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Listen Up! Cultivating Active Listening Skills in the Classroom

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Listenwise defines active listening as “the act of intentionally listening to understand and respond.” Signs of active listening include demonstrating engagement through nonverbal communication (eye contact, nodding), asking questions, and remarking on what the speaker has said. As we’ll discuss in the research below, active listening is a critical skill for children to develop, and listening to audio is an excellent tool to help them strengthen those muscles! Want to learn more? Read on and listen up!

Listening and Literacy

An article by McGraw Hill points to research that demonstrates the importance of listening as a prerequisite for developing reading and writing skills and a determinant of later literacy success. In other words, oral language comprehension is a strong predictor of learning to read and write. Developing listening skills is especially important for English Language Learners or students acquiring a new language (Cheung 2010).  A 1995 study by Hart and Risely showed that the total number of words children heard in preschool predicted how quickly they learned and understood new words in kindergarten. Children who heard the most words through speech, being read to, etc. had the largest vocabulary.

Increased Engagement

For emerging readers, reading can at times be discouraging or exhausting. Luckily, reading is not the only way to experience a story! Audio offers a pathway to cultivate the enjoyment of literature (fiction and nonfiction), while students are simultaneously developing literacy skills. Audio is filled with different voices, inflections, and dramatizations. Not only does it bring the story to life, but it teaches students how dialogue patterns flow and develops their oral language skills. As listeners, students learn the various ways voice and language is used to convey meaning, which will in turn help to improve literacy skills.

Listening is a Lifelong Skill

The 2023 GMAC Corporate Recruiter Survey identified communication skills as one of the top skills employers look for when hiring with 75% citing active listening as a skill that will be important in future years.  As mentioned above, listening leads to a greater vocabulary, which develops a student’s ability to engage in and understand conversation and can boost their oral confidence. Listening skills are essential for development critical thinking and collaboration skills – part of the 21st Century Skills that help students thrive and succeed.

Listening invokes creativity

Studies have found that children between the ages of seven and 13 respond more creatively to audio stories than to stories shown in video. Audio stories prompted kids to draw more pictures, pose more novel questions, and solve problems in a more imaginative way than video stories. When children are watching a video, they are able to mentally “zone out” and simply take in the information. Audio makes the listener an active participant in the experience by engaging their imagination to create what the words look like.

Listening Tips and Tricks

You may be wondering, can my students really sit through a 15-minute podcast episode? Yes. In fact, you’ll probably be surprised how fast time flies when students are listening to the wild adventures of Guy and Mindy! One second grade teacher noted that listening to podcasts in her classroom “helped my students with their listening skills, imagination, visualization, and communication skills…” and noted that “they were more interested than they typically are.” Nonetheless, we hear you and  want to share a few tips and tricks to help your students turn up the volume on their listening skills!

Start with some active listening warm-ups

Play games like Simon Says or the Circle Memory Game. Sing a song or do a call-back that your students know well. These short activities will release some wiggles while also warming up their listening ears!

“Should I do this when I listen?” Game

Teach listening agreements with a silly game! 

  1. Create and discuss a list of listening agreements for your classroom with your students (Ex. raise your hand if you need to speak). 
  2. Inform your students that you will be acting out a series of behaviors. After each behavior, your students should say “WOW! Good job!” if it’s part of the listening agreements or “No, that’s bonkerballs!” if it’s not part of the agreements. 
  3. Perform a series of silly behaviors that do not demonstrate active listening (i.e. talking on the phone, doing push-ups, sleeping) as well as some behaviors that follow your listening agreements (i.e. taking notes or drawing, raising your hand). Let students respond after each behavior. Discuss any confusion around a listening agreement. 
  4. Tell students they are listening pros and let them know they are entering the listening zone!

Show the transcript

There are several benefits to showing the transcript while playing the podcast episode audio. This article from Speechify explains how listening and reading at the same time can boost reading comprehension, strengthen listening skills, increase retention of information, and elevate the overall experience. Lucky for you, TinkerClass provides a full transcript for each episode!

WOW Wednesdays

If you’re not sure where to start, start with Wednesdays! We encourage you to pick one day a week to practice listening with your students – and watch it become their favorite day! Wow Wednesdays come highly recommended by K-5 Science teacher Carole Paterson,

“What that looks like could be very different depending on my day and their day, but we’re going to be engaging with podcasts… using them to spring into excitement or sometimes just to listen and to take a pause in the day and a pause in the week and take an opportunity to have a community growing moment.”

Build a Listening Lab

A listening lab is a designated space for students to listen to podcasts individually or in small groups. Put down your tool belt and tape measure – minimum prep required! All you need is:

  • A small space in your classroom, preferably in a corner or against the wall
  • Some chairs, bean bags, or a carpet
  • Headphones and a iPad, laptop, or other podcast playing device
  • (Optional) TinkerClass printable resources or paper and writing and drawing supplies 

That’s all it takes to create your students’ new favorite spot in the classroom!

Check out more resources for listening on our From How? to Wow landing page!