3 ways to motivate active listening for your students

June 3, 2019


Listening is, in my humble opinion, an often neglected language skill compared to the other three.

Unless you are a language teacher of course.

The reason? Simple: students do not have to 'be active' to listen.

Yet, active listening is still something that is required of students. And for good reason.

Allow me to share some ideas on how to do this in your CLIL lesson.

Estimated time to read this article: 7 minutes

Activity 1: Copy the teacher

This activity is all about asking students to write down what you say. As much is possible. 

The whole purpose of this activity is not to make them copy whatever you say diligently. It is to make them aware of the fact they have to listen (and multitask, but that is another story).

During this activity, they have to work together to piece together the things you said.

Okay, so how do does this activity work?

Step 1: Select a text

First you select a (short) piece of text to read, preferably something you’d like to continue talking about later on.

Step 2: Clear instruction

You ask students to have paper and pen ready, and you tell the students they have to write down what you are saying.

You are not going to repeat things.

Step 3: Start reading

Then you start.

Mind that you should not read too fast, because students should be able to keep up with you, although they should not be able to write down every word.

Step 4: Evaluate

Once you are done, students have a couple of minutes to compare notes and try to come up with the story you read.

During the discussion of the texts afterwards you make sure all students take away the most important elements from your story.

But they have also learned they have to listen very carefully because they can easily miss things.

For those students who just lean back and copy from others: you can also first ask students what they wrote down before they can work together.

This activity does not work if you do it every lesson,

But in my experience it works quite well if you do it every now and then.

Students feel challenged when you ask them to write down as much as possible.

Key Take Away

By asking students to write down what you are reading, you are challenging them to keep up. This is active listening.

Activity 2: Answer the questions

I discussed the essential skill of taking notes before.

Because I feel I ask too much of my students when they have to both pay attention and take notes at the same time.

So I started experimenting with different ways of approaching this.

One of the ways that worked quite well was by providing the students with the questions they needed to be able to answer by the end of the instruction (or task).

It worked really well, because students were ‘forced’ to actively listen to me while I did the instruction.

They did have to take notes, but had to listen to make sure they did not miss out on any answers.

This is how I did that

Before I started my instruction, I showed the students a couple of questions they needed to be able to answer by the end of my story.

Example from my lesson

1. What is the formula for the area of a triangle?

2. Why?

3. Why do we say 'matching' height?

4. What do you need to pay attention to when finding this height?

They copied the questions in their notebooks (or I left them on screen if possible).

I also checked if they all understood the questions by asking students to ask the question in a different way.

During my explanation I would make sure I used pretty much the same wording as the questions mentioned before.

At the end we would discuss the answers and see what they actually found.

I was a little surprised by the fact that quite a few students did not have all the answers.

Despite the fact I thought the answers were quite obvious.

This only proved my point that students find it hard to pay attention and take notes at the same time.

With this specific activity, I trained that.

And I will continue to do so.

Key Take Away

A great way to motivate active listening is by providing a framework like questions and asking students to answer those while listening to you..

Activity 3: What did we do?

The end of a lesson is a great moment for many reasons.

And it is also quite often forgotten by teachers..

But not you of course ;).

Implement both language-related questions as well as reflection activities makes this lesson moment vital for a good check for understanding.

One question you can ask students to check if they payed attention is:

What did we do?

They can only answer in their own words.

Students who have listened during your instruction or during a task will probably be way more likely to answer this question than students who did not.

Making them aware of this is the first step to improving their attitude towards learning and active listening.

And for the record: I always make sure students who do not know the answer do not get an easy out.

Key Take Away

Being able to summarise in your own words is only possible if you have listened and know what was being discussed.

Just a few more ideas

Two more things I wanted to share on this topic:

1. Say things only once.

This might be an open door, but I noticed a great improvement in the attitude of students when I said the homework for the next lesson only once.

If they missed it, they had to check it with other students.

I simply who not show or tell them again.

You don’t always have to do this, but if you notice some students always being the ones asking “what did you say again” this is a great way of giving back this ‘problem’

And hopefully teach them about listening the first time something is said in the process ;).

2. Do not answer yourself

If a student has a question during a moment all students are also paying attention,

My first response is always: who can answer that question?

And I might just select students who do not raise their hands.

I know, I am mean. Believe me, my students know that already.

By asking random students to answer the questions of others I achieve a couple of things:

  1. 1
    Students have to pay attention, because if they don’t they cannot answer the question
  2. 2
    Students have to ask questions, because if they cannot answer the question because they don’t understand themselves, I will ask why they did not raise their hands.

Just to clarify: I don’t want students to feel bad about not understanding. 

I want them to feel bad about not asking for help if they don’t understand something.

After all: I get paid to help them, so they should take advantage of that situation, right?

Key Take Away

By making students more responsible for their own learning, they are trained to listen more actively when you say something.


With these three activities you can help students to be more active during lesson moments they have to listen to you (or others).

I am quite aware this does not solve all motivational problems for your students,

But I think it is a great start.

Remember: you don’t have to change everything all at once to make your lesson CLIL

Just start out with these types of small activities to make students more aware of language (and learning).

Interested in discovering more of these ideas for your lesson?

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  • Thanks for all the valuable information you are providing. I really appreciate it and my Taiwanese students are definitely benefiting by the CLIL approach

  • Thank you for this opportunity to learn more about CLIL and be effectively prepared to do my best professionally.

    • You’re welcome, good luck with applying these in your lesson! Which one are you going to try to do first?

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