Monday, August 5, 2013

Listen Up!

Besides the actual format of the flipped classroom, I get more questions about finding quality, authentic listening selections than anything else. I believe that working on listening comprehension is one of the most important things we as language teachers do, and it is also one of the hardest. Even before I walked away from our textbook, I was always searching for quality listening selections. It began when I started teaching Spanish III, and I realized that we didn't have any of the CDs for the textbook anymore. Now I rely on the Internet for more and more things for my classroom, but none more than listening.

Anyone that has talked to me about this, or seen me present, knows that I spend most of my free time searching for listening selections. When I moved to thematic units, it became a little easier because I could narrow my search, and when I started focusing on one country per thematic unit, it was easier still to search for listening selections. Please don't mistake me, it is NOT easy to find good listening selections that are on the right level, topic and something that the students can identify with. It is a constant struggle, and that is why I am ALWAYS searching for new things.

Now, where do I find the ones that I use? First, I begin with the text supplemental material. Even with the upper levels, sometimes it is good to start slowly with lower level listenings to get them back in the groove at the beginning of the year. I also am going to start using easier ones to demonstrate grammatical concepts that we are working on. This way, students can focus on not just the content, but the construction.

After I have exhausted what I like in my textbook, which doesn't take long, I move to the other books that I own. So, look on your shelf and see what books you have inherited from others, or received free at conferences. Then, check out websites like or and search for the accompanying CD. Yes, it requires spending some money, but I have gotten some great resources for class this way. For example, I owned a book called Conversacion y Repaso. I looked through it and there was a supplemental DVD which had some government things that were right on point with what I was doing in class. So, I searched for it and found it here. Now, it doesn't work for every book - the supplemental materials aren't always available, but it is worth checking out.

Third, I scour the web. I love some of the stories on BBC Mundo (pretty sure there are versions in other languages), but for the lower level students, these are often difficult. I have met many teachers that love, but I have only found one or two selections there that really worked for me. I find many listening selections on YouTube. For example, one of my current favorites is for my Challenges in Teen Life Unit for level 3. The video is entitled Gang Stigmata. At my school, tattoos are huge, so this video really sparks their interest. I also like documentaries that are on point - for example this one on Dali. It is not in Spanish, but has so much great information, I decided it was worth it. It just goes to show the awesome videos you can find for listening. Just narrow down to specific topics and countries to help you in your search. Also, do not do these searches at school because sometimes you get some unexpected (and not things you want someone to ask you about) results.

Here is a list of some other sites I have found for listenings. Check them out and see which ones meet your needs.

Finally, don't forget about movies. In my 4 class, which is primarily conversation based, we have movie Fridays. Now, we are on the alternating block, so this is at most 2 times per month, and sometimes less due to holidays and snow days. In my 2 and 3 class movies happen less frequently, but I like using them. I use the subtitles, because I believe that even when they are reading, they are still listening and making connections. The trick, of course, is finding appropriate movies that the students will actually watch. The best way to find these is through your PLN (Personal Learning Network) and at the video booths at conferences. I am not suggesting relying on watching English movies dubbed (although on occasion I do that). This is a chance to incorporate real authentic (can you say that about a movie?) into the classroom. Some I really like are:
  • Carol's Journey - I use during my Spanish Civil War unit
  • Cinco Amigas - Silly and fun, but the kids like it
  • Under the Same Moon - I know a movie is doing it's job when the kids cry at the end.
  • Circo - A documentary, but the students really found life in the circus interesting
  • Casi Casi - Another kids favorite about awkward kid running for class president
  • Valentin - Cute love story - easy to understand
Again, not an all encompassing list, but you get the idea.

The bottom line is if you are looking for great, authentic listening activities, you are not alone. Talk to everyone you know and ask them what they are using. Better yet, comment here and share with me too!