How to Teach IELTS Listening Skills

I like teaching IELTS listening skills. It is usually much more fun than teaching reading or writing, and it’s easier than teaching speaking. At its most basic, the IELTS listening exam is a test of a student’s listening skills, and so you can theoretically use almost any native English audio resources as a form of practice. Of course, it is a bit more complex than that. So here’s what you need to know in order to teach IELTS listening to your students.

Learn All About the IELTS Listening Test

Well, this one was obvious, wasn’t it? Of course, you just can’t teach exam skills if you don’t know about the exam. So spend some time checking out what the IELTS listening is all about and then maybe do a practice test yourself. The exam is pretty predictable, which is lucky for you and your students.

Candidates will always have about 30 minutes of listening, followed by 10 minutes to transfer their answers to the answer sheet. There will always be 4 sections of increasing difficulty, each comprising of 10 questions, and they will have roughly the same contents:

  1. A conversation between two people, often over the telephone, in a “social” or “general” setting.
  2. A monologue, again in a social or general setting.
  3. Another conversation, this time in an academic setting, and usually concerning some sort of shared responsibility like an assignment.
  4. A final monologue, which is usually a lecture.

No specialist knowledge is required and the exam is the same for academic and general IELTS candidates.

Learn Exam Strategies

There are lots of good exam strategies to help students listen more carefully. Some of the best are:

  1. Predict material. Students should get used to reading the questions and knowing what to expect from the subsequent listening passage. They should be aware that they don’t have to understand everything, but instead should be prepared to hear a specific idea.
  2. Identify wrong answers. Finding the right answer is often difficult. However, finding the wrong answer can be easier. When you know which answer is wrong, you are closer to finding the right one. Teach your students to cross out the incorrect answers and increase their chance of getting the correct one.
  3. Think in terms of synonyms. In both the listening and reading exams, students should be scanning the questions and underlining keywords. They should then think of synonyms for these words because that is likely what they will hear. The question and the passage will seldom contain the same wording.
  4. Listen to everything before choosing. The IELTS listening can be tricky. Often, they will give you a false answer. For example, if the question is about what time someone will leave, they might say, “I’ll leave at 5:15… Oh know, actually I have to pick up my son on the way. So I’ll leave at 5:05.” If you wrote your answer to quickly, you might miss the correct answer, which comes a little later.

Time Management

One of the hardest parts of the IELTS exam is doing everything within the allotted time. Students should be practicing under exam conditions and using various strategies in order to use their time better. For one thing, don’t waste time checking your answers during the gap between one section and the next. Instead, check them at the end when you are transferring your answers to the answer sheet. In those brief 30 second gaps, students should be reading the next set of questions and anticipating the material they will hear next. This is a far better use of time.

Get a Mix of Accents and Voices

Ok, so far we’ve just been looking at the actual IELTS exam, but as I mentioned in the introduction, all listening is – to varying extents – useful. You can watch TED talks or TV shows or documentaries or interviews or news reports… It’s all useful in some way. The important thing is getting the candidate ready to hear different information in the English language, and especially in different accents. I always try to play my students different voices from my own so that they get familiar with some other accents. English and American and Australian people all sound very different, and yet any of these could be expected in the IELTS exam. You need women’s voices and men’s voices, high and low voices, and so on.

The general idea, then, is that you need a lot of practice. However, just watching loads of TV shows and asking questions wouldn’t be enough to train a student to do well in the IELTS listening exam. They also need exam skills. They need to learn strategies and do real IELTS exam practice. But you can mix in some fun exercises as well. The more interesting the material, the more engaged the students.

Head Teacher
I'm the founder and editor of Beatdom Literary Journal, author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. I'm also a teacher and operate the popular website, TED-IELTS.

2 thoughts on “How to Teach IELTS Listening Skills

  1. Hi, David. I’m also an IELTS teacher, but I’m a Chinese teacher. I browse your website, and see your help and contribution on this field. As a Chinese, I appreciate for what you’ve done for our Chinese students. I’m just thinking whether I can learn more things about IELTS teaching from you. I’m looking forward to your reply. Thank you!

    1. Hi Esther,

      If you have any questions, let me know. But I guess if you’re also an IELTS teacher then you probably know a lot, too. 🙂 Where in China do you teach?

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