Unit 5: Listening across the Curriculum


At the JSS level and beyond, students need to use English to study other subjects. In the classroom, your students are expected to understand definitions of concepts, specific information about a concept, detailed reasoning, main and subordinate ideas, summaries and so on. All these classroom activities require not only concentration and interest, but also the ability to process information spontaneously and respond appropriately. For example, in the Science classroom, students will need to listen to the teacher’s explanation of a concept, follow the sequence of ideas leading to the conclusion, understand the steps in a scientific experiment and so on, all from the teacher’s oral presentation.

To develop effective learning skills, students need to improve their listening skills, as most of the interaction in the classroom is in the spoken form. In this unit, we will try to give you examples of a few activities that you can use in the class to develop your students’ listening comprehension skills.

Unit outcomes

Upon completion of this unit you will be able to make your students listen effectively and understand:


  • the gist of a topic,

  • specific information on a topic,

  • the details of a topic, including illustrations and examples, and

  • the main ideas and supporting details of a concept.


Case study

Case study

Mr Obi teaches English in a JSS in Nigeria. During a staff meeting, teachers of other subjects expressed their disappointment at the inability of the students to comprehend their explanations in class. The teachers even wondered how the students had managed to pass their final examinations. One of the teachers added that the students preferred to be given notes to copy and memorise rather than learning to understand on their own.

The principal discussed this issue with the teachers and asked Mr Obi to do something about it since the problem was related to language use. Mr Obi remembered that one way of getting students to learn and use a language well was to identify the purpose for which the language was being used and the situation in which the language was being used. Since the students would need to understand instructions in English in the classroom and laboratory, Mr Obi decided to develop activities to enhance their listening skills so that they could perform better in these subject areas.

He selected a few sample texts from the students’ other subjects and based some activities on them. His activities included listening to instructions and taking notes, and describing processes and experiments. At the end of a week of intensive practice, the students were able to perform better in other subjects.

Points to ponder

  1. Do your students perform better in English than in other subjects? Why, or why not? Do you think their performance is affected by their ability to understand spoken English?

  2. Do your students listen to popular educational programmes in English on radio or television outside class hours? Do they find it difficult to follow what is said? If they do, is it because they do not understand English easily? How would you help them improve their listening skills in other subject areas?


Activity 1: Listening for specific information

Activity 1

One of the skills necessary for students to understand concepts in different subjects is to identify specific information in an oral or written text. This means that while listening to the teacher or reading from a book, students should be able to look for certain points that will help them comprehend the main points easily.

In this activity, you will be able to help your students develop their scanning skills; that is, looking for specific information in an oral or written text. You can refer to Module 3 — Success in Reading for more information on scanning. To be able to locate specific information in an oral presentation, one has to be very attentive and quick. This is because in real conversations, we speak fast and rarely repeat what we say, unless we want to emphasise something. The information we want to note is thus available for only a short time, and we have to both comprehend and record it instantly for future use.

To prepare students for this activity, have them play this game in the class. In pairs, students have to tell each other three things they saw on the street the previous day. No one is allowed to write down the information; they will all have to report from memory. Give the students not more than three minutes per exchange. Then ask a few students randomly to report what their partners said. This exercise usually generates a lot of laughter, as people tend to forget, reword or even change the information when they report back. After the exercise, have a discussion on the importance of listening intently to look for/hear specific information. Then tell them what they have to do in the activity.

In the activity, the students will have to note down information after listening to a teacher’s speech about Michael Jackson. (See Resource 1a.) This activity is to be done in pairs again. Tell the students that they will have to listen to their teacher carefully because one of them will have to deliver a short speech on Michael at tomorrow’s morning assembly. The first partner in each pair will note down the information about Michael’s family background in Worksheet 1, and the second partner will note down important aspects of Michael’s singing career in Worksheet 2. (See Resource 1b.) After they finish, they will have to compile their notes and prepare a short summary. The pair who writes the best summary will make a presentation at the morning assembly. Before they listen to the recording, take the students through the worksheets so that they are prepared for the listening activity. To enable everyone to get the correct information, you can play the audio file once again after they finish the activity and let them check for errors. You can end by telling them that they will have to listen to more conversations/speeches to practise their listening skills, so that they can locate correct information easily when they listen to lectures, news reports, the teacher’s instructions, etc., later.

