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Listening Skills: Ideas for Teachers

Aptis for Teachers Listening Skills

Listening Skills: Ideas for Teachers

How would you like to practise your listening skills in English and be entertained at the same time? Sometimes it’s difficult to prepare for the Aptis for Teachers listening part of the exam, especially as the exam tests such specific vocabulary and situations. So what about learning English from TV series, documentaries, and films? 

Don’t just take our word for it – there has been a ton of research that shows how effective television and film can be for you when it comes to language learning. So rather than just passively watching TV, here are some ways to make your learning more effective.

Tips on learning while watching

Watch with a notebook and write down any useful phrases or words that you hear. 

Try to repeat the phrases out loud, especially if you can pause while watching, and rewind when necessary. This will obviously help improve your pronunciation too.

It’s helpful to use subtitles too, even though they don’t always exactly coincide with what’s spoken.

Review your notes the following day, and work on the words that you have trouble remembering (click here for tips on memorising vocabulary).

Use flashcards, keep your notebook with you, and regularly revise.

All these tips should help you improve your listening skills.

What you can learn

Language usage: These films and series offer exposure to various registers of English, from formal classroom settings to informal casual conversations between students.

Cultural contexts: You can learn about different educational systems in other countries, teaching methods, and cultural nuances related to the teaching profession, often in different periods. There are often questions in the Aptis for Teachers exam asking how things have changed.

Idiomatic expressions: You can hear the use of idioms, expressions, and phrasal verbs that may not be immediately clear to you without a context. Watching these shows can help you understand the expressions, as you can see them in context.

Communication styles: The interactions between teachers and students can provide insights into effective communication, classroom management, and the dynamics of teacher-student relationships. You can listen to the difference between formal and informal English.

Vocabulary building: Educational settings expose you to a wide range of academic vocabulary, which can be beneficial for expanding your language skills, especially if you’re studying or working in an English-speaking environment.

Added bonus: You might even get some ideas that you can try out with your classes!

Useful TV shows, documentaries and films to help teachers improve their listening skills

Here’s a list of TV shows, documentaries, and films related to working in education, along with their genres, short summaries of the programme, and potential learning outcomes. If you search, you should find many of these easily available online.


The following documentaries provide a British perspective on education, teaching, and the challenges faced within the UK education system.

Educating Essex (2010) / Educating Yorkshire (2013)

Part of the “Educating” series, this warm and humorous documentary focuses on life at a secondary school in West Yorkshire, showcasing the relationships between teachers and students in the heart of a diverse community.

Class of Mum and Dad (2018)

In this documentary series, parents go back to primary school to experience the challenges their children face in the modern education system.

The Grammar School: A Secret History (2018)

This documentary delves into the history of grammar schools in the UK, examining their impact on education and social mobility.

Grammar Schools: Who Will Get In? (2018)

This documentary explores the controversial topic of grammar schools in the UK, and their impact on students and communities.


YouTube and Vloggers

Teach First UK (2003 – present day)

A series of videos aimed at improving the life chances and choices for children experiencing poverty. They train talented teachers and equip school leaders working in some of the poorest areas of the UK.

What you’ll learn: Offers lots of short, bite-size videos covering many topics that come up in the Aptis for Teachers exam. 

TV series

Abbott Elementary (2021-present day)

Genre: Mockumentary (a mix of mock + documentary). This show depicts fictional events presented as a documentary.

Summary: The story revolves around a perpetually optimistic second-grade teacher at an underfunded school in Philadelphia called Abbott Elementary.

What you’ll learn: Offers insights into the roles and responsibilities of teachers, albeit in an exaggerated way. You’ll see and hear lots of vocabulary in context. Sometimes they speak a bit quickly, so you’ll need the subtitles too.

Back in Time for School (2019)

Genre: Documentary.

Summary: Fifteen pupils and their teachers embark on an extraordinary time-travelling adventure as they fast-forward through more than 100 years of school life, from the 1890s to the 1990s.

What you’ll learn: As well as seeing how education has changed over the last 100 years in the UK, there will be a good range of narrative past tenses.


Dead Poets Society (1989) 

Genre: A drama film starring Robin Williams as an English teacher who inspires his students through poetry.

What you’ll learn: Offers insights into the roles and responsibilities of teachers, easy to understand. Lots of vocabulary in context.

Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

Genre: Drama set in an American college in the 1950s. This film follows a progressive art history teacher (played by Julia Roberts) at a conservative women’s college.

What you’ll learn: Offers insights into the roles and responsibilities of teachers, easy to understand. Lots of vocabulary in context, especially language associated with giving and expressing opinions.

Freedom Writers (2007)

Genre: Drama / Real life.

Summary: Based on a true story, this film follows a young teacher (played by Hilary Swank) who inspires her students to overcome adversity through writing.

What you’ll learn: Education-related language, and coverage of lots of topics that are typically tested in the Aptis for Teachers exam. 

Teacher of the Year (2014)

Genre:  Mockumentary / Comedy

Summary:  Mitch Carter of Truman High School wins the ‘California Teacher of the Year’ award and immediately receives a tempting offer that may force him to leave his job

We hope this was helpful, and we’ll add to the list whenever we think of another idea!

Next Steps

Click here to read our overview of the Aptis listening test. Although the screengrabs we’ve included come from the Aptis ESOL General test, the only real difference from Aptis ESOL for Teachers is that the content of the test is designed specifically for teachers. So the questions will relate to an educational context, dealing with themes and scenarios that teachers come across every day. 

And you’ll find all our specific exam practice for teachers on the Aptis ESOL for Teachers tab in the menu, or by clicking here.

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