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Surfing the Web with Your Ear

Holly Gray * Kathleen Kilday * Sharon Widmayer

TESOL 1999


Why should you want to listen on the web?

  • a plethora of authentic & ESL-specific material available for free

  • access to current information & timely materials

  • students can work independently at home or in a computer lab

  • highly motivating medium

  • audio & video clips can be played more than once

  • availability of material for all levels of learners

  • each student can listen to different materiallistening activities can be used as a starting point to teach grammar, writing, functions of English, etc.

What do you need to use Internet audio & video in your classes?


  • computers with sound cards

  • speakers or earphones plugged into the computers

  • web browser (Netscape, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Opera, Mosaic)

  • plug-ins for your browser (additional programs that enable you to listen to audio & watch video), such as RealPlayer, Quicktime, and Shockwave


What can you do now that you have all of this stuff?

  • listen/ watch to authentic materials (TV clips, news reports, movie trailers, interviews, music, poetry, documentaries, & more)

  • listen to materials specially recorded for ESL learners and do on-line practice activities

  • listen for different purposes including:

    • listening for general idea & details

    • identifying examples of different language functions

    • learning about the culture of English speaking countries

    • collecting authentic examples of different grammatical structures

    • discovering aspects of English pronunciation and rhythm)

What specific activities can you do?

listening comprehension:


  • cloze activities--Many transcripts & lyrics can be found on the Net.

  • listening comprehension questions (Better yet, have students create the questions and answers and recycle them.)

  • discovery activities--Find an example of a language function, grammatical structure or aspect of pronunciation and ask students questions to get them to analyze it.

  • dictations




  • site reviews --Add them to your bibliography.

  • dialogues--Have students watch a video clip without the sound and write the dialogue.

  • summaries--Have students write a summary of what they listened to. Post summaries on a class web page.


listening/speaking activities: 

  • dialogues --Have students watch a video clip and write & act out a dialogue for the next scene.

  • oral summaries --Have students describe their video or audio clip to a partner. Students can practice indirect speech report what happened (especially good with interviews).

  • discussion --Students can listen to/watch several clips on the same theme and then have a discussion on that topic.

How can you create your own activities for listening on the web?

  • Make sure you have clearly defined your learning goal & have found a suitable website.

  • Decide on the type of activity you want to do to reach your learning goal.

  • Make sure your lesson is clearly planned with very specific instructions for students.

  • Bring at least 2 back-up activities in case there is a problem with a website you planned to use.

  • If you are planning your web listening lesson as in-class activity, go to the lab ahead of time and try out the activity yourself. Make sure you are comfortable with the technology before trying to teach with it.

  • Check the links you intend to use the day of the class to make sure they are still active.

  • Walk around the classroom frequently to make sure students are on task (and not sending e-mail to their best friend in Korea).

  • Don't overload your Internet connection!! Try to plan lab activities where students are not all trying to listen to the same thing at the same time. If you would like everyone to listen to the same clip, it is better to have students do this out of class for homework, when they will not all be logging in at the same time.

  • Be aware of controversial content. Some topics may not be appropriate for all learners. Some websites may have links to inappropriate material.

  • Be aware that current event sites such as news programs change their content frequently. The clip you listened to yesterday may not be on the site today.

  •  Not all material on the Internet complies with copyright law. Please be careful about what sites you choose to use. Many .au & quicktime files can easily be copied, but that doesn't mean it is legal to do so.

Some things we've done:

1) Example poetry exercise -- Learning about Sentence Stress. Level of students = advanced college level (ITAs) 

Read the Poem "Rent" by Jane Cooper ( As you read, discuss with your partner what you think the poem means. What are "free agents"? What does the author mean when she says she wants a "radiance of attention"? 

Once you understand the poem, read through it again. Which words are the content words which will get more stress? 

Which words are structure words and will sound quicker and quieter? If you want, you can print out a copy of the poem to make notes on. 

Practice reading the poem out loud with your partner. When you are ready, record yourself using the Sound Recorder on your computer. 

