Listen to who?

4 May

I love student output. Discussions, presentations, debates, stories – you name it, I’m into it (assuming it’s meaningful to the people speaking). I listen, comment, scribble notes, think of ways to extend it, all that good stuff.

Sometimes though, after a group has carefully prepared and practiced an amazing presentation for the class, it doesn’t seem like their peers are as enthralled as I am. Fair enough considering they are worrying about their own turns, can’t really hear their colleagues, or just aren’t that interested in what they have to say. Still, I’d like them to be more engaged, and since I spend quite a lot of time these days thinking about task design, you’d think I’d have some amazing, innovative ways to capture their attention. Sadly, this isn’t the case, so I’m turning to the ol’ blogosphere to see if anyone can help out.



Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling which have worked for me, but nothing spectacular, so I’m really hoping for a comment or two (come on you TBL/Dogme aficionados, this should be right up your alley):

–          Peers write questions to ask about the presentation – my usual go-to, this one is a classic for a reason – it’s simple to set up, works with any topic, and can be managed at any level.

Downside? Pretty dull if this is only the ever peer-listening task.


–          Test the expert – nearly identical to the one above, but with a bit more of a game-like element. Instead of asking questions directly about the presentation, peers try to come up with tricky questions related to the topic to try to stump ‘the expert’.

Downside? Only works if the presenters are fairly familiar with the topic they are talking about.


–          Summary tasks – rather than asking questions, peers are asked to do some kind of summary task, anything from write a one-sentence summary, one paragraph, 3 interesting facts, etc.

Downside? Not particularly personal or interactive.


–          Artistic tasks – for the more open-minded classes, you can ask them to draw a picture of either the whole presentation or specific elements. These drawings can then be used for guessing games/explanations after the presentation.

Downside? Definitely not a task that suits everyone’s tastes.


–          Prompts – these can sometimes be a good way to get feedback on a presentation. Sentence stems for example, like I never knew that…, can help to get the learners focused and lead to a more fruitful and specific feedback session.   Other prompts cold include charts to fill in, categorization tasks, etc.

Downside? By itself it doesn’t stimulate any interaction and not all prompts are appropriate for every presentation.


–          Student-made comprehension tasks – for the more attentive groups, one option is for them to create comprehension tasks based upon what they’ve heard (true/false, questions, multiple-choice, etc.). These can then be given to other groups to complete while the presenters confirm/deny the answers.

Downside? Possibly overly challenging for some levels


–          Agree/Disagree tasks – students can write a specified number of things that they agree or disagree with the presenter about. These can then be used to stimulate discussions, debate, or can be used as part of a guessing game (who said it? Did they agree or disagree? Etc.)

Downside? Depending on the presentation, this task may not be applicable.


So, there are a few simple peer listening tasks that I’ve tried out. These are all material free and adaptable since that tends to be what I like, but I’m open to trying out all kinds of new ideas. Now, what have you got for me?




13 Responses to “Listen to who?”

  1. Daniel May 4, 2014 at 10:08 pm #

    I like to do two of these: having students ask questions, and having them agree or disagree with a certain point in their classmate’s speech. Plus I call on them at random, so they’re always on their toes. Good stuff!

  2. Ben Naismith May 5, 2014 at 7:20 am #

    Cheers Daniel, those are probably my two most-used as well.

  3. Ruthie May 13, 2014 at 11:31 pm #

    Great ideas, I’ll adopt some of these. This is a meaningful topic. Like you, I love student presentations, but am always looking for ways to increase audience engagement.

    One technique I’ve devised involves using student-developed rubrics. I usually do this midway through the semester, when students are familiar with my rubrics. As a class, we decide what criteria will be measured (organization, content, gestures, grammar, creativity, etc…). I provide students with four descriptors that will go with each criterion. I use descriptors like; exceeds expectations, meets expectations, approaches expectations, ignores expectations (I struggle with the wording on that last one. “Ignores” seems so negative.)

    As part of the preparation for the presentations, the class will be divided into groups. Each group will get one criterion of a blank rubric to discuss and decide the content of the descriptors. The students develop detailed explanations of observable behaviors and write the rubrics. I then collect the completed work and compile them into one rubric for the project. In the next class, we jigsaw the original groups and each person explains the subheadings he/she was involved in developing. They are usually midway through the development of their presentations themselves, so during that class time students have the opportunity to pull out their rough drafts and adapt their work to the new rubric.

    On presentation day, each class member gets a rubric for each presenter. The students listen and evaluate each other. Students must put their own names as well as the names of the presenter on the rubrics. I collect them from the class at the end of each presentation. I do look over these before compiling them and passing them back to the presenter. If something is inappropriate or I too harsh, I will address it. Usually though, students are quite constructive. By this point in the semester, we’ve usually had a couple of lessons on pragmatics where we address techniques and language for appropriate criticism and politely giving constructive feedback. This is usually framed as the need for identifying strengths and areas of improvement.

