Improve Your English Listening and Writing With This Simple Strategy


If you need to improve your English skills in listening and writing, but you have no idea what steps you should take, then you need to create an organized strategy for yourself.

Maybe your English teachers have told you, again and again, that “listening practice is great, but you should take notes.” And you thought, “Taking notes is great, but what do I do with those notes?”

So, you practice by listening to English videos, podcasts, TV, or movies, and you take notes on different pieces of paper or on your phone. But now your notes are scattered all over the place. When you actually find the time to read them, you don’t know what to do with them. You know you should practice your writing, but you don’t know exactly how.

Well, friend, I suggest that you create a workflow for improving your English.

What is a workflow? A workflow is just a process that you can use every time you want to learn new information, create something, or provide a service to someone. Basically, it’s a number of steps that you always follow in order to get something done.

A workflow for taking notes will save you time, and give you peace of mind in your English learning journey. By creating a workflow, you don’t have to figure out what to do every time you watch a video or a movie, listen to a podcast, or attend an online lecture in English. 

So, in today’s post, I’m going to show you a workflow that will help you improve your listening and writing skills in an easy, efficient and organized way. We’ll divide this workflow into five main sections:

  1. Take notes by hand on the audio or video content

  2. Gather new vocabulary from your notes

  3. Choose 5-7 new vocabulary words to focus on

  4. Write 3-5 questions for yourself to test your comprehension of the content

  5. Practice your new vocabulary with a writing exercise

 For this workflow, all you need is something to write with, and a notebook dedicated to taking notes and collecting new vocabulary.  So, let’s get started with this five-part strategy!



Part 1. Take notes by hand during your listening and writing practice

Did you know that taking notes by hand will affect the way you process new vocabulary? A 2014 experiment conducted at Princeton University revealed that taking notes by hand can help you engage more with the material as well as gain a better understanding of the concepts being introduced. That’s why I recommend writing notes in a notebook or journal. But if that doesn’t work for you, you can also use your computer or phone to take notes during your listening and writing practice.

Here are the steps you have to follow for this part. These steps will help you visually organize your notes as you write and gather new vocabulary.

Step 1:

Divide your page into two columns: the column on the left is for the things you write down as you listen, and the one on the right is for gathering new English phrases or expressions.

Step 2: 

As you listen the first time, take notes on the important points of the video or audio in the left column. They can be as messy or as organized as you want them to be. Start with simple words or phrases if you need to. 

Step 3:

Listen two more times, and expand on your notes in the left column. Try to turn short phrases into full sentences and complete ideas if you can.

Part 2. Gather new vocabulary from your notes

After you’ve filled out the left column of your paper with notes, look at your notes for any English phrases or expressions you don’t know, and write those in the right column in a numbered or bulleted list. 

If you can, try to include full expressions, idioms, or phrasal verbs instead of one word at a time. 

When you’ve finished these first two parts of your workflow, the result should look something like this. (Of course, yours will probably be a lot longer, but you get the idea.)

Listening Notes New Vocabulary
(Write your notes here. They can be messy or organized. Whatever works best for you! Listen a few times to expand on your notes if you can.)
  • Word or phrase
  • Word or phrase
  • Word or phrase

Part 3. Choose 5 - 7 new vocabulary words to focus on

Now let’s take a look at the words you gathered in your section marked “New Vocabulary.” Choose 5 - 7 of those words, and put them in a separate section of your notebook marked “Vocabulary Focus.” 

Under each new word or phrase, you’re going to write a short definition in English, a common structure, and an example sentence. Use or the Longman Learner’s Dictionary for definitions, synonyms, and common structures. For slang or idioms, use the Online Slang Dictionary, and for phrasal verbs use Phrasal Verb Demon.

Here’s an example of how a new vocabulary word could look:

  1. Put up with

    DEFINITION: (phrasal verb) to tolerate or deal with

    COMMON STRUCTURE: Put up with + behavior

    EXAMPLE SENTENCE: I can’t put up with this behavior anymore.

Practice with those new vocabulary words for the next week or two. Use them in conversation, writing, or practice them with a teacher. Once you feel comfortable with using them, check them off of the words in your “New Vocabulary” section.  If you have English words or expressions left over, choose another 5 - 7 and create another “Vocabulary Focus” section in your notebook.


Part 4. Write 3 -5 questions to test your comprehension of the content

Imagine you are a teacher and you’re going to test your students on the presentation, movie, podcast, or lecture. What questions would you ask them?  Write five comprehension questions based on the material from your notes. For example:

  • What is it that the speaker can’t “put up with” anymore?

  • What important question did the character ask his friend at the beginning of the movie?

  • What are the three main points that the speaker makes in this presentation?

Of course, make sure that you answer the questions as well! This will help you to grasp the concepts, ideas, or main points of your listening activity.           

Part 5.  Practice your new vocabulary with a writing exercise   

Now that you’ve got a handful of new vocabulary words to practice with, what do you do with them? You’ve already written an example sentence for each one. Now use them in a writing exercise. Here are a few writing exercises you can try:

  • Write a short paragraph related to the video or audio content. For example, you can discuss whether or not you agree with the ideas in the video, podcast, or presentation. 

  • Tell a personal anecdote (a true story from your life).

  • Write a very short story (a fictional story).

  • If you took notes on a  RV show or film, write a film review.

  • Write a poem or song.

  • Write a dialogue.

Keep this reference chart on hand when you write to help you vary your sentences:

Type Definition Example
Simple Consists of only one clause. “She likes traveling.”
Compound Combines two independent clauses with: and, but, yet, so, etc. “She likes traveling, and she loves exploring new places.”
Complex Combines one main clause and one dependent clause with: if, even though, because, unless etc. Even though she likes traveling, she doesn’t travel often.”

And here’s a helpful list of transitional and linking phrases to use when you practice. These will help you connect your sentences together so that your ideas flow in a logical way.

For example, For instance, Let me explain,
Even though/if I remember when... This reminds me of...
Since... Unless... Until...
If..., then... Not only..., but also... Besides...

What if you want to take notes on your computer or phone?

If you prefer taking notes with your phone, computer, or IPad, try using a note-taking app like Evernote, Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote, or any app that you can use on both your mobile phone and laptop or tablet. In fact, even if you prefer taking notes by hand with a pen and paper, I highly recommend using one of these apps for those times when you don’t have your pen and paper with you.

Download one of our free worksheets for inspiration 

If you don’t know where to start when it comes to looking for listening practice (and even if you do,) you should check out our free worksheets! You’ll find authentic materials for your listening and writing practice, and if you work with one of our teachers, you can get speaking practice, too!

If something about this system doesn’t work for you, that’s okay! We all have different needs and rhythms when it comes to language learning. In any case, I encourage you to create a system that does work for you. As long as you take charge of your own learning, you can’t go wrong.

So, if you’ve been trying to improve your English listening and writing skills, but try this strategy and let us know how it goes! Thanks for reading, and see you in the next post.



Designed to help adult learners build fluency and confidence in English.

Perfect for learning online or offline!

About the writer

Marta is an online ESL teacher who works with students from around the world. As a writer, language nerd, and content contributor for In English With Love, her mission is to empower English learners with knowledge and positivity.

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