Activity 2: Listening for gist

Activity 2

Apart from being able to understand and locate specific information in any text, JSS students also need to understand the gist or main idea of a lecture, conversation or report. In the History, Social Studies, Political Science or Literature classroom, for example, students listen to the teacher’s explanation of a topic, including the chronology of events (i.e., the order in which things happened), the main arguments, the conclusions and the teacher’s own opinion or viewpoint about the topic. It is obviously not possible, or even necessary, for students to note down or remember every single sentence spoken. Most often they need to understand only the substance of the teacher’s discourse — that is, the gist. The same rules apply when students listen to information on TV and the radio.

In this activity, you will be able to familiarise your students with the gist of a topic by helping them listen efficiently, paying attention to only the main points.

Before they listen to the main topic, they must understand what we mean by the term gist. For this, you can prepare your own set of paragraphs on different topics for students to find the gist, or use the passages given in Resource 2a. The students’ task is to match the passages to their gist. This will familiarise them with the style of a gist. During the feedback session, draw their attention to the main aspects of a gist: it contains the main idea/main point, it leaves out unnecessary details or illustrations and it is written in short and concise form.

For the main activity, have the students listen to/watch three lectures on three different topics delivered by JSS teachers (see Resource 2b). They will have to listen carefully and write the gist of the topics in the passage. As they listen, they can make notes on the important points and use that to write the gist.

For further practice, and as a follow-up activity, you can give the students another exercise. Write a few passages on separate sheets of paper, fold them and keep them on your table. Ask a few students to come up one by one, select one passage and read it aloud for the class. The class will have to listen carefully and note what the topic is about, in just one or, at the most, two sentences. After all the passages have been read, ask the students to read out their summaries/gists. You can have a discussion and pick the best gist. Wind up the activity by reviewing the main features of a gist.

Activity 3: Listening for detail

Activity 3

One of the most important study skills needed by a JSS student is understanding detail in a lecture or a passage, and applying this in a course-related activity. For example, students need to listen carefully to the process of conducting a science experiment so that they can follow it accurately. If they miss a step or forget some ingredient, the results could be disastrous. At the JSS level, students should have the opportunity to listen to longer passages for detail and to practise making notes on them.

In this activity, you will be able to engage your students in an exercise that gives them practice in listening for detail. To give them some initial practice, give the students a quick pre-task. The students will listen to you read out a passage describing the steps of a process, and they will have to rearrange the steps in the correct order on their worksheet. You will have to read out the passage twice — once before they mark the sequence in the worksheets, and once when they need to check for the correct answer. Read out the passage in Resource 3a and ask the students to listen very carefully. Working in pairs, they should then discuss and sequence (rearrange) the information they heard by numbering them correctly on their worksheet (Resource 3b). After they finish, ask them to exchange their worksheets with another pair and correct the worksheets by listening to the passage once again. During the feedback session, draw the students’ attention to how a process may not be effectively completed if the details are not in the correct order.

For the main activity, have the students watch the video of a teacher demonstrating how to make oxygen gas in the laboratory (Resource 3c). As they watch, they should note down the important details on their worksheet (Resource 3d). After they finish listening, you can cross-check the details by asking a few questions on the process or have them peer correct. You can end the activity by reminding students that practising listening for detail will help them remember information in other subjects too, such as History, Social Studies or Geography, or even a literary text.

Unit summary


In this unit you learned a few strategies to help students improve their listening skills for academic purposes, especially for specific information, gist and detail.

This unit should help you to develop similar techniques in your classroom while teaching other subjects, or help other subject teachers engage their students in more meaningful classroom interaction. The activities described in this unit should be supplemented with similar activities using passages from subjects other than the examples given here. This will give students more focused practice in listening for comprehension. The feedback sessions for each activity are important as they make students reflect on what they have learned. It would be worthwhile, therefore, to ensure that every activity is followed by a round of discussion.



  • Did the pre-activity tasks help your students do the main task more efficiently?

  • Did you find any activity difficult or challenging to manage in the class?

  • What other activities could you use to develop these listening skills?


