Active Listening

Teach students the skills to be effective listeners
156 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

Being a good listener helps students gain information, be more empathetic, develop relationships, and manage conflicts. This strategy shows how students can become aware of their own listening processes and strategies, identify the habits and practices of strong listeners, and use this information to become better active listeners. Students can learn to improve their listening skills by practicing "active listening," in which they make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, to pay attention to the complete message being communicated.

Implementation Steps

25 minutes
  1. Begin by directly teaching students about active listening and the skills and strategies needed to become an active listener.

    • Start by engaging students in a group activity that requires strong listening skills for the group to be effective. For example, consider having students consult The Power of Active Listening StoryCorps Lesson linked below

    • Share with students the Active Listening Powerpoint included below.

    • Lead students in a reflective discussion about the importance of listening. You might use the following discussion questions:

      • Why is listening to others powerful for us personally?

      • Why is being listened to powerful for us personally?

      • Why is listening to others difficult sometimes?

      • What are some things we can do to make others feel like we're really listening to them?

  2. Give students the opportunity to create their class expectations and norms around active listening.

    • Provide students with a definition of Active Listening. See the resources below for a variety of definitions.

    • Ask students to brainstorm specific strategies that they can use to actively listen. Consider breaking their strategies into the following categories:

      • Verbal (i.e. asking questions, saying "mmhmm" or "okay," repeating key ideas back)

      • Physical (i.e. smiling, nodding, making eye contact, keeping an open posture)

      • Mental (not interrupting, thinking about what is said, putting aside distracting thoughts)

    • Document these strategies on a public chart or poster.

  3. Give students opportunities to practice active listening. Emphasize that it takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener, and that old listening habits are hard to break!

    • Consider giving students some specific activities designed to practice Active Listening. For example, explain that students are going to interview each other, using the following prompt: Tell me something about yourself that might surprise me.

      • Have partners switch.

      • Pause the groups, and ask them to reflect on how well their active listening strategies worked.

      • Encourage the interviewer to use active listening strategies while their partner is sharing.

      • Another example could be using some of the activities provided by the New York Times that are included in the resource section below.

    • Whenever students participate in partner or group work, remind them of the active listening strategies and provide them with feedback, or give them the opportunity to self-assess, on their implementation of active listening strategies.

Active Listening as an Instructional Coach

Cheryl Belknap
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Active listening is crucial in effective instructional coaching conversations. While listening, a coach must set aside the urge to "fix," interrupt, or correct. A coach learns most about the person they are working with by listening without judgement. Skillful listening opens up a shared arena with the teacher where meaningful questioning can lead to self actualization. This strategy provides resources that guide development of listening fully as well as tools to reflect on your own listening skills.

Implementation steps:

  1. Review the practices of active listeners. See the articles in the resources section below for some good reminders.

  2. When meeting with teachers you coach, always begin the conversation by asking the teacher about their goals, their experience implementing new strategies, and their thoughts on next steps. Make sure that you take notes on their answers and use their words to guide your conversation and collaboratively identify next steps.

Active Listening For Distance Learning

Kathleen Rockefeller
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Active listening involves both the teacher's and the students' ability to tune into the speaker's verbal and nonverbal (behavior and emotions) actions in order to make deeper meaning of what they are saying.  Active listening in a distance learning classroom can be more challenging because of the virtual setting, but is equally as important as in a traditional school setting.

Implementation steps:

  1. Explicitly teach students about active listening and the skills and strategies needed to become an active listener during a synchronous distance learning setting.

    • Use the Google Slides linked below, How To Actively Listen, as a teaching tool during synchronous learning sessions to teach active listening skills.  

  2. Create norms and expectations about active listening during synchronous learning sessions. 

    • See the resource linked below, Active Listening During Virtual Class Sessions, for a sample list of expectations for Active Listening.  

    • Create norms and expectations about active listening during asynchronous learning activities that would require active listening skills (watching a video, listening to an audio clip, listening to a podcast).  

      • Incorporating asynchronous assignments using Edpuzzle requires students to stop the video they are watching multiple times in order to answer questions about the video content.  In order to successfully answer these questions, the student will demonstrate active listening skills.  The resource linked below, Getting Started with Edpuzzle Tutorial, provides a tutorial on setting up classes, and creating videos, on Edpuzzle.  

  3. Allow students to practice active listening within the synchronous learning session.  The students will use the above norms and expectations to engage in active listening as the teacher directly teaches the content.  

    • Incorporate open-ended questions, probing questions, hypothetical questions, and reflective questions into the lesson activities as an opportunity for students to practice their active listening skills in a virtual synchronous session. 

    • Allow students to practice active listening with an asynchronous task/assignment.  Students can reflect on how they implemented active listening skills during the asynchronous learning task. 

      • The teacher can poll the students on how well they did with active listening, and implementing the active listening expectations using a Mentimeter.  Mentimeter is an engaging technology tool to use to gather and organize data.  Mentimeter allows the teacher and students to see live data from a poll.  The resource linked below, Mentimeter Tutorial, shows a quick video on how to create a Mentimeter.