    As a downside to this project, it takes a lot of paper. On the other hand, student-created rubrics seem to increase the quality of the presentations. Likewise, the student-driven scoring really increases audience engagement during the presentations. I’ve always enjoyed these lessons as the class seems to be working together as a cohesive unit to take ownership of the learning.

    • Ben Naismith May 14, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      Nice Ruthie, this is what I’m talking about! I’ve never tried having the students create their own rubrics, but will definitely give this a go.

      Since I tend not to have my own groups long term but just cover classes short term as needed, I may try more of a paper-light group version with oral feedback using their completed rubric as a prompt.

      Thank you for this!

      • Ruthie May 14, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

        This type of discussion is so meaningful. I’m glad that you brought it up.

        You’re right in that the above plan needs an established group and teacher.

        Here’s another idea… in my reading and listening classes, we talk about making connections as strategies for comprehension. I really think that this stems from Rosenblatt’s transactional reader response theory. Basically, what a person brings to a text (or speech–I think) is what he/she will take away from it. In such, we work on making text-self, text-text, and text-world connections. As a class, we usually start with Text-Self connections because those are the easiest. So, each speaker will give a presentation, and each respondent will be tasked with listening and making a text-self connection with the content. They must make notes of those connections. At the end of each speech, groups/pairs get together and discuss the connections they found. I love hearing how their lives apply to the topics.

        It goes on as we explore making text-text & text-world connections. For example, we try to mix it up and think of movies or songs that tangentially relate.

        Okay. That’s faster and easier. 🙂

      • Ben Naismith May 15, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

        Another really interesting idea that I’d never thought of! Do you actually use that terminology with the learners or do you just have questions that prompt those responses, for example, ‘How does this relate to your life?’?

        Unfortunately I’m teaching 1-2-1 right now otherwise I’d be testing these out already!

  4. eltecuador May 29, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    One thing I’ve found that gets students listening to each other is for the presenter to purposefully put in a false piece of information in their presentation. Afterwards the audience discuss and decide which part was false and you go through part of feedback that way.

    Upside? Again, a game like element like ‘test the expert’, so motivating and engaging. It can also be quite fun trying to see how good the presenters are at lying 😉

    Downside? I would say that this can only really work with topics that are fairly general in which the audience would have some inkling about what it’s about.

    I did this with a pre-int class fairly early on in the course where they did presentations about themselves; likes/dislikes, family, work etc. and it worked quite well. The students are seemed to be listening to each other. I was amazed since I often have the same problem as you mentioned at the start of this post, Ben.

    How would you adapt this for higher level?


    • Ben Naismith May 29, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

      Hana! I was wondering if the ELT Ecuador was you, but you don’t even put your name in the about section – very sneaky.

      I love this idea, it’s like a fancy ‘2 Truths and a Lie’. I agree that it probably works better with more familiar topics and lower levels, but I’ll give it a shot with my advanced group – they know each other so well that it should be fun. Also if they’re presenting about topics that have come up in the book or have to do with the local culture/context then it shouldn’t really matter what level the class is (he says with authority despite having no idea).

      Will take a closer look at your blog now!

      • eltecuador May 29, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

        Yes, tis me! Sneaky indeed.

        It really is like a fancy ‘2 truths, 1 lie’. A classic I tend to do a lot.
        With higher level I imagine it could be fun to see whether their fluency and connected speech breaks down in the areas they’re lying about or whether they can make it fairly seamless. Good practice should any of them want to be politicians in the future.

  5. Ben Naismith May 30, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    I know a few poker players who would like this game…

  6. Sandy Millin June 2, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    Great question, Ben, and some really useful ideas. Here’s one which I tried once with a group of intermediate students. They were presenting about their favourite TV series. Before we started I told them that they would get feedback from me and from each other. As well as thinking of questions for each presenter, they had to come up with at least one comment on each other presentation, preferably constructive (we’d talked about constructive comments before), but if nothing came to them it could be a simple ‘I really want to watch that now!’ They took notes of these, and when all of the presentations were finished, I put one piece of paper with each student’s name around the room. They went round and added their comments to each piece of paper, so when we were done they had 10 or 11 student comments, plus my feedback. It was one of the most successful sets of presentations I’ve ever done with students. No idea if this was because of the feedback or because of the topic though!

    • Ben Naismith June 3, 2014 at 12:10 am #

      Hi Sandy, thanks for stopping by and I love the idea. As soon as I read what you’d posted, I wished I’d thought of it! Combining two of my usual tricks – getting students to write questions/comments for peers and sticking student output up for them to read/comment on. Excellent!


  1. Student-led activities: listen like an oral examiner | Henka books - January 22, 2016

    […] are many ideas on how to get students to listen to their peers (see, for example, this excellent post by Ben Naismith). One strategy that works for me in making students better listeners to their fellow […]

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