Listening is such an important social skill for students to grasp and be able to put into place. This is a teachable skill. But then comes the question…how to teach listening skills?
Let’s dive into this subject head first.
What is the Purpose of Listening
Before we go too deep into how to teach child listening skills, let’s talk about why they are important.
Listening is part of the process that helps us communicate with others.
Did you know that we listen with more body parts than just our ears?
Yep, we listen with several different parts. This is often called ‘whole body listening.’
There are five different parts that we listen with other than just our ears.
One part of the body that we listen with that is not our ears is our mouth. Mouths need to be quiet and not making sounds. Otherwise, we could miss something that is being said to us.
Another part that we listen with is our hands/feet. These parts of our bodies need to be still, not moving. They also need to not be making sounds. Again this can lead to us missing what is being said to us.
A third part of the body that we listen with that isn’t our ears is our brain. This is because we need to be thinking about what the other person is saying. Our brain helps us to understand what is being said and make connections.
We also listen with our eyes. When someone is speaking we should be looking at them.
The last part of our body that we listen with is our heart. When listening, we should be considerate of the speaker.
Important note: whole body listening is a tool – not a rule. It can be very hard for some students to have every component of whole body listening (such as eye contact or a still body). It is important for you to know developmentally where your student is at, if they are ready for each component, or if a component might look different for them. Forcing whole body listening on a child who isn’t ready for it can cause stress or anxiety – causing more damage than good. So just be ready to give grace to students who aren’t ready for every part of whole body listening.
How to Teach Whole Body Listening
So how do you teach listening as a whole?
Teaching whole body listening should start with telling students what listening is and why it is important.
Next, go over the different parts of the body that are part of the listening process. Make sure to go over what these different parts of the body should be doing while listening (example: eyes focusing on the speaker).
Again, the different parts of the body that I refer to are: ears, eyes, mouth, hands/feet, brain, heart.
It is super helpful for students to have a visual for this step. Personally, I love using a potato head person. As I teach, I add each of the different body parts on to the figure as I speak to what they are used for with listening. Note that the potato person doesn’t include a heart or brain so you’ll need to add those shapes yourself. Doing this helps make the activity visual.
Include your students in this step too. They can either help you add on the different body parts (hello kinesthetic learning for multi-sensory teaching!) or draw a figure adding the parts. Having students be engaged in the learning process will help with understanding and retention.
The next step is to have students practice and identify what whole body listening looks like.
How to Get Good Listening Skills for Your Students
And more practice!
Unfortunately after teaching the foundational information, practice is where it is at to get better.
Practice can take the place in many forms. You can have the student show what different parts of their bodies look like while relaxed and then when listening.
Another great idea is to have students practice their listening skills by replicating something by following directions. This could be something fun like a directed drawing or making a structure from building blocks. The important part of the activity is that students can’t see what they are replicating. Instead, they have to use whole body listening when hearing the different steps and then follow those steps.
A third idea is using scenarios of different situations as another great way for students to build connections. These connections are all rooted in what great listening skills look like. Pose a situation then ask if whole body listening is happening or not. A situation could be “Raul is facing the teacher while they are talking” or “Shelly is making sounds with her mouth while the librarian is giving directions.” This is a great opportunity to pose situations that could be specific to the student(s) you are working with.
There are so many great books out there too. Books are an awesome way on how to teach listening skills to preschoolers to second grade students. Some of my favorite books on this subject are:
️ Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen by Howard Binkow
️ Listening Ninja: A Children’s Book About Active Listening and Learning How to Listen by Mary Nhin
️ Whole Body Listening Larry At School! by Elizabeth A Sautter & Kristen Wilson
How To Teach Listening Skills To Elementary Students
Are you looking for a done-for-your resource to teach listening?
Then this lesson plan on listening is for you!
Included is a one page lesson plan with teacher materials plus a whole page of extension activities. This will help to extend the learning of this important social/emotional skill.
There are also different versions of student worksheets and a listening skills flip book for students to create. Use the 14 different task cards to present scenarios. Have students identify when whole body listening is happening.
For the classroom space, use the included visual posters and the multiple different individual visual reminder cards for students who need additional prompting after the lesson is taught. Tape visuals to spaces around the room (such as desk or work stations). Or put them together on a key ring to carry around and flash to a student to give them a nudge when great listening skills aren’t taking place.
Looking for even more on Listening Skills?
If you are wondering exactly how the process of hearing works, check out this article by the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders.
Empowered Parents has some wonderful ideas of activities to do with a child to help increase their listening skills.
Or if you are struggling with tricky student behavior (which might be partially due to poor listening skills, grab this free 5 step process to writing an amazing behavior plan.
I hope this helps you better understand how to teach listening for young learners to understand this important social/emotional component.