The importance of oracy skills is undoubtable. From the early years through to university level and, of course, out in the workforce, the ability to speak clearly, fluently and confidently is undoubtedly vital.
But sometimes in the quest to build speaking skills we overlook the other, equally important component of spoken language: listening skills. We will now focus on the importance of building active listening skills in the classroom.
But teaching listening skills can be challenging, especially in busy, loud classrooms, where it seems that everybody is hearing noise constantly, but that opportunities for in depth listening can be limited.
Assessing listening skills can also be problematic, requiring time-heavy one-on-one assessment or guesswork as to how well children are listening to content and instructions. But listening skills can be developed by integrating listening tasks across subject areas and into free time and warm up activities.
Some Tips for Listening Activities
From early years, children can be taught what good listening looks like. Making this a list of what to do rather than what not to do makes it positive and affirming:
- Make eye contact
- Hands and body still
- Mouth closed
After the first few years of school, the following can be added to the list:
- Body language reflects understanding or agreement
- Responses reflect understanding or seek clarification
For more developed listening skills, strategies such as note taking and mind-mapping can be introduced in the mid years of primary school.
Fun Ways of Building Active Listening Skills
These activities can be adjusted to the age of your students.
- Remember-All. The teacher begins by reading a list of 20 or more facts on a topic of your choice. This could be content you are teaching in any subject area, or random facts – try The Fact Site if you are stuck for ideas. The list is read once, fairly quickly. Students are then given a point for every fact they can remember from the list. This can be done in groups, with each group writing down what they remember, or individually, with children raising their hand, or with two or more students competing at the front of the room. This activity can be done regularly, with a different topic each time. If done using subject content, it will also increase engagement with potentially dry content.
2. Shopping List. Sitting in a circle or at desks, one student begins with “I went to the corner store and I bought …” They complete the sentence with an item that they bought. The second student repeats the sentence, adding a second item. This continues until a student forgets an item. That student is then ‘out’, and the next student begins a new list. This can be played until one student remains, or for an allocated time. ‘Corner store’ can be replaced with “I packed my schoolbag and put in …” or “I went for a picnic and took…” This game develops both listening skills and memorisation.
3. Pass It On. Once known as Chinese Whispers, this game involves students siting in a circle. One student whispers a message into the next student’s ear. This student must pass the message on to the next student and so, until the final student says out loud what the message is. This game develops both listening and clear diction.
4. Story Teller. An advanced version of Pass It On. In groups of three, one student (Student A) is sent away where they can’t hear what is being said. Another student (Student B) must then tell the remaining student (Student C) a story, or give a list of instructions. Student C is the listener. Then, Student A re-joins the group. Student C must then tell the story, or give the list of instructions. Afterwards, Student B should point out what was missed out. This can be done either with three students in front of the whole class, or with the class divided into groups of three.
5. Draw It. Students have a blank sheet of paper or a white board to draw on. Before they pick up their pencil or marker, the teacher gives a set of simple instructions. For example: “Draw a triangle in the top right corner, a circle in the middle of the page, and a square in the bottom left corner.” The instruction ‘draw it’ is then given, without repeating the instructions. After twenty seconds, students hold up their completed drawings. A point can be given for every right answer. This can also be done in groups or pairs, and as well as developing listening skills can be used to encourage the giving of clear instructions.
Bonus Activity: My Favorite Toss
Not only does this game help students practice active listening – it also exercises their memory. Everyone stands in a circle and one student is given a ball. The student holding the ball begins by choosing a topic, such as books or food, then shares their favorite item from that topic. That student then passes the ball to any other student who must first tell the favorite of everyone before them then add their own favorite.
For example, if the beginning student said their favorite sport was swimming, the next student would say, “Andrew’s favorite sport is swimming, and my favorite sport is basketball.” The following student would say, “Andrew’s favorite sport is swimming, Maria’s favorite sport is basketball, and my favorite sport is hockey.”
The game continues until every student tells a favorite and correctly lists the favorites before their own. If a student lists the previous favorites incorrectly, the other students must help them repeat the list correctly. Once the game is finished, the next student creates a new topic.
All of these activities can be used multiple times, and can be used as motivators or to fill in short spaces of time at the end of a lesson.
What better way of building active listening skills than by having fun?