How to prepare your students for listening and reading comprehension exercises

The following notes are a mixture of my thinking and documents that I have read over the years and I can’t recall where I read them from.

This is my summary on how to train our students for listening and reading comprehension exercises.


Highlight key words in the questions in one colour.

Highlight glossed vocabulary in a different colour.

Read and find what the overall topic is.

Predict as many words as possible and write them down in the target language as if you were answering the questions yourself.

Use the whole time available especially before the listening comp.

When students hear the words they have predicted, it gives them reassurance they are on the right track, doubles the amount of synaptic connections because of their happiness to find familiar vocab and boosted self-esteem.


Is it a top down or bottoms up exercise? Top down: more for advanced levels and opinions/debates versus bottoms up: looking for specific details to put into a table, diagram, …

According to the type of exercise, different screening skills are required: gist versus details.

Accept you won’t understand every word.


You can’t listen and write at the same time: so try not to write anything down while listening unless just words if you have to.

Use your knowledge of grammar. For example, it may be important to know whether someone is talking about the past, the present, or the future.

Use your knowledge of the target speaking-speaking countries. For example, if you hear someone was on holiday in Madrid, it is unlikely they spent time on the beach.

Use common sense when you’re trying to work out the meaning of a passage.

Don’t just listen to the words. The tone of someone’s voice may also be helpful – for example in telling you if they are making a statement or asking a question.

Specifically for reading comprehension:

Look at pictures if any, title and punctuation clues.

Read through once to get the gist and then highlight words you recognise.

Activate your intelligence in regard to cognates.

To work out the meaning of unkown key sections:

  • Say it aloud in your head
  • Substitution
  • Break it up into bits – visualising
  • What kind of word? Grammatical clues
  • Do guesses make sense? – questioning


Proofread for sense, accuracy and completeness: does it make sense what you’ve written and are you exactly answering the question?

Don’t translate word for word.

Organise your writing so it makes sense to the marker.


  • Was there a point you hadn’t thought of?

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