Listen to the poet read the poem and to your own recording (you will probably want to listen more than once. Answer the following questions about the poem: 

Here are the first few lines of the poem. Circle the content words (longer & louder): 

If you want my apartment, sleep in it 

but let's have a clear understanding: 

the books are still free agents. 

Did you choose the correct content words and remember to make them longer and louder? 

Write an example of one place you did this well. 

Did you reduce the function words so they are softer and quicker? 

Write an example of one place you did this well. 

Now, save your recording on your in-class practice disk and turn in your disk before leaving. 


2) Example activity for low level students: the weather

1. Open Netscape

2. Type in this address

3. Circle the words that they say in the weather report for Chicago.

rainy sunny snow windy cloudy sleet stormy foggy 

freezing cold cool mild warm hot

4. What will the temperature be?

below 0 0-10 degrees teens 20s 30s 40s 50s 60s 70s 80s 90s 

over 100

5. What should you wear today in Chicago? ________________________________



3) Example listening comprehension for advanced learners.

Anthony Hopkins

1. Hopkins prefers British actors. True False

2. List two of Hopkins' favorite films.

3. List two of Hopkins' favorite actors.

4. Hopkins enjoys serious, dark films. True False

1. List four questions Hopkins asks before he agrees to meet the director:

2. What does Hopkins ask the director when he meets him/her?

3. Hopkins only cares about advancing his career. True False

4. Hopkins respects Alec Baldwin. True False


4. Example video activity to practice writing.

Become a writer for Star Trek! Open Netscape & type in this address:

On the top of the page, click on "movies."

You should now see a list of short movie clips. With your partner, pick one clip to watch. After you watch your clip, answer these questions:

1. What is happening in your clip?

2. What do you think happened right before your clip?

3. What do you think will happen right after your clip?

4. Write the dialogue for the next five minutes of this scene.



Our favorite sites:

Sites with ESL activities

Interviews and news

Video clips of current events in RealAudio


Radio Drama


  • The Shadow RealAudio Radio Theater ( -features a different episode from the old radio show each day




Film and TV





Don't panic! Strategies for overcoming tech- related problems:



The web site is down.Bring a back-up lesson plan.

Plan lessons that could be carried out on more than one site (watch movie clips on the Screening Room or Video Link)

The computers don't have the right plug-in to listen to the clips you've selected.Try out your activities in the lab before class to make sure the plug-ins work. 

Choose sites offering more than one format (Shadow 

Theater, Billboard)

There are not enough computers in the lab for all students in a class.See if it is possible to plug 2 sets of headphones into each computer (sometimes it is) & have students work together on one machine. This is especially effective if they can work on the listening activity together (for example, work together to write a summary or write questions for another pair).

Students are having problems accessing the video/ audio. Only some are able to.You probably have too many students trying to listen/ watch the same thing at once. Plan lessons that involve more than one clip (students choose a clip to summarize, students watch a series of short clips to prepare for a discussion) so that different groups can be listening to different clips.

There is only one computer in the classroom.If there is a lab students can use outside of class, you may want to save Internet listening for homework activities.

If your computer has good (& loud speakers), you may want to choose an audio clip & play it for the entire class. If you have access to a computer projector, video can also be shown to the whole class (but video quality is normally not good on a large screen).

Plan a variety of listening activities in small groups, including one using the computer. During the lesson, have students rotate to different stations to do different activities.

Video stops or slows down in the middle when using RealVideo.The website is probably pretty busy. There's not too much you can do about this. Be patient.

Students are not staying on task & are just "surfing the web".Don't just stand at the front of the classroom. Walk around the classroom frequently to make sure students are on task.

The sound isn't working.Make sure that the speakers are turned on & the volumn on the speakers & headphones is turned up.

Check the volumn control on your computer (in Windows 95/98, click on the little speaker icon in the bottom right & the volumn control will pop up.

Everything is going wrong & I give up.Don't give up! Technology takes patience. In case of a real emergency (your lab loses power, your Internet connection is down, etc), ALWAYS bring a non-computer-related activity with you that you can use in a pinch, such as a peer dictation exercise.



This handout is privided as a resource for ESL/ELF professionals & may not be copied without permission of the authors.

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