Listen Up! You Can Train Listening Skills With Interactive Video

Students love watching videos. Whenever I want to make my reading lesson more fun, I introduce it by showing a video related to the topic of the reading text. I see a clear difference between their motivation to dig into a reading text which was not introduced this way and their interest in the task whenever it was.

Using what they love to make them learn

This same positive effect is visible in their listening exercises. They like it much more and are much more concentrated when they do a listening exercise with a video instead of an audio fragment.

Exploiting this fact, I am going to enhance their involvement even more by creating an interactive video for practising the listening skills of my fourth-year students, aged 16.

Today, I am going to explore the possibilities that HiHaHo offers. My fourth-year students are working with the theme “Banks and Money” right now. They have studied some vocabulary related to this theme already, so it is time to use this knowledge in understanding real-life speech.

A study conducted by Woottipong (2014) showed that “the students’ English listening comprehension ability increased significantly after learning with videos and students had positive attitudes towards using videos in teaching listening skills” (p. 200). Although this study took university students as its subjects, I think it will be no less true for students a few years younger.

Authentic material

With the Internet, smartboards, tablets and smartphones all available in a modern-day classroom, there is plenty of listening material at hand to contribute to language teaching. It is not difficult to turn any ordinary YouTube or Vimeo video into an interactive exercise. That makes all this material even more suitable for use within the classroom or as homework.

Many scholars have concluded that authentic materials help to improve motivation and skills more than imitated or fabricated input.

Perfect speech is flawed

So, what requirements should we take into account while creating such an effective tool for education?

According to Ur (1991), a good listening exercise should contain informal speech in the sense that it is not a written text read out loud, but speech which has grammatical flaws, slurred pronunciation, colloquial vocabulary, redundancy of words and background noise.

Also, the same text should not be repeated, unless it is repeated in a natural way, e.g. after the listener has asked for repetition or explanation. Also, it is important that the reader can see the speaker: a requirement that is met by the very nature of interactive video.

Real life is the best context

Ur prescribes the tasks should take expectations, purpose and ongoing listener response into account. First of all, learners should be informed about the type of text they are going to hear, so they can use their prior knowledge in their understanding of the fragment.

Furthermore, Woottipong’s survey concluded that many students found it helpful they had studied some relevant words before the listening exercise, as it, of course, helped them understand the video better.

Secondly, instead of trying to understand everything, students should be given a purpose to listen for. This imitates real-life situations, in which people also listen to each other in order to obtain specific information.

Finally, listeners should be able to respond as soon as they hear what they are looking for rather than at the end of the fragment, as they would respond immediately in real situations as well.

Getting started

I won’t choose a random video for my listening exercise, but I’ll find one dealing with the theme my students are currently working on: banks and money.

Choose your video

In addition to the theme, the level is also important. Obviously, you should not show students who just started studying a foreign language a video with an uncommon accent, almost incomprehensible grammatical structures or scientific vocabulary.

Also, take the speed at which people speak in your video into account, as fast speech creates more slurring and the video will be much more difficult to understand.

For my exercise, I chose a BBC documentary about the banking industry. It includes words like interest rates, charges, fees and mortgage, which my students have learned in other lessons.

This listening exercise will both help them retain these words as they hear them again in a meaningful context and they will help them understand the video itself.

This video contains parts of an interview with one of the victims’ wife. She’s is emotional at times and has to think of what she is saying. The flaws in her speech make the video suitable for listening practise, according to Ur’s requirements.

Not all speakers, however, are visible throughout the video: the ‘whistle blower’ has to be kept secret and the presenter is not always on the screen. However, my students will be tested on their listening skills by means of exactly this type of material (documentaries) and so they will need to master understanding speech without seeing the speaker. Therefore, visibility of the speaker is not my main priority in selecting my video.

What interactions would you like to add?

Your interactions should focus on students’ expectations at the beginning of the video, inform the listeners on the purpose which they need to listen for and should enable students to respond whenever they have heard the information they needed.

Of course, many types of interactions are interesting for listening exercises.

Pause screens allow teachers to introduce the topic of the video, so guiding students’ expectations. Also, prior knowledge could be activated by asking a question on the topic. Before showing the fragment you want to ask a question about, a pause screen allows you to show the question, so the purpose for listening will be clear. The different types of questions enable you to check your students’ understanding of the video. Insert your question just after the answer can be heard, so you imitate ongoing listener response.

I want my students to listen for particular information, like they would do in a conversation, instead of trying to understand every single word. That is why I show them the question without the answers they will be able to choose from.

Also, I ask them to write down their own answer in keywords, which will help them choose the right answer in the multiple choice or discussion question.

I put a pause screen like this after every question, so students will listen during the whole exercise.

Multiple choice and multiple response questions limit your students’ options to the ones you provide, whereas essay questions give them the liberty to answer using their own words. However, you should check these answers, as the responses will vary so much they cannot be checked by a computer. You could add some guidelines to the feedback screen, so students can assess their own answers, but no points can be assigned here.

