Teaching Listening Skills

Why Teaching Listening Skills is Essential for Learning?

Teaching listening skills is a vital skill for students in the the 21st Century – not only for the classroom – but also to help students be prepared for the world of college and career.

We all expect our students to be listening to us when we are presenting information or giving directions for a task or assignment. Unfortunately, we know that this is not always the case. 

When minds wander, students may miss key information or directions that they need to be successful on their classwork, assignments or even assessments. For this reason, it is important for us to take time explicitly teaching listening skills to our students.

Elementary male student outside in the fall with yellow leaves on the trees listening to headphones.
Students listen all of the time but do they really process the content?

What are Good Listening Skills?

Students need to listen to oral presentations of all types and benefit from them.  Someone who is a “good listener” is paying attention to the person who is speaking,. They are processing the gist of what is being said and then reflecting on the meaning of those words.

To teach listening, it is helpful to understand the four stages of listening.

The stages of listening include:

  1. attending to the message;
  2. interpreting what has been said;
  3. responding to the ideas presented in the message and
  4. processing the information by taking notes or remembering the message.

Helping students process and understand what they have heard can be increased by modeling good listening strategies. Practice can be a good way to build student strengths in listening, interpreting and processing information.

College age students sitting on folding chairs listening to a male speaker.
Students listen but are they processing?

Ideas that Promote Listening Skill Development in the Classroom

To help students improve their listening skills, practice is key. In the words of businessman Bernard Baruch: “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” Here are 5 ways to practice listening skills:

  1. Turn and Talk With a Twist: One way to get students to listen more is to use the “Turn and Talk” strategy but with a twist. After students have had time to talk to a partner about their thoughts, call on random pairs to share their ideas. Instead of voicing their own thoughts and opinions, each member of the pair must present the thoughts and perspectives of their partner.
  2. Listen then Paraphrase: Students are paired for the discussion and labeled partner A and Partner B. During discussion, partner A is given time to talk about what they have heard. Partner B only listens (s/he can take notes if desired). When the signal is given, partner B then paraphrases what partner A has said. For example: partner B may say something like: “You believe that…” or “What I heard you say is that…” or “You aren’t sure about…” and similar statements about what person A has said. Give a minute or two for person A to make any clarifications that may be needed to partner B’s understanding. During the next pause, rolls are reversed and partner A listens and reflects while partner B talks.
  3. Creating Questions: Have students listen to a speech, documentary clip, podcast or story or article read aloud. This information can be from a video, a podcast or from a teacher read-aloud. Stop the content at key points and ask students to write 1-2 questions about what they have just heard. Since students have to listen carefully to the content, this helps them focus on the task more effectively. At the end of the listening activity, have students discuss their questions. Ask them to respond to one another to clarify anything that was questioned.
  4. Listen and Quote: In this activity, have students listen to a speech, podcast, documentary, story or article presented orally. As they listen, have students listen for “quotable quotes” from the author that caught their attention. If this is the first time students are finding quotes, model this for them so they know the expectation. After the conclusion of the activity, have students share some of their memorable quotes from the listening passage.
  5. Listen and Summarize: In this activity, have students listen to a speech, podcast, documentary, story or article presented orally. When the passage is finished, ask students to identify the “central idea” of the passage.  This is a high level activity so modeling may be essential before asking students to do this activity independently. It is understandable that this may be difficult for English-language learners but it is also difficult for native speakers as well. 

Finding Resources to Teach Listening Skills

We live in a world where there are distractions all competing for student attention in the classroom. Many teachers have asked me how to find high quality videos and audios for supporting text-based units for their students.  Some great sources of high quality video and audio can be found on the following websites:

Itunes Store


National Geographic

Gilder Lehman


If you know of other outstanding resources for locating high quality video and audio resources?  If you find other excellent resources for finding high quality video and audio,  besides the ones listed above?

Do you have a fun and effective way to teach listening skills to your students?

Please be sure to share your ideas by putting any ideas or suggestions in the comments below.

Teaching Common Core Standards as a Team

The longer I review the learning expectations of the ELA Common Core standards, the more it becomes obvious to me how teachers will need to work collaboratively to help students learn reading and writing to the depths that will be needed to meet these new standards. Working collaboratively on the same topics across disciplines will be an absolute necessity for teachers in middle and high school. Each content area teacher will need to think about how the skills required for student mastery in reading and writing are used in his or her own discipline and then be responsible for teaching students how to read or write in the discipline as a professional of that discipline would. This will be a gigantic paradigm shift for teachers who have been used to simply closing the door and teaching “cover to cover” from a textbook. Unfortunately, many teachers that I have heard at meetings and trainings still have not realized that this shift in thinking will need to take place for student success. Many still think they will just be substituting one set of standards for a new – albeit more difficult – set of standards and that teaching will continue as it has for the past 30 years.  When the time for testing comes, they will miss the boat and be left wondering why their students are not able to demonstrate proficiency on the new CC assessments. The game has changed.  The sooner we realize that a group of heads all focused on the same goals are better than a single teacher, the more successful we will be. What has your school been doing to foster teacher collaboration in the Common Core Standards?  Please feel free to share your comments on this topic.

Teaching Reading to Meet State ELA Standards

As I listen to presentations on the new Common Core standards being rolled out all across the nation, it strikes me how important it is for all teachers to be strong teachers of reading and writing no matter what discipline they teach. No longer can teachers leave “teaching reading and writing” to the English or Language Arts teacher. Instead, each discipline will need to identify the texts (literary, expository/informational, functional) and writing types that belong to that subject area and be responsible for weaving those understandings and experiences into their own curriculum.   Students can no longer be taught to seek the “right” answer but instead will have to become deep thinkers and processors of knowledge. Asking students to read at higher levels and for more sustained periods of time has never been more important than it will be in meeting the new standards and preparing students for their future employment requirements. For years, teachers have complained that American Standards are a “mile wide and an inch deep.”  For the first time, American students will be expected to learn less (as in standard numbers) but to deeper and more profound levels. Teaching to deep levels of understanding and performance will be required for all students – not just the “gifted” or “Honors” level students. Unfortunately, I fear that too many teachers have not even begun to understand the massive change that will be taking place in our country as this unfolds in classrooms from coast to coast. Although many will be dragged” kicking and screaming” into this era,  the wisest and most competent among our ranks will embrace the change and quietly continue doing what they have been doing – setting the bar high and immersing their students in print of all types. Here’s to you – those of you who have led the charge and demanded so much of your students – your day will finally be coming.