Image courtesy of Steve

A number of years ago, I decided to convert an audio book on CD into MP3 files so I could listen to them on my iPod as I walked back and forth from work. This was a great idea, except that somewhere in the process, the files got shuffled around and the only way I could figure out what order to put them in was to listen to the start and end of each file. Through that labourious process, I got the idea that this might be helpful in the language classroom. I did a little test on my own to see how it might work in a lesson and then I located a file that lent itself to being played out of order. I wrote up some questions and ran it in class. To be honest, it didn’t work that well. I had chosen something that was too difficult for the group I was working with and from there, the lesson went downhill. Since then, I’ve tried it a few times in class using different listening material and with each attempt, things seemed to get better and better as I adapted and changed things for the next time.

Fast forward to last Friday and my latest attempt at a shuffle listening. For some reason I can’t comprehend, I decided to do it on a day when I was being observed as part of my work at the college. Usually I would play it safe, but instead I created a whole new lesson based on a listening I hadn’t used before. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have done that. Thankfully, it worked, or at least it seems to have; I’ll have to wait to hear the comments from my colleague who observed me.

I thought it might be good to take you through the process of what I did and my rationale behind the process. I’m actually not sure what to call this activity. I have called it a jigsaw listening in the past, but that really isn’t the correct term for it. A jigsaw listening or reading requires various people getting different sections and then coming together to share what they learned so as to put together ‘the puzzle’. In this listening activity, every student gets to hear all of the sections, but they work together to put it in order. That is why I now refer to it as a shuffle listening.

What is a shuffle listening and how does it work? The process is pretty simple in concept, but somewhat tricky in implementation. The concept is that you take a short listening, chop it into shorter pieces, play them out of order and have students work in pairs and groups to piece it back together in the correct order. Simple, right? Wrong. There are so many variables at play here. Let’s look at the process in more detail, shall we?


In this case, my reason for the listening was primarily to help students understand and identify the different steps in a persuasive presentation. In previous classes, we had looked at Monroe’s motivated sequence and listened to and read through some sample persuasive speeches. Students had practiced it in small groups and also did a short speech in class to test it out. We had also looked at some of the words used in both persuasive and general speeches such as emotive words and phrases, transitions, and comparative language.

I also wanted students to have an opportunity to practice some note taking skills which we have been using throughout the semester. I wanted to combine this with some practice in giving opinions, something we had just done in the module before this.


The next task would be to find a listening that wouldn’t be too difficult for students to understand (after all, they would have to listen to it out of order, something that is already pretty difficult) and also something that fit the criteria listed in the reasoning section along with a transcript that could be used for follow-up tasks. Ted Talks is something I don’t use very often in class due to length and complexity, but I thought I would give it a try. I wanted something that would be about 3-4 minutes long, but a quick search through came up with nothing that struck me as useful for this task.

I started to do a search for speech type videos that were shorter in length and had a transcript. I got lucky early on when I came across BigThink, a video site that had all of the things I was looking for. Fantastic! There was only one problem. Unlike Ted which has an option to download the video, something critical in a shuffling up the order of the listening, BigThink didn’t have this feature. This is where things get a little fuzzy when it comes to copyright issues. In class, I could play the video from the site as is with no issues, but if I was to record the audio and then cut it into pieces, this might be a problem. I decided to do a little investigation and checked with a few people to see if I was overstepping my legal bounds.

As it turns out in Canada at least, this isn’t an issue as long as I am giving proper credit and not making money from it. Check and check. That is when I turned to one of my favourite audio tools on the Mac, Audio Hijack. I didn’t need the video, in fact I didn’t even want it, so I decided to record the audio streaming from the website into an MP3 file using Audio Hijack. For those not familiar with this tool, you can recored audio from a single source on your computer such as Skype, Safari, or any other program on your Mac. If you are recording less than 10 minutes of audio, you don’t even need to buy the full version (Note: I own a full version of this application along with Fission, which is will discuss next). I simply played the video and recorded the audio into a nice, clean MP3 file.

The next thing I needed to do was to decided where to separate the audio. I wanted short, somewhat equal parts, maybe 20-30 seconds in length. I copied the transcript and looked over the language of the text. The natural paragraph breaks seemed to work, but there were a couple of places that were too long, so I found a transition in the section that went from a description to an example. This seemed like a good place to cut it since it was about the right length and it also gave enough information to help them figure out the order. In the end, I was left with 6 sections that were about equal length. There were some easier sections to figure out (e.g. the ending had music to finish), and two that were a bit more difficult. I tested it out myself and figured students would be able to figure out about 4 of the sections somewhat easily, and the other two might get moved around a bit.

In order to separate the file, I used an application called Fission. I like it since it edits MP3 files without re-compressing the file, losing quality along the way. It also makes it super simple to separate a single file into multiple files. Yes, it’s a paid program, but I bought it in a bundle Audio Hijack and it has been a wonderful tool to use. For others, you may consider using Audacity or Ocenaudio, but you will have to save each section individually, which will take more time. No matter how you do it, make sure the compression isn’t too heavy as this will make it more distorted and hard for students to hear.

