Listening Journals: Promoting Extensive and Intensive Listening Practice

As a language learner, listening has always been the hardest skill for me. Grammar, vocabulary and writing are just a matter of practice. Speaking is just a matter of nerves. But listening? How do you learn to listen? The assumption is you just pick it up through exposure, but the reality is much different. Like the other skills, listening requires practice.

And, like the other skills, this practice can come in the form of extensive or extensive practice. However, why separate them? Extensive listening easily leads into intensive listening, just as extensive reading is benefited by some intensive reading practice.

Last semester, I decided to give my lower-level conversation classes some much needed listening practice. I and my colleagues felt that they were getting a long of speaking practice, and some two-way listening practice – yet their listening skills still needed improvement.

We developed our listening journals along the lines of extensive reading – we encouraged listening to anything they wanted, so long as it wasn’t too difficult. Students chose music, movies, TV shows, TEDTalks, cooking videos, and other random authentic English media items. They were to do their best to understand what they heard, write down any new or interesting language they learned, and then reflect on the whole listening process.

I took this one step further and had students move from extensive to intensive listening with the same media they had been viewing, having them complete specific activities that focused more on bottom-up listening skills. I often demonstrated a tool or activity that could be applied to any media (such as making gap-fills, transcription:, or using the wonderful LyricsTraining website) and then had them try it out for their listening journal entry. Much of this was inspired by Thorn’s (2009) article on teaching listening vs. teaching students how to listen.

Although I was not able to test the direct effects of the listening journals (this will be a future project), student responses were overwhelmingly positive. Most felt they benefited from the listening journals, and many students said they would continue on with them on their own. I was encouraged so much by the results of the listening journal that I am doing a new iteration of it with an advanced listening class. I hope that my current students gain as much as my previous students did.

If this continues to be successful, I plan on turning it into a small action research project to try to empirically verify whether these listening journals have any positive effect on listening skills. Below, I have provided links to the information distributed to students. This information contains specific guidelines and examples of what students needed to complete. I would very much appreciate any comments or feedback!

10 thoughts on “Listening Journals: Promoting Extensive and Intensive Listening Practice

  1. Hi Anthony,
    Lizzie Pinard recommended two books to me which I think you would be interested in:
    – Teaching Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action by Vandergrift and Goh
    – Listening in the language Classroom by John Field
    he first focuses on getting students to reflect on the listening strategies they use in a way that I think could enrich your journals. The second shows many different micro listening activities that could be useful for the intensive practive you suggest. Ilook forward to seeing how the further research goes.

    • Anthony Teacher says:

      Those look like great books and I’ll see if I can get them through my university’s library.

      In the meantime, are there any specifics from these books that you could share?

      • In Vandergrift and Goh it was mostly about the importance of getting students to think about the listening process, which you already seem to be doing through the journals. However, I think it would be useful as it has lots of examples of different ways students could use the journals, for example, the different kinds of information they could include.

  2. I have had the same very positive response from intermediate and advanced students. I ask them to listen to a BBC Radio 4 or NPR of their choice every week and tell the class about it, bringing in examples of language and vocabulary they found interesting. This simple activity has generated engaging discussions about a wide range of topics and motivated students to take charge of their own learning.

  3. annloseva says:

    Hello Anthony,

    I’m thankful to you for writing this and to Sandy for bringing it into my view with her share. I’m currently interested in finding new ways to improve my students’ listening skills, as well as my own barely existent listening skills in Japanese. That’s where my question to you comes from:
    I can clearly see how listening journals work with Low-Intermediate level and higher. I’ll surely start this practice with some of my students asap. How can we tweak that to encourage lower level students to do their own listening and keep records, with as much language as they already have (and looking for more)? I wouldn’t like it to be specialized ELT videos and tracks, of course. And same in my case with Japanese. Helping A1 learners, who have very limited vocabulary so far, is my concern.

    Thanks for the post, I’ve personally found it very useful.


  4. Anthony Teacher says:

    The trick at that level is to find appropriate listening texts, especially authentic ones. Graded listening texts that are semi-authentic would be useful. Also, voices of america and breaking news English. As for vocab, there is no reason why this cant be a vocab excercise too. Students could preview the script and identify unknown words before listening. Here they can focus only on words. Then, shen they listen, hopefully those words are activated and recalled to aid in comprehension.

    Please let me know if you use listening journals, and how you tweak them.

  5. eslwriter says:

    Greta post and thanks for the listening journal idea. i will definitely use that idea next semester. Cheers.

  6. Phan Thi Minh Thao says:

    Dear Anthony teacher,
    My name is Minh Thao. I come from Viet Nam. I am doing research on using listening journal in teaching listening for my master thesis, but I can’t get enough resources for reading. Could you recommend me some journals related to using listening journal?
    Thanks you very much!

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