Have you ever had a conversation where you felt like the listener was not paying attention? Is there anything less classy than bad listeners? Listening is not natural. Teachers should not assume that their students come equipped with good listening habits. I ALWAYS begin every year with teaching listening skills.
Almost before I tell students my name, I am explaining the top three listening strategies. These are a mantra that we say to ourselves all year long: Stop moving, make eye-contact, and smile. In addition to the mantra, I teach the students the importance of being able to repeat the message you are listening to back to the speaker and ask good questions to clarify meaning and show that you care.
First, Make it a Mantra: “Stop moving, make eye-contact, and… smile;)”
Don’t “Freeze” because that is silly and uncomfortable. Kids like the idea of “freezing” because it allows them to stop with feet in the air, weird expressions on their faces, etc. In fact, I have witnessed students standing or sitting perfectly normal get into contorted positions when they hear the word “Freeze!” Then they laugh, fall over, do everything but listen. Just stop moving.
Get set to listen. This is the opposite of freezing. Students should sit down, put down their scissors, pencils, papers, etc., and turn to face the speaker.
One of the things I do in my class for management is I teach everyone to stand at attention. This is great for getting my line nice and straight. I also use it when kids are listening to the announcements. [They are less distracted by things in the room, and my room can be pretty distracting! I have a 9-inch pleco swimming around a 75 gallon fish tank, for crying out loud!] To stand at attention simply means heels together, standing straight, shoulders back, chins up, and I also teach the kiddos to look straight ahead without smiling or even “focusing” on anything. In fact, their gaze should be a little out of focus. They are tin soldiers, waiting for action… passive… lifeless. If this sounds horrible, don’t worry, I only do it when we line up. During the announcements, we stand this way because rather than making eye-contact, kids are putting all of their energy into their ears. They try not to look at anything in the room.
Now, this attention business is NOT conducive to listening to someone. An alternative reason that I teach standing at attention is so that I can teach the contrast of “At Ease”. Students are instructed to separate their feet shoulder-width, put their hands behind their back (holding them)–this forces their posture to relax and shoulders droop a little; Then can now move their heads around, smile, and make eye-contact. The “Ten Hut” is like saying “Freeze”, but there isn’t the silly element. On the contrary, it is super serious. Then we relax, so that listening is comfortable and focused.
Stillness communicates that you are taking in the information. You are a carefully held container under a spigot in the desert, collecting valuable water that you don’t want to spill.
You know what this is and how powerful it can be. Some school thoughts, though…
- I teach the students the importance of locking each other’s attention through the eyes. We practice with our turn-and-talk partners. I have the students move as little as possible; They should just turn their heads or pivot, slightly. Eye-contact is a hand-shake of vision. It is a commitment to listen.
- In the classroom it is impossible to make eye-contact with every single student at the same time. I teach my students that they should be looking at my eyes so that when I turn toward them, our eyes meet. I demonstrate, and whenever I give instructions, I survey the room, looking students right into their eyes.
- If the communicator is directing the listener’s attention to an object or place, the listener should look at what the speaker is referencing. In this instance that place or object is like the eyes of the speaker. It is all about connecting. If you keep looking at the speaker when he/she wants to show you something, you become “disconnected” from the message.
This is what impressed me so much that I had to write this blog. My students were sharing last night’s homework with their turn-and-talk partners, and the listeners were riveted to the task.
Elyse Rycroft teaches “Whole Body Listening” in “TEACHING LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM”. She suggests students use not only their eyes, but turn toward the speaker. Listen with your ears, your eyes, your nose, your cheeks, etc.
After really serious speeches about posture and eye-contact, this one is a relief. And, it is supposed to be. They all laugh when I keep the same serious tone while instructing everyone to “Smile!” I act like I am angry at anyone who does not smile effectively. This gets everyone cracking up. It lightens the mood and does exactly what I want to teach: Listening should be inviting information into your brain. You will be more likely to accept something if you are smiling. You project onto the person you are listening to the idea that this information is nice.
Smiles foster warm/fuzzy feelings. I don’t’ think I need to explain this.
Active listening; kids can look at you like zombies. Forcing them to smile wakes them up. At “Meet The Teacher Night” one of my student’s parents told me that her son came home on the first day of school complaining about his cheeks hurting. Her inquiry lead to his explaining that his new teacher (me) has everyone smiling all day long. This gave me a laugh. The parent told me that she explained to her son that his teacher wasn’t being “literal”. I assured her that I was. You cannot smile too much! Smile until it hurts! The pain will make the information that you were listening to that much more memorable;)
Second, Put Information Into Your Own Words
- Listen purposefully, so that you can retell the main points of the message to someone else.
- Be able to summarize the message of the speaker back to him or her. This will help assess understanding. Did you get the message of the speaker correct? If not, then the storyteller can clarify or even add more detail to support understanding.
