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5 Great Listening Activities for One-to-One Classes

Emily Smith

One-to-one classes provide unparalleled attention for a student’s personal learning style and pace, but they can also seem repetitive. It is difficult to recreate the energy of a group of students doing an activity together when there is only one student and a teacher in the room.

Listening skills are especially difficult to develop, as the student in a one-to-one class will be listening to only one person speak. There are many methods for helping a student to develop varied and thorough listening skills. Five great activities are:

1) Music: Using music as a listening exercise can be entertaining and memorable. I like to print out the lyrics for the student to read while listening, but you can use the lyrics to suit your specific lesson as well! To teach a specific grammar point, simply find a song that utilizes the grammar in your lesson. You can even print out the lyrics with blank spaces so the student is forced to fill in the correct form as they listen. I like to find music that the student enjoys in the target language. You can also cut the lyrics up so each line is on a separate slip of paper. Now have the student rearrange the lyrics in order while listening to the song.

To teach a specific grammar point, simply find a song that utilizes the grammar in your lesson. You can even print out the lyrics with blank spaces so the student is forced to fill in the correct form as they listen.

2) Describe and Draw: Look at a rather complicated picture that uses a lot of shapes and colors. Don’t let your student see it. Describe it to your student in as detailed language as possible, and have the student draw what you describe. The results can be hilarious. You can also give your student directions to draw a route on a map if you want to practice asking for and giving directions.

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3) TED Talks and other Social Media: You can use TV shows, Movies, and Podcasts to help your student improve listening skills. My absolute favorite type of media to use in class is TED Talks, a website featuring lectures from experts in every subject you can imagine. This enables you the freedom to choose any topic that might interest your students. You can spend a whole class watching and discussing an episode of Friends, if your student wants! Have your student write down words or phrases they don’t understand, and make sure to pause often to discuss what has been said and other ways to say it. After you are finished listening, use comprehension questions to assess understanding and spark discussion.

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4) Recordings: Listening to native speakers of the target language is important for a student, but listening to their own voice is also important. I like to record a student while they give a presentation or simply while they read a text out loud. When I play it back for the student, they always have renewed motivation to work on their pronunciation. I take a new recording every week, so that the student can listen to their improvement. I also like to record myself reading the same text. This gives the student an opportunity to compare their pronunciation with a native speaker.


5) Word of the Day:` I love using a word of the day, sound of the day, phrase of the day, or question of the day. At the beginning of class, you tell the student a specific word (or sound, phrase, question, etc) that you plan to emphasize throughout the lesson. For the rest of the class, anytime you use that word, the student must stand up. This keeps your student focused on listening and lets the student get out of their seat to move around. You may even say the word without realizing only to find your student standing unexpectedly! You can even change the action from standing to dancing or jumping to make the class extra amusing.


As you can tell, the right activity can make teaching listening skills very fun in a one-to-one class. Be sure to put effort into your student’s interests and don’t be afraid to be silly!

What’s your favorite listening activity in a one-to-one class? Let us know! We would love to hear from you in the comments section!

About the author

Emily has taught English to ESL learners in four Asian countries. Although she taught students from 3-60, she has a definite affection for preschoolers and college students. She has also worked as an ESL curriculum writer and is TESOL certified. When she is not teaching, she loves watching and making films.