Using live listening to prepare for IELTS speaking

The extended monologue

In the second part of the IELTS test, candidates have to speak for 1-2 minutes on a given topic, having been given 1 minute to prepare. (Incidentally, I have mentioned IELTS in the title, because this is perhaps the best known example, but there are other speaking exams (e.g. Cambridge ESOL Skills for Life L1 and L2 ) where candidates have to carry out similar tasks).

Although Part 2 of IELTS is not actually as tough as Part 3, for many candidates, it is the part they dread the most. However, it is also the part where familiarity with the task and plenty of practice can really make a huge difference. As an IELTS examiner, I sometimes examine native speakers applying to emigrate to Australia, and even these perfectly fluent speakers can struggle with Part 2 if unprepared.

In IELTS the candidate is given a number of points to cover. For example:

Describe a leisure activity which you enjoy doing.

You should say:

–          What the activity is and how you do it

–          When and how often you do it

–          What equipment you need

And explain why you enjoy it.

[example from IELTS Foundation Second Edition]

In order to do well in this part of the exam, students need to:

1 Structure their answer well, so that it is coherent and cohesive.

2 Speak fluently, without too many hesitations.

3 Demonstrate accuracy and range in their language.

Live listening is an excellent technique for both modelling the kind of answer the students should be aiming for, and providing a source for language they can use.

What is live listening?

In a nutshell, live listening means listening to the teacher (or another visitor), in a face to face situation, rather than using a pre-prepared recording. The teacher can be a neglected resource in terms of listening, as teachers try to avoid the dreaded ‘teacher talking time’. However, there is a world of difference between the teacher mumbling away to the class instead of giving clear and concise instructions, and using the teacher as a rich resource for listening.

Listening to the teacher speaking at length offers the benefits of:

–          genuine, real-time communication.

–          all the features of natural spoken English (hesitations, false starts, connected speech etc)

–          facial expressions and gestures

–          the opportunity to offer clarifications

Using live listening to prepare for IELTS Part 2

Using set of prompts like those above, the teacher prepares to talk for 1-2 minutes on the topic. You might want to spend more than the 1 minute that candidates are allowed, but it’s important that you don’t script what you are going to say.

Talk for 1-2 minutes to the students, and, ideally, record what you say. They listen and make notes on what you said about each prompt. Carry out brief feedback. This should help them see how to structure their talk, using the prompts.

Then play the recording (or repeat the task) and encourage students to write down any useful ‘chunks’ of language that they hear, which they think they could use in a similar task.

The reason that native speakers are able to speak so quickly and fluently is because they have a huge store of chunks of language which they are able to pull out and use; they don’t have to create every word from scratch. So it makes sense to encourage learners to develop their own store of ‘chunks’.

Here is a Vocaroo recording of me using  the prompts above to talk about Qi Gong

And here is the language I might encourage the learners to pick out from this recording:

The leisure activity that I’d like to talk about is_______

It’s a kind of __________

It’s all about + ing

It’s quite similar to_________

The main thing about _____ is (that)____

I don’t often get around to it.

You don’t actually need any equipment at all.

Sometimes I find it difficult to motivate myself.

I always feel better after I’ve done it.

Spend a little bit of time checking that students understand the ‘chunks’ and can pronounce them fluently, then put them in pairs and ask them to carry out the same task themselves, using any of the chunks they find useful.

The beauty of this activity is that it requires minimal preparation, but, repeated on a regular basis, with different prompt cards, it can really help learners to develop their ability to structure a short talk and to use natural sounding ‘chunks’ of language.


Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, IELTS, Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary

8 Responses to Using live listening to prepare for IELTS speaking

  1. Simon Marshall

    Another interesting and informative article, Rachael. Thank you. I am a great advocate of live listening for tor the reasons you specify. I also think that it ensures the the teacher maintains real time, here-and-now contact with the learners while they are listening. This ensures that we are more in touch with the students’ processing of spoken language. I find that if I play pre-recorded materialin class that I have heard before that I can too easily disassciate from the leasson that i am supposed to be part of, as I am over familiar with the contents of the recording. However, the learners are struggling away gamely while I am blithley thinking about something else! I also feel that learners appreciate hearing a teacher sharing an authentic anecdote such as the one you have recorded here rather than listening to “a course book nobody” talking about an “activity” that they don’t actually do! I often give a working title to my anecdote and ask students to create questions they’d like me to answer during the telling stage. This has a twofold purpose. One, it offers students invaluable practice in forming questions, which are notoriously difficult in English, and also ensures that these self-determined comprehension questions are borne out of genuine interest rather than the whims of the material writer. In short, if you actually ask a question, then you might actually be interested in knowing the answer. Yes, “live listening” is powerful human resource within in an increasingly hi-tech world. People still like listening to other people!

    • Hi Simon,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I agree wholeheartedly about the human element of live listening, and, particularly of sharing something of your life with the students. Obviously it is possible to overdo this (!), but I think being warm and open with students is essential to build trust and communication.

  2. sara

    Nice post about type of IELTS test.

  3. I also like live listening and have written an article about it. Nice to hear your voice too 🙂
    Also good to see a post advocating teaching students on IELTS (or any other exam) prep courses language – and not just exam strategies and skills.
    Thank you

    • Students don’t always realise it, but passing IELTS is not a goal in itself, is it? In fact, especially with IELTS, it’s more of a starting point for developing their English than an end point.
      Anyway, thanks very much for stopping by and the comment. I think this may be the article you mean? Would recommend anyone to read it- great overview and I love the idea of calling it Lexical Listening.

  4. Pingback: Using live listening to prepare for IELTS speaking | elt-resourceful | IELTS speaking |

  5. sara

    it is need to improve IELTS Speaking skills to pass this exam.

  6. Pingback: How to activate the ‘Useful Language’ box in your coursebook. | elt-resourceful

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