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Listening strategies for IELTS: Helping students identify key words.

Listening strategies for IELTS: Helping students identify key words.

March 3, 2016


We all know that key words are important for understanding a text. For listening this is especially important for our students as they do not get a ‘second chance’ to listen again to a text. In reality as native speakers we don’t listen to everything that is said to us. Our ears and brains pick out the ‘key words’ and create a message for us to understand and relate to. We need to help our students develop this skill. Perhaps not as well, but at least enough for them to get the gist of what someone is saying.

For this, I follow a simple few steps to help the students develop awareness and skills for developing their knowledge of key words. By helping the students identify key words, this will help them to understand the topic they are going to listen to (activate schemata) and they can at least be aware of the words they are going to encounter and in what order information will appear.


My listening class

Generate interest in the topic by showing pictures and elicit known vocabulary.

Unknown vocabulary can be taught/students do a matching activity.

Go through the questions and depending how far we are along the course go through the key words together, or have the students work on their own to find the key words. After this, I like to go back to the pictures and ask them to give me some more vocabulary items of their own based around the topic. I also like to ask them about length of the listening, how many speakers there are, who are the speakers, what do you think the topic will be about, and so on.



  1. Explain the difference between content words and function words.

Content words –

Nouns – especially – names of people and places/numbers of any kind.

Main verbs – focus on form and time.

Adjectives – how do they change the meaning/description of the noun they are attached to.

Negatives – No/none/not/never

Function words –

auxiliary verbs/articles/prepositions

2. Work with students for the first week and go through how to locate the key words.

3. Have them develop their reading skills by using skimming and scanning to help them locate key words quickly – this can be turned into a game by having them locate and count different words from the question sheet. For example, find and count how many times the word ‘the’ is used on the question sheet (I know this is a content word, but at least it practices the skills).

4. Finally, have the students work in pairs or by themselves, give them 1 to 2 minutes to find the key words. Again, this could be turned into a competitive game. For each question the students could be told how many key words there are and they have to identify them. For further practice the students could be given the parts of speech and they have to find the words, i.e. 2 nouns, 1 main verb, 3 adjectives.


Sample lesson

This is an example of a lesson that I developed based on this video:

Endangered Animals

Watch the video and answer the questions

March 3, 2016
Lesson Plans & Ideas
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