- At the beginning of the year, this provides a fun reason to learn summarizing. You can play games where students practice recounting details of stories back to one another.
- And, a good listener transitions very nicely into a good reader.
Third, Questions Show You Care.
Picture telling a friend a story about something that happened to you. It doesn’t have to be all that important. When you are done, your friend turns and walks away without saying a word. What?! That would be sooo rude! Why? We know it is, but can you put it into words? What if your friend waited a moment and then launched into his or her own story. That happens a lot, and sometimes it is no big deal, depending on the conversation. But, if you were telling a significant story about something truly important to you, you’d expect your friend to inquire just a little. There are few better or easier ways for a listeners to show some class and communicate a caring persona than asking poignant questions.
- “How long were you there?”
- “When did this happen?”
- “How did that make you feel?”
- “What happened next? Or, after that?”
- “Why did you do that?”
- These kinds of questions show that you are interested. It flatters the speaker with an attentive audience.
Also, questions can clarify.
Fourth, Analyze the Difference Between Listening and Hearing
Hearing is passive, while listening is active.
Hearing is a park that everyone and anyone can visit at anytime. There are dogs barking. Kids are running around, screaming and playing. Bicyclists pedal through the middle of it. A couple relaxes on a blanket only to have a teenager trip over them while trying to catch a frisbee…
Listening is a birthday party. Specific people are invited. Everyone plays a game at the same time. Together, we all sing “Happy Birthday”. No one talks while the birthday boy/girl blows out the candles. Gifts, pleasantries, and well wishes are exchanged. There are no bikes passing through or frisbee catchers crashing the canoodling.
In the same way that you can take all of this listening thought and apply it to reading actively, for fun, you could turn it around and try using reading strategies on listening attentively.
- Visualize what the speaker is telling you.
- Identify cause and effect within the storyteller’s message.
- Use questioning to deepen understanding.
- Predictions make reading and listening fun and rewarding
- Summarize the main idea.
Fifth, Assessment: Google Form (10 Questions)
My students loved this! I put together a ten-question, multiple-choice quiz using Google Forms that I read to the class. This was the first time that the kids signed into their Google accounts, so it took some time, but it was worth it. They had to access their Google classroom, and then click on the “Listening Skills Quiz” assignment. Once everyone was logged in and looking at the quiz, the fun began. I read the questions out loud to the class. I also read the answers. I told them that this was not supposed to be tricky. “I am assessing your listening, so listen up: I will tell you the correct answers. If you don’t do well, it is because you weren’t listening.” Their heads nearly exploded. Now, I did not just say that “The second choice is the correct answer,” mind you. I read the quiz with emphasis on certain answers as I circulated the room. If I saw kids wavering between two choices, I’d read it again and give an example. We laughed. The kids were successful. At times I did just say, “The answer to this one is the last choice, your welcome!” They loved it, and quiz-taking began with a super positive experience.
There was a student who did poorly. This was a clear indication that we needed to revisit some of the listening skills. I simply had the kid take it again during recess, and he did fine. This showed the significance of the assessment, however. Here was one child who wasn’t ready to move on with our listening “program”. Now, he is on board.
Post Script(s) for Teachers
- Only have your students “listen” when they are able to do it properly.
- Make listening significant. Don’t expect students to be listening to you all of the time. Students shouldn’t be hanging on your every word. In fact, one of the questions that students struggled with on my “Listening Skills Quiz” concerned how often they should listen. I will need to adjust this question for next time that I administer the quiz. [Maybe I won’t, and use this as a teaching tool. We’ll see.] I make such a big deal out of listening; It makes sense that students would think it should take precedence over everything. But, this would be exhausting. You hear everything… but listening is work.
- Have a bunch of ways to get the class’s attention. No matter how interesting your method, kids eventually tune it out (Daniels, n.d.). The clapping works, but gets old. “Touch your nose if you can hear my voice,” whispered a few times is fine once in a while. I started one that makes kids look around and is fun to say: “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the windows, look at the door.” It gets them moving and looking. I then change it up “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the board… now look at me.” They laugh, because it wasn’t what they expected.
- Give them time/empower them to be classy listeners. For example, don’t tell everyone to listen, and then start talking before they stop moving or make eye-contact. I usually pause and compliment smiles. This gets everyone’s attention and makes listening fun and attractive.
Daniels, N. (n.d.). Listening Exercises for Kids That Actually Work [Web log post]. Retrieved September 9, 2018, from https://www.anxioustoddlers.com/listening-exercises-for-kids/#.W5Rq4ZNKjUI
Rycroft, E. (n.d.). TEACHING LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM [Web log post]. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://proudtobeprimary.com/teaching-listening-skills/