Resource 1a: Listening for specific information (transcript)

Resource 1a

Teacher: Good morning, children.

Students: Good morning, Teacher.

Teacher: Today I have very sad news to share with you. Michael Jackson, probably the most famous musician of our time, died last night.

Students (all at once): Michael Jackson died? But I saw him on TV only last week. How can he die? Did he have an accident?

Teacher (gently): Quiet, children. He died in his sleep in his own bed, and the doctors, his family and the police are still trying to find out what exactly happened. Maybe we’ll learn more by tomorrow. (Pause) I know all of you are MJ fans, but did you know about his background and childhood? Let me tell you how he became so famous. Michael was born on August 29, 1958, in an American town called Gary in Indiana. Theirs was an African-American working-class family. His father, Joseph Jackson, had been a guitarist, but he had to put aside his musical career to take care of his family, working as a crane operator. Mr Jackson believed that his children had talent, so he moulded them into a musical group in the early 1960s, which came to be known as the Jackson 5. Michael joined his brothers and sisters when he was five years old, and gradually became the group’s lead vocalist. He sang with wonderful range and depth even at that age, always impressing audiences with his ability to sing with deep emotion.

Michael practised singing for many years, and in 1970, the first album of the Jackson 5 — I Want You Back — became No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Then came more chart-topping singles — “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” “I’ll Be There” — and the Jackson kids became famous.

I remember saving up all my pocket money to buy his albums — you know in our days there were no audio CDs and no Internet! Anyway, Michael started singing solo, and in 1971, his song “Got To Be There” hit the charts. In 1972, his album Ben was released. It was about a rat named Ben, and this song became Michael’s first solo No.1.

Since then, Michael has won many awards and I think his hits — “Billy Jean,” “Beat It” and all the songs from his album Thriller — have made him more popular than any other singer. You know he won the Grammy for the Best Rhythm and Blues Song for “Billie Jean,” the Best Pop Vocal Performer, Male, for Thriller, and Best Rock Vocal Performer, Male for “Beat It.” Imagine — he won Grammies for Pop, Rock, Rhythm and Blues — so he was an all-round performer. Those of you who’ve seen his videos will agree with me that he’s the best dancer of all time! I suppose a lot of you can do his Moonwalk?! His sister Janet is also a very famous singer and dancer, but we didn’t get to see much of either of them in recent times.

In fact, Michael, who had become a recluse — that is, someone who does not like to appear in public — had just made a public appearance two weeks ago for a press conference to announce his new world tour. Did you see him announce this on TV? It showed hundreds of children like you cheering him when he appears behind the mic. Recently I also got to hear his new song, “Earth.” It’s about saving the environment. Listen to it if you can — it’s really a very touching song.

Children, let us now pay our tribute to this wonderful artiste by keeping one minute’s silence. Stand up, please. Thank you.


Resource file

See in the enclosed DVD an audio recording of the activity:

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit5\Activity1\Resource1a\Audio\Looking_for_Specific_Information.mp3

Resource 1b: Listening for specific information (worksheets)

Resource 1b

(A) Information about Michaels’s family

Michael’s birthplace: ____________________

Michael’s father’s name: ____________________

Their band’s name: ____________________

The period when they formed the band: ____________________

Michael’s sister’s name: ____________________

(B) Information about Michael’s singing career

The Jackson kids’ band’s name: ____________________

Their first album: ____________________

Year: ____________

The year when they hit No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts: ____________

Their other hits:  ____________________________________________


Michael’s first hit single: ____________________

Year: ____________

Michael’s first hit album: ____________________

Year: ____________

Grammy for best Rhythm & Blues Song for: ____________________

Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performer, Male: ________________

Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performer, Male: _______________

Michael’s famous dance:____________________

Michael’s latest song: ____________________

Press conference announcement: ____________________

Resource 2a: Listening for gist: Travelling to India (worksheet)

Resource 2a

Match the passages in Column 1 with their gist in Column 2. What differences did you notice between the passages and the gist?


