Being a Good Listener with Extempore — Part 1

It’s true: when we launched Extempore, the primary goal was to develop an app that would facilitate speaking in the classroom. As any teacher knows, generating authentic (and assessable) speech in the world language classroom can be a difficult thing to do, for a number of reasons (large class sizes, recording equipment, losing class time, etc.). And although Extempore helps to solve this problem, we also know that speaking, of course, isn’t the only skill students need to practice. Listening comprehension is a pretty big piece of the puzzle, too! Fortunately, Extempore is a great way to develop this crucial skill. In this post, we’ll focus mainly on developing listening comprehension in beginning and intermediate language learners, and next time we’ll look at ways to build it in more advanced learners.

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Although practicing listening comprehension is a great usage of class time, you can also reinforce those classroom activities with outside-of-the-classroom work. It’s as simple as changing the focus of your standard Extempore assessment. What might that look like, exactly?

For learners who are still working on the basics (and for whom the speaking component is still very much a work in progress) the first step may be getting them to hone in on the vocabulary or the structures themselves and then reply with a discrete item or a simple either-or response. This is a great way to assess them formatively, that is, to make sure that you understand what sort of progress your students are making during a given unit. Take a look at these examples:

  • Either-or responses: Prepare a series of prompts with statements that employ the new vocabulary phrases or grammar concepts. Students listen to your prompt, and they reply with a simple “yes/no”, “true/false”, or “logical/illogical” response that shows that they’ve understood your prompt. This works really well with vocabulary. For instance, if I’m working on vacation or camping vocabulary, I can record a prompt with a phrase in the target language like “I often go scuba-diving in the mountains.” If they’ve understood the new vocabulary, hopefully they’ve replied with “illogical” (instead of “logical”). This can also be done with grammar! If you’re using two sets of associated verb forms (like, say, the preterit and the imperfect or formal vs. informal commands), record a series of prompts with verbs in each, and at home students pick which one they’ve heard. It’s as easy as that!
  • Definitions for discrete vocabulary items: Prepare an audio prompt with a series of statements based around the new chapter vocabulary. At home, ask students to listen and identify the vocabulary item being described. For example, in the target language, you can say: “After I take my clothes out of the washing machine, I put them in this appliance” and the student can reply simply by stating the target-language word for “dryer”. For a more creative twist, you can even record your prompts Jeopardy!-style and ask students to pretend that they’re contestants when responding.
  • Specific grammar practice: If you’ve been working on a particularly tough grammar concept,  extra practice at home is always a good idea. For instance, if you’ve been studying irregular verb forms, record an audio prompt with a series of these spoken aloud. Then ask the students to reply by stating the infinitive associated with the irregular forms that they heard. Honing in on these specific forms will reinforce their importance and make it more likely that they’ll be used correctly on output-based activities in the classroom.

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Remember–with these activities, we’re primarily concerned with listening comprehension, so an extended reply by the student is not necessary. Naturally, there are ways to increase the difficulty of listening comprehension activities and to make them more communicative. For instance, adding a speaking component to round out the assignment may be the best of both worlds, but this may be better left for more advanced students, or perhaps for those really motivated students who crave extra practice outside of the classroom. Next time, we’ll talk about how to use Extempore for these students.

In the meantime, here are 29 FREE activities in an eBook download!

Speaking Activities PDF