Classroom listening before the holidays- herding cats?

December 17, 2016

By Susanne Marie Poulette, CCC-SLP

It’s the last week before the holidays, and I’ve been hearing from teachers. This is one of the toughest times to keep students listening and focused on learning. I don’t have a magic incantation, but I have some ideas to try.

clipart-light-bulb-lit-clipartbold    The first is an explicit instruction on using HEAR, Training the Brain to Listen: A Practical Strategy for Student Learning and Classroom Management, by Donna Wilson, Ph.D. This strategy “offers concrete steps to focus on and improve listening — and emphasizes why and how developing this skill is so important.”

There are four steps that teachers can implement in a lesson. Depending on grade level, I suggest the following: teach one step at a time, and then practice; or combine the first two steps and practice, or all at once depending on students’ ability levels.  When all steps are taught, the acronym HEAR can be used as a preset, a reminder, or to get students back on track.

HALT: Stop whatever else you are doing, end your internal dialogue or other thoughts, and free your mind to pay attention to the person speaking.

ENGAGE: Focus on the speaker. We suggest a physical component, such as turning your head slightly so that your right ear is toward the speaker as a reminder to be engaged solely in listening.

ANTICIPATE: By looking forward to what the speaker has to say, you are acknowledging that you will likely learn something new and interesting, which will enhance your attention.

REPLAY: Think about what the speaker is saying. Analyze and paraphrase it in your mind or in discussion with the speaker and other classmates. Replaying the information will aid in understanding and remembering what you have learned.


Reference: Wilson, Donna; Conyers, Marcus. (2014). Training the Brain to Listen: A Practical Strategy for Student Learning and Classroom Management. Edutopia


clipart-light-bulb-lit-clipartboldVary the voices heard in the classroom and decrease teacher talk.                                   You know, this sort of thing: wah


 Designate students to speak or read. This gives the class another voice to listen to, and might help to increase focus on the message as students listen to their classmates.              

Announce that you will give instructions one time only* and invite questions. The questions allow students to interact with the message. When students know it will be said one time only, they will learn that they need to listen more carefully, and/or problem solve and use repair strategies. *It is not recommended that one-time-only directions be used with hearing impaired or other students with special needs. 

When a repeat of instructions is requested, there are options:ask another student to repeat it for the class, monitor and help to insure accuracy when needed, and reinforce the good listening.

Modify; plan fun, no-risk short practice sessions as needed.


clipart-light-bulb-lit-clipartbold How about some LISTENING GAMES for some practice and a little fun?

young boy listening something


SHIP AHOY!  A classic game – develop listening skills, spatial awareness, nautical vocabulary

The teacher first explains that we are about to go on a ship and as the crew.  Tell that there are lots of jobs to be done, and explain how to follow the commands.

Students start by forming a line (one behind the other) directly in front of the teacher to enter ship.

The teacher then gives a command and the children have to perform the activity associated with that command and go to various areas of the ‘ship’. Commands include:

Captain is coming – salute and stand still for inspection

Boom crossing – students duck

Scrub the deck – students all scrub the floor

Climb the rigging – all pretend to climb up sail

Port – go left and look out

Starboard – go right and look out

Bow – go to the front and all walk the plank

Stern – go to the back and all pull in the anchor

To remember where you’re going – “port” has four letters as has “left.”

Variations: This game could be adapted to a different setting – plane, car, beach.


LISTENING DETECTIVE:   This is a fun way to encourage careful listening for elementary students!

Instead of a detective’s magnifying glass to LOOK for clues, the children make paper “ear trumpets” as props to LISTEN for clues and use in listening activities. Each student makes an ear trumpet for listening activities. 


Download, print, and cut out the form shown below, or cut a similar wedge from a large paper plate

Roll the paper into a cone, overlap the edges and tape it closed. See the illustration and link below.

Cut about an inch from the pointed edge of the tip, so no one pokes it too far into their ear.

Voilà, you have an ear trumpet!

If not too distracting, students can be asked to use their ear trumpets when an important direction or instruction is coming.


To download the pattern:



Listen Carefully: SOUND BOTTLES

Fill 8 small, matching containers with food or other items such as rice, dried beans, pennies, etc. (make two cans of each). Seal cans and have children try to find the matching sounds.

Listen Carefully: MARBLE DROP   Combining listening, counting, and numeral recognition

Provide ten paper cups, each labeled a numeral from one to ten. Put a corresponding number of marbles into each cup. Also provide a metal pie tin.

Two children play this game. One child turns her back on the second child (or an adult). The second child randomly selects a cup, takes the  marbles out, and slowly drops them into the pie tin one at a time so that they can be easily heard.

The first child listens carefully, counting to him/herself the number of marbles that were dropped. She then identifies which cup the marbles were from by recognizing the numeral.

The marbles then go back into the cup. The children can take turns dropping the marbles and guessing. 

Variation: Have one child slowly drop a given number of marbles into a tin. The class counts each sound and raise their hands to give the correct number.

                                           My best wishes to all…




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