Column 1: Passage

Column 2: Gist

The southern part of India has amazing geographical diversity. There are mountain ranges, like the Nilgiris or Blue Mountains, the Deccan plateau, the plains and the two coasts of the Bay of Bengal to the east, and the Arabian Sea to the west. There are four different states in South India, and each has a rich cultural heritage. You will see several temple towns, dotted with scores of beautiful old Hindu temples with intricate architecture and stone carvings. Several important classical dance forms originated in South India. The people are very hospitable, well mannered and helpful, and South Indians are highly educated. The main or staple food in all of the southern states is rice, which is cooked in a variety of ways — in coconut oil, ground, fermented or steamed.

This part of India has seven states, with hundreds of lan­guages and dialects. It has rich flora and fauna. Because of the hilly terrain the hill states are not easily reached. The famous one-horned rhino lives here.

The northeast of India is a racial hotspot. Consisting of seven states, the northeast has high mountains, vast plains, many rivers and rich green vegetation. It is famous for the one-horned rhino, which is found in the Kaziranga National Park. Each of the seven states has its own tribes, languages and customs, and people from neighbouring states may not understand each other when they speak their own languages. There are hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects, and linguists from all over the world come here to study these languages. Some of the states are remote and still not easily accessible. Because of the hilly terrain, most states have only one or two airports, and some states are not yet connected by rail. The northeast is rich in flora and fauna — there are thousands of species of plants, especially medicinal plants — and is a home for many bird species. The people of the hill states have Mongoloid features — which means that they look like Chinese, Japanese or Korean people. The plains state of Assam is centrally located, and people from the hill states have to pass through Assam to reach the mainland.

This part of India is famous for the Himalayas, and beautiful landscape of the valleys. It has many beautiful monuments like the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple. It also has a rich col­lection of buildings, gardens, sculptures and paintings.

The northern part of India is famous for its hill stations, old cities and New Delhi, the capital of the country. The middle and lower regions of the Himalayas — the highest mountains in the world — are spread across the northern borders of the country. Kashmir, the northernmost state, is famous for its valley of flowers and lakes. The state of Punjab is known across the world for its rich agricultural lands, fun-loving and hardworking people, and the Golden Temple. Monuments like temples, mosques, palaces and forts are plentiful in the northern states, and a holiday in this part will leave you breathless at the amazing architectural marvels that the ancient kings had built for their queens. You would, of course, know about the Taj Mahal, but besides this Wonder of the World, these states have a rich collection of buildings, gardens, sculptures and paintings — all showing the artistic skills of Indian artisans.

This part of India comprises four states with great geo­graphical diversity — high mountains, plateaus and coastal areas. It is rich in ancient Indian cul­ture like dance forms and temples with beautiful architecture and carvings. The people of this area are very hospitable. Their staple food is rice cooked in coco­nut oil.


Resource 2b: Listening for gist (transcripts)

Resource 2b

Passage 1

I hate watching TV. This idiot box just wastes people’s valuable time. Just when an idea occurs to you, and you want to rush to your table and put it down, someone in the next room turns the TV on. By the time you yell at them to turn down the volume, you’ve lost that wonderful idea that was to earn you millions! And then there’s the problem when you have guests. Your family’s there, glued to the screen and when the doorbell rings, who do you think answers the door? You! Who else? And then Mr So-and-So will rush in, make himself comfortable on your favourite couch, and ask, “So what’s the score?” No hellos necessary, either from the hosts or the guest — both parties completely at ease at the situation. “Two goals to Man U” answers someone with eyes fixated on the screen, and then they all settle down to a very companionable silence. Nobody looks at you, and you find yourself addressing your “How’s everyone at home?” to the walls!

The worst thing about TV is that you can’t have a normal conversation with people any more. You take a cup of coffee in the office break and try to make small talk with your colleagues. “No way!” you hear one of them say, “Gerard Butler’s the best! Did you watch ‘The Ugly Truth’ last night?” You turn to the other end of the lounge, and before you get a word out of your mouth, someone gives you a smack on your back and shouts in your ear, “What say, old man? England or South Africa? I bet a hundred dollars the World Cup will go to South Africa this time!”

