Why I did it.

Inspired by the reading I did recently, I´ve been thinking about backchannelling and active listening. (You can read about Pete Clemtent’s 100+ Professional Development Tips for post-CELTA Teachers here or buy it here). As so many students are preparing for Cambridge exams it most often comes up in preparation for the speaking test. This week when I was teaching a group of first-year FCE students it was clear that they knew what I meant by ‘active listening’ but when we practised the responses to their partner were mostly limited to ‘really?’ and a slightly inappropriate ‘oh my god!´.


What I did.

I wanted them to think about what they were saying and why, so I tried a task where students were given responses and they had to write a possible statement that would provoke that reaction.

Here’s how the activity was staged.

I put a list of responses on the board such as.

  • Oh my god! That’s awful.
  • No way! I don’t believe you.
  • Me too! How did you get into it?
  • That sounds interesting. Can you tell me more about it?
  • Hmm, sorry but I have to disagree with you there.

I asked the class to think about why you might respond in this way and to imagine what their partner could have said.

We did the first example together. Students suggested ideas for why someone might respond ‘Oh my god! That’s awful!’

Students had five to 10 minutes to write statements for the other responses.

We drilled intonation for the responses.

Students worked in pairs taking it in turn to read their statements and their partner had to react with the response they thought was most appropriate, using the correct intonation.

How it went.

I liked this activity because students had to be sure what the response meant and asked for clarification where they were unsure. A correct use of intonation was necessary for both the statement and the response which I think not only helps for speaking, but listening also. Finally, I hope it might encourage them to vary their responses when conversing in class.

What activities do you use to promote active listening? Here´s another activity I’ve used to improve interaction for FCE exams

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