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Teaching Listening Skills to Children

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  • 0:00 Reasons for Thinking…
  • 1:16 Listening Is Self-Monitoring
  • 2:18 Giving Cues to the Speaker
  • 3:29 Strategies for Dealing…
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clio Stearns
Sometimes it seems like children just won't listen! Maybe they simply don't have the skills yet. This lesson will give you some strategies for teaching your students to listen.

Reasons for Thinking About Listening

The idea that children won't listen, or hear and pay full attention, is a pretty frequent complaint. Often, it seems as though little ones are interested in talking and playing, but not so much in paying attention to what other people have to say. At other times, it seems as though children hear and remember everything. Even things we might not want them to recall. How can you channel this listening potential in a constructive way? How could you make sure the children in your class listen to you, to other adults, and maybe most importantly, to one another?

The truth is that listening is a complicated skill. Many of us might feel as though we are listening, but later we realize we were tuning an entire conversation out. Or we might be listening and paying attention carefully, but it seems to the person we are talking to as though we are somewhere else altogether. If listening is complicated for adults, it is all the more challenging for children, who haven't put as much thought into it or had the same opportunities to learn and practice. This lesson gives you a few explicit strategies for helping the students in your class learn listening.

Listening Is Self-Monitoring

Perhaps the most important thing to know about listening is that doing it in a sustained way involves a level of metacognition in which many children need explicit lessons. Set aside a few periods to teach your children about listening and particularly about self-monitoring for listening. One good activity for this is pairing your students up with partners and asking one partner to tell the other a story. Set a timer for every thirty seconds or so. Each time the timer beeps, challenge the listeners to report what they heard and understood. As students grow accustomed to this game, extend the time so that they are listening for longer and longer periods. Give your students a chance to reflect on what is hard or fun for them about listening in these sustained ways.

Self-monitoring means constantly checking in with yourself to make sure you are doing what you mean to be doing, and giving students practice with this will help them not only become better listeners, but also better readers and students overall.

Giving Cues to the Speaker

Being a good listener also involves showing that you are listening. Some ways we do this are via sustained eye contact, receptive body language, nodding our head, and repeating back what the speaker has said in our own words. Teach each of these cues to your students. Ask them to practice in conversations with one another, and also while listening to you. Give them a chance to think about how it feels to make eye contact or have a conversational partner make eye contact with them.

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