Passage 2

The election of the Pope — the head of Roman Catholics worldwide — is an interesting and elaborate affair. The Pope is elected from the College of Cardinals — the highest-ranking Catholic leaders of every country. The voting takes place in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. The procedure of electing the Pope is called conclave, and the entire process takes place in utmost secrecy. All the cardinals gather in the chapel, whose windows are covered in black velvet to ensure secrecy. When it is time, the Swiss Guard — the official security guards of the Vatican — lock the doors so that the cardinals can have no contact with the outside world until they have elected a new Pope. No phones, messages or any form of communication with the world is allowed to pass through the doors, making this one of the most secretive voting practices on earth.

The senior-most cardinal is usually made The Great Elector — and given the responsibility of overseeing the voting.

The voting also happens with complete secrecy. Each cardinal writes the name of his chosen candidate on the ballot paper, puts it on a plate kept for the purpose and uses the plate to pour it into the chalice. After all the votes are cast, the Great Elector takes out the ballots randomly one by one, announces the name and threads it with a needle and thread. When all the votes are counted, the Great Elector ties the ends of the thread holding the ballot papers into a garland and carries it to a table under a chimney. He mixes a special set of chemicals with the ballot papers so that it gives out smoke. If there is a clear majority and a new Pope has been elected, the chemicals emit white smoke, which goes out through the chimney and confirms the good news for the millions waiting outside. If, however, no cardinal gets absolute majority, the ballots are burnt in chemicals that give out black smoke. Another round of voting then begins. All this happens without any word exchanged with the outside world! After the procedure is over, the new Pope, wearing his Papal robes and crown, emerges at a special window to greet the people waiting on the grounds.

Passage 3

In Africa, there are many tribes that make a pastoral living. Communities like the Bedouins, Maasai, Boran, Turkana and Somali cannot depend on agriculture to make a living as vast stretches of fertile lands have become semi-arid grasslands or dry deserts. These tribes raise cattle, camels, goats, sheep and donkeys, and make a living by selling milk, meat, wool and animal skin. The Maasai, cattle herders of eastern Africa, are one such tribe. The Maasai are spread over southern Kenya and Tanzania.

Before Europeans colonised the African nations, Maasailand stretched from north Kenya to the steppes of Tanzania. In 1885, however, Maasailand was divided between (British) Kenya and (German) Tanganyika, and the best grazing lands were gradually turned into settlements for the whites. The Maasai were thus left with very little land to make a living. Later, large areas of their remaining grazing land were also turned into national parks like the Maasai Mara and Samburu in Kenya, and Serengeti in Tanzania.

As if these troubles were not enough, the Maasai face a water shortage problem. The Kilimanjaro Water Project runs through Maasai territory, but the Maasai community is not allowed to use the water to irrigate their lands or feed their cattle. Gradually, the reduction in the area of grazing land, droughts and lack of water resources have left the Maasai with very little pastoral land. Forced to graze their cattle in the same area time and again, the Maasai are also facing loss of fertility in the grazing grounds. These changes are bringing in more and more hardships for this tribe, and they are in danger of losing their livelihood. Unless the government finds a way of giving these communities their pastures back, these tribes may even face death


Resource files

See in the enclosed DVD audio recordings of the activities:

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit5\Activity2\Resource2b\Audio\Passage1.mp3

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit5\Activity2\Resource2b\Audio\Passage2.mp3

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit5\Activity2\Resource2b\Audio\Passage3.mp3

Resource 3a: Listening for detail (transcript)

Resource 3a

Baking a chocolate cake is not very difficult if you have the patience to do it! All you have to do is collect the ingredients, mix them well into a dough and bake it in an oven. Here’s how I do it: I take four eggs and beat them well with an egg beater. When they become fluffy, I add two cups of fine sugar and beat the mixture again. Then I add 200 grammes of cooking oil or butter and beat again. The more you beat the cake dough, the softer the cake turns out. Anyway, when the mixture turns smooth and the sugar has dissolved, I add flour to it. I use two cups of flour, two tablespoons of cocoa powder and one tablespoon of baking powder for a chocolate cake. As I was saying, when the egg batter turns smooth, I add the flour mix gradually to it. Don’t pour all the flour-cocoa-baking powder mix all at once into the batter — it won’t mix well. What I do is, I pour about three or four tablespoons first, and beat it into the batter for some time until all the dry powder has blended into the batter. I repeat this process, taking about three tablespoons at a time, until all the flour, cocoa and baking powder has blended completely into the batter. By this time the dough becomes thick and difficult to beat, but as I mentioned before, the more you beat the softer the cake becomes.

