different learner styles.

Exercise One

The first exercise comes from a unit written for use in junior high school. It is a strip story activity dealing with the Olympics. (See instructions for how this was adapted for listening comprehension below.)  This exercise is a natural review of asking questions in the past and present to get specific information.  It takes into account the auditory and analytical learner.  Since it has no visuals nor preparation for the story itself, it doesnít give any assistance to the visual or global learner. This type of exercise can be very frustrating for the latter types of learners.
 (by Gail Shuster-Bouskila and David Snipper)

This is one way of doing a "strip story" as a listening comprehension activity"

Stage I - Pairs of students create 3 questions about the Olympics.
Stage II - Each pair receives one part (or strip) of the story on the Olympics.  Each "strip" is read aloud in front of the class. The rest of the group listens for answers to their questions.
Stage III -  Some of the questions and answers are written on the board or overhead projector for the whole class to review.
Story Strips:

The Centennial Olympic Games, began in Atlanta, Georgia on the evening of July 19, 1996, with a grand ceremonial opening. It was the hundred (100th) anniversary of the Olympic Games.

There was a march-past of all the competing nations and a "swearing-in" of all the athletes to play fair and in the true spirit of the Olympians.

The Games lasted for 17 days.

This was the biggest Olympic Games ever, with about 11,000 athletes including 3,400 women, from 197 countries.

Athletes competed in 37 different sports through 271 events!

About 3.5 billion people watched some part of the Olympic Games on television.

The Olympic rings are the official symbol of the Olympic movement.

There are five connected rings of the colors blue, yellow, black, green and red.

The rings are set on a white background, designed by Baron Coubertin in 1913.

These rings represent the union of the 5 continents. At least one of these colors is found in the flag of every nation.

In contrast to the strip story activity is "Aerobics"from Learning to Listen and Listening to Learn, (Hoter, E. and Rabbe, L. 1989). This activity provides general pictures for the visual and global learner to concentrate on.  It also includes a vocabulary exercise to help the analytical learner. This activity includes almost all learner styles.



Come on, you lazy people! You need some exercise! Let's get rid of all that Fat and get those muscles working! Let's go!

Stand up straight, legs apart, hands by your sides. Breathe in slowly-2-3-; out-2-3-; breathe in-2-3-; out-2-3-; in-2-3-; out-2-3-.

Now lift your left arm slowly above your head and stretch your arm towards the sky: and stretch-2-3-; stretch-2-3-; come on, stretch those fingers-2-3-; higher-2-R-;

Stretch-2-3-4; bring your arm slowly down to your side. Lift your right arm slowly up above your head: and stretch-2-3-4; stretch-2-3-4;    towards    the    sky    and    stretch-2-3-4; stretch-2-3-4. Bring your arms slowly down to your sides.

Lift both arms above your head. Stretch the right arm to the sky-2-3-4; right-2-3-4; now left-2-3-4; right, left, right, left, stretch, stretch, stretch, stretch - and bring your arms slowly down to your sides.

Stand tall, legs apart and breathe in - inhale-2-3-; out-2-3-; inhale-2-3-; exhale-2--.

Tummy in, legs apart and bend from the waist - try to touch the ground with your hands: push-l-2; push-l-2; don't bend those knees, and push, push.

Now push your hands through your legs: push-2-3; and push-2-3; don't bend the knees, and push, push, push, push.

Slowly straighten your body. Stand straight, legs apart,

hands by your sides. Breathe in - inhale - slowly-2-3-; out - exhale-2-3-; in-2-3-; and out-2-3-.

SECOND LISTENING (same script repeated)

Finally, we usually organize our analysis as in the following table, which helps us to keep track of the various elements for future reference.
Type Linguistic 
Point Covered
Learner Styles Cognitive 
Olympic Games Facts and  
Reviewing Present Simple and Past Simple and Question formation Analytical and Auditory Analyzing and reasoning; 
Guessing intelligently when listening
Learning to Listen - Listening to Learn Unit 1
Instructions Commands in Present Tenses Analytical and Global, Auditory and Visual, Kinesthetic Practicing naturally


The ultimate goal is for all students to feel comfortable when having to deal with listening comprehension.  If teachers arenít aware of the needs of the different types of learners, they might not take them all into consideration.  Teachers must reflect on the make-up of their classes and the materials their course books provide.  If this is not done there could be students who would not be able to cope with certain listening exercises. We have tried to show the crucial role learner styles have on effective listening comprehension activities.


Brown, H.D. (1987).  Principles of language learning and teaching. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ;  Prentice Hall.

Ehrman, Madeline E. (1996). Understanding second language learning difficulties. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Gefen, R.  (1985)  Teaching listening comprehension in schools. English Teachersí Journal  -  Israel  (31).  Israel:  Ministry of Education and Culture.

Hoter, E. and Rabbe, L. (1989). Learning to listen and listening to learn. Tel Aviv: Open University of Israel.

Krashen, S.D. and Terrell, T.D.  (1983).  The natural approach: language acquisition in the classroom.  New York: Pergamon Press.

Mendelsohn, D.  (1995).  Listening comprehension: disturbing realities and attainable dreams.  English Teachersí Journal (Israel) 48.  Ministry of Education and Culture, Jerusalem, Israel.

Oxford, R. (1990) Language learning strategies: what every teacher should know. New York: Newborn House/Harder & Row.

Oxford, R. and Scarcella, R. (1992) The tapestry of language learning: the individual in the communicative classroom. Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Ur, Penny.  (1984).  Teaching listening comprehension.  Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Winitz, H. (Ed.)  (1981).  The comprehension approach to foreign language instruction. Rowley, MA:  Newbury House.

Laureen Rabbe is the Director of Methodology for EFL Teacher Trainer at the David Yellin Teachersí College in Jerusalem. She was the Director of the Jerusalem School for Languages at the Open University of Israel.  She has also taught English at Rene Cassin High School and in the Pre-Academic Studies Department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Gail Shuster-Bouskila is Academic Coordinator of EFL for the School for Languages at the Open University of Israel in Tel-Aviv. She teaches EFL in the Israeli school system.  She worked in the field of curriculum development at the Jerusalem Pedagogic Center and was a CALL Counselor for the Ministry of Education.