Listening, far from being a receptive skill, is very much an active skill, an online activity. Among many other things, such as decoding the stream of sound as it happens (to be accurate and according to research in the field, at a delay of a quarter of a second behind the speaker), listening entails predicting. Say the listener hears the noun phrase “the petty criminal” and makes the assumption that this phrase is the initiator of an action, which can be confirmed by the next word, the verb form “was”. However, instead of “the petty criminal was trying to sell the stolen computers from his home”, she hears “the petty criminal was found”. Then she will have to revise the first hypotheses and try to make sense out of what has been uttered so far (to something like “the petty criminal was found dead in his home”).

In “gating” the students hear the first word of a sentence and have to guess the following word. Then they are given the first two words and they try to predict again. Next they are given the next three words. Let’s assume that the students have been working on this grammar exercise from the textbook.

the secrets of sleep

From Life Pre-Intermediate Unit 1, Cengage-National Geographic (free sample available on the Internet

Then you can get the students into groups (3-6 to a group) and designate one student in each group to read the first word of the first paragraph (“Why”). Then the remaining students in each group, with their books closed, will try to guess (or remember and retrieve) the next word (“do”). The designated student can give them about four or five seconds and, if no one has come up with the right word at this point, then give away the next word (“do”), and so on. Then the students can switch roles for the next paragraph.

This is a very interesting listening/grammar/vocabulary activity that involves not only “grammar doing” but also making hypotheses based on what we hear, which is, as we have seen, at the very core of listening. In other words, it is a gap-filling-in-the-mind exercise, which derives a bit from the classical fill in the gap and it’s probably a bit more useful and fun.

Last but not least: a zero-preparation activity.




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