My interactive video starts at the very beginning of a documentary and the topic is thus introduced by the presenter. In order to further activate my students’ prior knowledge, I add an essay question after this introduction with the question ‘What are the dangers of having a credit card?’

As I use the video in a classroom without personal computers or devices, I will ask my students to discuss this question in pairs.

Besides asking essay questions to allow students to show what they understood, this interaction can also be used to invite students to give their opinion on the topic.

I use this question about responsibility for credit card debts as a speaking exercise in class. However, it could also be used as a real essay question if your students work with a device.

I use this interaction a lot, as the national tests we use at school are multiple choice tests as well. Besides, this type of question allows me to include little traps, which will show me whether students understand the text or whether they just recognize words and guess the answer.

Of course, this can also confuse students, but I think it helps them to listen carefully in order to understand the fragment better. If you do not want to confuse your students and still want to know how well they understood the passage, it is best to add an Essay question and check the answers yourself.

The open question is useful, for example, if you want your students to recognize a specific word and type it. The software recognizes this word and assigns points for correct answers.

The jump to interaction allows you to skip parts of the video if you think a fragment less interesting for your purposes.

A few seconds into the video, the suicide of a man in debt is discussed elaborately. I do not want my students to think too much about this topic in this lesson, so I use the Jump to button to skip this part.

Use the menu to allow students to select the parts of the video they want to see.

Use text for adding subtitles if your students are not able to interpret spoken language without seeing its transcription yet. If you know a video or a website related to the topic and you want to give your students the opportunity to find out more, you could add a link. This is done best by clicking the Text button and including a link under ‘Action type – Hyperlink’.

Changing the video’s settings

Now that the video is ready for use, let’s have a look at the video settings to adapt them to your taste.

According to Ur, students should not be able to repeat part of the video, as they would not hear the exact same words in real-life situations either. However, I think this is disputable, as in real life people can ask for repetition or clarification, and this is not possible while watching a video.

Depending on your students’ listening skills and the level of difficulty of the video, you could decide to either allow students to search the video or not. You can do this under ‘Video settings – Advanced – Player settings’. In this tab you can also select part of the video if you do not want to use the whole one.

Students should have insight in their own learning process and are curious to see their score after doing an exercise like this. Under ´End of video´ you can choose to show the score after watching the video. Set the ´Percentage of points to succeed´ under ´Video settings – Reporting’.

Since this video contains clear language, I do not want my students to replay parts of the video. Therefore, I do not tick the box for ‘Allow seeking in the video’. The percentage of questions I see as a pass is 70%. The documentary is quite long, and I only want to spend part of my lesson on listening, so I select the first fourteen minutes.

Publish your video

The only task left is making your video available to your students. Go to ‘Video settings – General – Publishing – Availability’ and choose the option you want.

For enabling you to monitor your students’ achievements, you need to go to ‘Video settings’, ‘Optional Variables’. You enter your students’ data, they will have to enter the information of your choice at the start of the video and the software will save your students’ actions, which you will be able to see under ‘Statistics’. You can even download an Excel sheet with information of scores, time log of the session, whether the students finished the session and the answers they gave.

Using it in the classroom

This listening exercise dealt with the theme my students were working on, so they understood the subject and heard words they had recently studied. However, they did not understand the difference between ‘loans’ and ‘overdrafts’ yet, so I had to explain this.

Afterwards, I clicked the Text button, typed the text ‘What is an overdraft? Click here for explanation!’ and added a hyperlink to a website which gives a clear explanation of the term, so the video is suitable for independent use now

I asked my students to follow the instructions on the screen. When the question and its possible answers reappeared I asked them to raise their hand for the options. This way, I could see at a glance what my students’ thoughts were. Then, I clicked the answer most of them had voted for and showed them the quotations from the video which contained the answer.

Afterwards, my students said they liked the idea of seeing the question before watching the video, because now they knew what to listen for. Some of them liked being able to see the exact words from the fragment containing the answers afterwards, but most of them said they did not really need to see this if their answer had been correct.

The Final Verdict

I think interactive video is useful mainly for listening exercises which students have to do individually.

In a traditional classroom, the teacher can give explanations and further guidance wherever necessary and working on paper has the advantage of being able to see the question they have to answer whenever they need it.

If students are practicing individually, however, interactive video is a good replacement for the teacher.

My advice is to show the question before the fragment, so students will know what to listen for. Include the exact words from the fragment in the feedback and students will get an insight into the way the right answer could have been found. You can add links for extra information that they need to understand the video.

Monitor your students if you want to be able to see exactly which questions are difficult to each individual student.

This way, interactive video will enable online teaching programs to improve students’ listening skills!

Mariëlle Nederlof

Teacher of English (EFL)



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