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.
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 some of the listening activities below:
for middle school-aged students, consult the The Power of Active Listening StoryCorps Lesson linked here.
for younger students, consult the Active Listening Activities for You to Be an Efficacious Listener by SocialMettle resource
for older students, consult the Teaching English Active Listening Strategy resource
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?
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.
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 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.
Review the practices of active listeners. See the articles in the resources section below for some good reminders.
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.