To bake it, I grease a baking dish by spreading a bit of oil all around the inside. Then I dust some dry flour on it. This makes it easy to take the cake out once it is baked. Then I pour the dough into the baking dish, set the oven at the right temperature and let it bake. In half an hour my chocolate cake is ready!


Resource file

See in the enclosed DVD an audio recording of the activity:

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit5\Activity3\Resource3a\Audio\Listening_for_Detail.mp3

Resource 3b: Listening for detail (worksheet)

Resource 3b

The sentences below show the steps to be followed while baking a chocolate cake, but they are not in the correct order. Number them correctly so that they show the right steps.

  1. The mixture should turn smooth and the sugar should dissolve.

  2. Add the flour-cocoa-baking powder mix gradually to the batter.

  3. Pour the dough into the baking dish, set the oven at the right temperature and bake the cake.

  4. Take four eggs and beat them well with an egg beater.

  5. Then add 200 grammes of cooking oil or butter and beat again.

  6. To bake it, grease a baking dish by spreading a bit of oil all around the inside.

  7. Take two cups of flour, two tablespoons of cocoa powder and one tablespoon of baking powder.

  8. Add two cups of fine sugar and beat the mixture again.

  9. Pour about three or four tablespoons first, beat it into the batter for some time until all the dry powder has blended into the batter.

  10. Repeat the process, taking about three tablespoons at a time, until all the flour, cocoa and baking powder has blended completely into the batter.

  11. Then dust some dry flour on it.

Resource 3c: How to make oxygen gas in the laboratory (transcript)

Resource 3c

Teacher: Preparation of oxygen using potassium chlorate.

Oxygen gas can be prepared in the laboratory by the decomposition of potassium chlorate. You will need: hard glass test tube, gas jar, trough, delivery tube, one-hole rubber stopper, clamp stand, burner, beehive shelf, water, potassium chlorate and manganese dioxide. Potassium chlorate on heating liberates oxygen gas. This being a very slow reaction manganese dioxide or a catalyst is used.

Arrange the apparatus as shown here.

Take a mixture of potassium chlorate and manganese dioxide in the ratio of 4:1 by weight in a hard glass test tube. Heat the test tube. Oxygen gas is liberated. Oxygen gas is collected in the gas jar by the downward displacement of water. Take care. The experiment should be conducted carefully. It can be dangerous if the heating is not done gently and cautiously. The reaction that takes place is displayed on the screen. Manganese dioxide is a catalyst in the reaction.

But there’s a note of caution! You need to understand that working with gases, especially in a laboratory, means that you must take great care to avoid an accident, because it can cause injury or even death! When I was a junior in college, I got my arm burnt because of carelessness, you know! So every time you carry out an experiment in a lab, make sure you do the following. In fact, I want everyone to note down these protective measures for your safety:

  • Wear a protective mask.

  • Wear hand gloves.

  • Avoid eating while working — you might inhale poisonous fumes or maybe your food could cause a chemical reaction and trigger something unpleasant!

Remember also never to add water to acid: instead, always add acid to water. That’s all for today!



Resource file

See in the enclosed DVD a video recording of the activity:

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit5\Activity3\Resource3b\Video\Laboratory.mp4

Resource 3d: How to make oxygen gas in a laboratory (worksheet)

Resource 3c

Fill the sheet below with the details of the experiment you have just watched.

  1. Names of materials needed to prepare oxygen in a laboratory.





  1. The procedure of preparing oxygen gas involves the following steps:

             i.  ____________________________________________________________

             ii.  ____________________________________________________________

             iii.  ____________________________________________________________

             iv.  ____________________________________________________________

  1. Conducting experiments in the lab can be very dangerous. So the following precautions must be taken to avoid injury or even death:





Teacher question and answer


Question: How can an English teacher like me collaborate with teachers of other subjects to help students do better?

Answer: One way is team teaching, in which the subject teacher teaches the concepts, and the English teacher deals with language-related issues such as the structures, the specific vocabulary and study skills involving reading comprehension and writing.