  4. Provide feedback to students on their active listening skills.
    • Create a checklist for the teacher and students to use as a reflection tool.  A checklist can be used to determine which of the active listening expectations were met by the students.  

Coach Tip: Active Listening for SEL

Active Listening is an effective way to create positive behavioral changes for yourself or with students. When we feel heard, it is because we tend to evaluate our own feelings and thoughts, which gives us a greater sense of clarity. This helps us become better problem solvers and more accepting of other points of view. Using Active Listening as an approach in crisis intervention has the potential to restore the ability to think more clearly and to stabilize emotions. Review the article in the resource section below for a deeper dive into the Active Listening techniques that support de-escalation.

Additional techniques that may be helpful to implement are:

  1. Reflecting/Mirroring
  2. Open-Ended Questions
  3. Minimal Encouragers
  4. Emotion Labeling
  5. Paraphrasing
  6. “I” Messages
  7. Effective Pauses

Special Education Modification

Nedra MassenburgDEMO
Special Education Specialist

Active listening is critical for students with disabilities by not only helping them gain information, be more empathetic, develop relationships, and manage conflicts, but to help them to become effective advocates for their specific needs inside and outside the classroom.

Active listening skills require significant executive functioning skills (including focus, organization, working memory, etc.) and verbal expression skills.  In order to support students with disabilities who have difficulty with focus, working memory, processing speed and/or verbal expression, consider the following modifications:


  1. For students with disabilities that affect their verbal expression,  provide the discussion questions ahead of time and allow them to write out their thoughts before starting the active listening lesson and/or provide sentence stems for their responses.

  2. Use visual reminders in the classroom of what active listening looks like.  As an example, a visual of students tracking the teacher or students with their bodies facing each other in discussion could be used.

  3. Provide students with handouts or notecards to visually remind them of what specifically they are actively listening for in discussions.  As an example, students could write on a handout “In this discussion, I am listening for reasons why my partner chose their research project.”

  4. Intervene as a teacher to ensure students have the opportunity to process what has been said and speak at their own pace, including pausing the discussion to summarize key points and invite students to respond. Pace these interventions less frequently as amount of practice and feedback in active listening students have.

  5. Provide students with handouts or notecards to visually remind them of what verbal and or written prompts they can synthesize information gained from active listening. See an example handout in the resource section below.

  6. The first few rounds of teaching active listening usage in a learning setting should end with specific verbal and written feedback from the teacher to the whole class on the level of success in active listening during the task.  This ensures that all students, and especially students with disabilities that affect their executive functioning have specific strength and growth areas identified.  As an example, a teacher may say “I noticed during today’s active listening portion of class several students did not ask any clarifying questions to their partners during their discussion.   During our next active listening portion of the lesson, I will be listening specifically to hear you ask each other clarifying questions.

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

Active listening is an imperative skill for English learners to employ in and out of school. This strategy supports whole class focus on and explicit instruction in engaging in active listening. 

English learners are required to listen and respond to peers verbally while engaging in active listening practice. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:


  1. Have learners prepare responses in advance. Learners at lower levels of proficiency may benefit from preparing answers to questions about active listening and strategies in advance. Consider assigning questions as a homework assignment for learners to draft responses. 

  2. Model and Practice. Provide video or role played models of active listening. Practice as a class any active listening body cues that will be used. Add graphics to anchor charts that reflect models and practice. Explicitly practice listening skills by utilizing audio content in class. See the "4 Ls of Productive Partnering Poster" and the "Teaching and Assessing ELLs' Listening Skills with Listenwise" resources in the resource section below for more information.
  3. Provide listening targets. Learners at lower levels of proficiency may benefit from having vocabulary, names and/or short phrases they should be listening for in advance. Create a scavenger hunt style worksheet with words or pictures that learners will encounter and have them circle, color or otherwise mark what they hear. 

  4. Conscious grouping. Put English learners in heterogeneous groups that will be most supportive. Consider social dynamics as well as language skills to ensure mutual listening. Consider utilizing group and partner work structures that support active listening. See the "How should ELLs be grouped for instruction?" resource and the "The GO TO Strategies: Scaffolding Options for Teachers of English Language Learners" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  5. Utilize language acquisition rubrics for reflection. Listening rubrics are used by language acquisition programs and specialists frequently. English learners may already be familiar with a local rubric that can be utilized to provide feedback they understand. Consult learners’ language specialist on use of local rubrics. See the "ELD Student-Friendly Rubrics" in the resource section below.

Related Lessons

  • Explore the "Active Listening" lesson by 7th grade ELA teacher Mary Lynch included in the resources below to see how students can engage effectively in discussion with partners to follow rules for active listening and demonstrate appropriate roles as speaker and listener.
  • Explore the "Who is Here?" lesson by 10th grade ELA teacher Elizabeth Slaine to see how students hone their active listening skills by interviewing and presenting on their classmates' interests.