ESL Student Activities: Better Speaking, Better Listening

Listening and Speaking

ESL listening activities must motivate students to listen actively. Active listening requires a person's full involvement. One of the best

ESL Class

means to accomplish this is to use activities that students connect with personally or enjoy doing.

Activities that require both listening and speaking with a partner as well as with the class are popular choices for most ESL classrooms.

For Beginners

Since speaking and listening go hand in hand, this activity requires students to do both.

  • Before class write out a list of about ten sentences, which include nouns, verbs, and adjectives from your current lesson. Keep the sentences relatively short, but make them natural sounding.
  • Have your students sit in rows of fives. If you have a small class, one row of five is fine.
  • Explain to the class that the first person in the row is going to receive a piece of paper with sentences in English written on it.
  • That person is to read the first sentence slowly and quietly to the student behind him.
  • The student listening will not see the sentence written out.
  • He or she must listen, understand what is being said and repeat it to the next person in the row.
  • This continues until the last person in the row hears the sentence.
  • The last student stands up, speaking the sentence aloud for everyone in the row to hear.

Hopefully, his/her version will be close to or the same as the original. Have the last student write his/her understanding of the sentence on the board. The first person in the row writes the correct sentence under it. Together, students can review the differences with the teacher.

Before repeating, have the first person go to the end of the line. This allows all the students to be first as well as last. Repeat with additional sentences until the entire group has had a turn to be first and last.

This activity will work in classes with young children up to adults. Older students may be a little more hesitant to participate, but usually, everyone ends up having fun.

For Intermediate Level

Preparation: Find a brief biography or article on a famous person. This will be read to the class. Either tape a reading of the text or plan to read it aloud to the class. Handout this downloadable timeline table to students.

  • Explain to students that they will be listening to a biography of a famous person.
  • They will fill in the timeline table as they listen.
  • Play or read the timeline three times.
  • Check accuracy of answers as a group.
  • Ask students to take turns giving one fact they learned about this person.

An alternative activity is to have students in small groups create a biography for a famous person. They tell the class about the person as their peers fill in their timeline tables. Discuss what they learn.

Advanced Level

Riddles require good listening skills as well as understanding of language. Challenge advanced learners to figure the answers to several riddles.

Preparation: Give students a text of the riddles to see as they are read.

Riddles below are followed by answers in parenthesis.

  • What starts with a T, ends with a T and has T in it? (A teapot)
  • What is once in a minute, twice in a moment and never in a thousand years? (The letter M)
  • For some I go fast; for others I'm slow. To most people, I'm an obsession; relying on me is a well-practiced lesson. (Time)
  • A blue house is made of blue bricks. A red house is made of red bricks. A yellow house is made of yellow bricks. What would a green house be made of? (Glass)
  • I am bigger than an elephant but lighter than a feather. What am I? (The wind)
  • What can run but never walks; has a mouth but never talks; has a head but never weeps; has a bed but never sleeps? (A river)

All Levels


  • A picture of a room
  • A text to be read describing the room and placement of objects in it

Have student listen to the description of the room. Ask them to make three columns on their paper. The columns are headed – Position, Object and Description. Read the text again, slowly, asking them to list under the columns what they hear. Place students in pairs. Have them describe the room to each other without looking at each other's lists. They can fill in missing information as they discuss the room.

Have students make a box sketch (like what designers do to show where furniture will be placed) of what the room looks like. Once they are done, show them the picture of the room.


  • Some content from author's own experience.
  • New Ways in Teaching Listening, D. Nunan and L. Miller: TESOL, Alexandria, Virginia (2002)