Elementary, ell, High School, Junior High, school

9 Ways to Assess and Build ELL Listening Skills

Listening skills can be some of the most challenging to build and assess because they just aren’t tangible. So, we have to find ways to make them more clear and easier to quantify.

There are several different ways to do this, teachers just need to be creative. In fact, listening skills are probably my favourite ELL strand to build and assess because I get to have so much fun thinking of new ways to do so!

Here are some of the ways I use most often to build and assess listening skills.


Having students point or gesture to what you’re asking or what they’ve heard is a good way to tell if they’re understanding what’s going on.

For example, you can ask students to point to the capital of Canada to see if they are understanding you. You’ll also know if they can read a map and/or know that Ottawa is the capital.

You can do this with content work, such as pointing to where light reflects on a mirror. You can also do this with general classroom and life-skills type work. For example, you could ask a studnet to gesture to where coats are hung up each morning.

So, you’re able to assess both skills and content knowledge with this tactic.


I find it so fun to do listening worksheets with students! If you’re teaching elementary, especially young elementary, you can do with the whole class.

If you’re working with an older group, this may be a little too “young” for them, depending on what sort of questions you ask. Having a class of ELL students is also excellent for this type of activity, since they’re all working on building listening skills.

With this type of activity, I have students listen to instructions and follow along on their sheets. You can do this in a lot of different ways.

For example, some teachers will focus only on listening skills and can start with a blank piece of paper. They can give instructions like “draw a blue circle” and “put a red dot inside the blue circle”.

Depending on the skills targeted, you can create different tasks for the students to complete.

If you also want to bring some content into the lesson, you can start with a sheet with content of your choice on it. Your instructions could be things like “colour all the mammals blue” or “underline all the nouns”. Then, you can assess both listening skills and content knowledge.

Depending on the students you’re working with and what you’re teaching, this will look different for everyone, but it’s really fun no matter what!


Games like Simon Says are a fun way to play around with listening skills and commands.
Just like listening worksheets, these have students complete an action or task based on your verbal instructions.

Of course, because this doesn’t produce an actual product, like a listening worksheet would, it’s best for practice or as a quick way to formatively assess kids.

You can definitely do summative assessment with this, but I personally like having a tangible product to go over with students and parents so they can better see their progress.


I will often choose videos on YouTube to have my students watch and then answer questions about. I like this option because they can go back as many times as they need to rewatch. This helps them to listen for specifics.

If I’m working just on listening skills, I’ll find fun videos that make the kids laugh, like silly things kids say, interviews on Ellen, and so on. This makes the activity more fun.

If we’re on a specific unit and/or there’s certain content I’m working on other than just listening skills, I’ll pick content focused videos.

Kids can fool around with the speed of the video and rewatch as many times as they need, which I find very useful as they build listening skills. As they improve, they’re able to understand more and more without needing as many supports.


Incorporating music into listening skills is a fun way for students to try out varying listening skills. Obviously, listening to someone sing with background music is a lot different than listening to a teacher in a quiet classroom.

I like to make fill-in-the-blank style activities for students to participate in with music.
For example, in one activity, I’ll give students sheets with lyrics, but some words have been blacked out. I play the music and when they hear the missing words, they have to race to the front to write them on the board. The fastest team gets a point.

You can also have them listen independently and fill in blanks when they hear them.
There’s quite a few fun ways to do this and the students really enjoy it.


I love doing interviewing activities with my students. It’s a great way for them to interact with one another and build listening and speaking skills.

If your students are still very new to the language, give them a set of simple, easy questions to ask one another. These can include things like, “what is your name”, “how old are you?” and so on.

For kids who are more advanced, let them come up with questions to ask their peers on their own.

If you want to ensure they’re actually listening to their classmates’ answers, you can have them tell everyone after what their partner’s answers were. This will also help them improve their speaking skills.


An easy and straightforward activity to build listening skills is to have students listen to something and then summarize or answer questions about it.

With this strategy, you can have students listen to any type of media of your choosing. A video, audiobook, a sound clip, or so on. Podcasts work very well for this and you can find so many out there that are targeted to students of all ages.

After kids listen, you can have them write a short summary, complete a graphic organizer, or answer questions. This will help you to see whether or not they’re able to intake the information presented to them.


One of the best activities I do in my English language development course is have students complete a research project, present it, and then quiz one another after. This has the students develop all four areas of language development (reading, writing, speaking, and listening).

There are multiple ways you can do this. You could have each student ask at least one or two questions after a presentation a classmate makes. This will ensure they’re actively listening during the presentation and will hone question and response skills.

If students are not quite ready to form their own questions, you can ask them questions after a presentation.

You could also create a short written quiz after some presentations or lectures. For example, you can ask short true/false questions, multiple choice questions, or fill in the blanks.

These will all help students focus on building active listening skills. They will also support you in assessing their progress and informing your teaching practice.


Similar to quizzing after presentations, lectures, or other listening activities, having students write their own questions is a good way to keep them listening.

Task students with coming up with a certain amount of questions while doing something such as watching a video, or while you read something out loud. This will have them listen more closely and start to think about related topics and questions.

You can also have them ask certain types of questions. For example, if you’re reading a story, you could have them ask at least one question about a character, one question about the setting, and so on. This will help start hitting curriculum content as well.

Well, what do you think? Are these helpful? Is there anything else you use in your class to help build students’ listening as they build English language skills? Let me know!

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