Once the audio was created, I started working on the lesson plan. I knew I wanted to have some sort of pre-listening activity that would get the students ready for what they were going to listen to. The topic of the audio was on learning how to listen (very appropriate) and the speaker mentions an activity that he uses in his improvisation class. He describes it in detail in the audio, so I thought it might be good to use it.

And one of the exercises that we have used very successfully is an exercise that we call Last Word Response. And Last Word Response is really fun and simple. We instruct people to pair up. We tell them to have a conversation about anything at all business-related or not. And the only rule we attach to the conversation is that a person’s first word of their response has to be the last word of what their partner said. – Tom Yorton, Second City

I made a slide with the instructions and also a set of follow-up questions to gauge their response to the exercise:

  1. How did you feel during this activity? Did you feel nervous? Was it fun? What else?
  2. Some people use this type of activity to help improve their listening skills? Do you think this would be effective? Why or why not?
  3. What do you think is the biggest problem people have when it comes to listening to others?

I planned on having them answer this in pairs followed by a class discussion, but changed it to just being a class discussion. I felt that the immediacy of the response may lead to more spontaneous answers instead of trying to suss out what I ‘wanted’ them to say.

I thought it might be good to share a few words on what improv and Second City are so they wouldn’t get confused. This is something I often do in class for words or phrases I feel are necessary for them to have to understand the reading or listening, but are not things that are necessary for their personal lexis. I also planned on explaining how the listening would work and created another slide with limited instructions.

Once that was done, I would put the shuffled tracks into a playlist in VLC (I use the portable  version on a USB drive that I can run on any Windows computer since I’m not always certain if the computer I will be using has VLC installed on it or not. This saves me from panic. More info on portable apps here) and make sure the volume is set to a good level. I would then play each audio track once, having students take notes on what they hear. They would then get into pairs and share their notes for 2 minutes before playing the next track. This would continue until they have heard all of the tracks and had time to discuss each track with their partner. After the final track, they would also have time to put the tracks into a single order if possible, about 5 or so minutes. After that, they would get together with one or two other partner groups and discuss their findings to see if they can get a consensus.

The groups would get specific roles for three of the people: a leader, a secretary, and a scribe. The leader keeps the discussion on track, the secretary takes notes on what is discussed and reasons given for choosing their order, and the scribe writes the final lists on the board. Once all of the groups have written their order on the whiteboard, the secretaries share their reasons for choosing their order based on the notes taken during the discussion.

After everyone is done, I play the full, unedited audio through once and teams are told that they have to find the correct order for themselves based on their notes. The class then looks over the lists on the board to see how well they did.

Once that is done, groups stay together and each person gets a copy of the full transcript. The roles remain the same with the leader, secretary, and scribe. The job of the scribe this time is to highlight the words and phrases the group tells them to. The groups are to highlight all of the transitions along with emotive and persuasive language based on a handout I had given them in a previous class. Once they are done, the secretary brings the sheet up to the front of class to show on the document camera and to explain some of the words they highlighted.

Once all of the teams are done explaining their words, they split up into their initial partner groups and their job is to look for the five steps mentioned in the handout on persuasive speech. They don’t have to mark everything, but they should highlight an example of each of the steps if possible. The pairs then get together with their groups and explain what they find. We bring that all together as a class and talk about the examples they found.


How did it all work out? Well, it mostly went as planned. I made a few adaptations along the way, but overall, what I wrote out is what we did. The result was surprising. In the end, students mostly were able to figure out an order, but what surprised me the most was how easily they were able to figure out the correct answer once I played the original track all the way through. I never had to tell them an order. They simply were able to determine the order from their notes. They had discussed it, dissected it, and understood it so well, they got it in one try. Even guessing the order based on the shuffled tracks was mostly correct. Most teams only had one track that needed to be moved around; all of the rest were in the correct order.

I listened to a great deal of the discussion and they were on task and really interested in the activity. Playing the activity from the listening before the shuffle task really helped as well. In the end, most of the objectives were met. The follow-up tasks even went well with teams able to pull out the necessary details. The real test is how well they do this week when they give their own persuasive speeches. I am hoping that this activity helped them dig a bit deeper into the material instead of just having another listening tasks. In the end, I was sold on the shuffle listening task. I will definitely be using it again.

NOTE: Here is a link to the audio files and transcript. You are welcome to use it, but please make sure you reference the original video from the BigThink website which is listed at the bottom of the page.

9 thoughts on “Shuffling

  1. Wow! That must have been really hard, but it seems it was worth the effort. Well done, Nathan. Thanks for the inspiration and the tips.

  2. I like the determination you had in making this happen. Often, when inspired, you don’t realize how much effort something might take. Lots of perspiration for your inspiration, but wow, great idea. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I was thinking about trying something like this. I wonder if it might be difficult for my students, too. Maybe they need priming first. Thanks for posting this.

  4. Wow! This is an excellent idea. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for your effort and your willingness to share.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing. I was thinking that I could do something similar using dialogues for lower levels. I liked how you took a problem in you had in your own life and turned into a problem-based learning opportunity for your students. Thanks again.

  6. Great idea Nathan! Maybe you could also use some of the clips as intensive listening skills training, by getting students to remember the first few words of the next clip before you play it (on the second or third go).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s