Back to School: listening required.

We’re back to school with new teachers, new classmates, crispy mornings, and much to learn, with lots of listening required. Sometimes it’s not so easy to focus on class work and listening when the sun is shining and the last perfect days of summer-into-fall are calling. That’s why I have another little freebie for parents, teachers, and students. It’s just a half dozen short tips on staying focused with good listening.  Download, share, and use it where appropriate:

freebiew for wbl sept 2017

I recently wrote a chapter in a resource book authored by my colleague Peggy Morehouse, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathogist in Albany City Schools, in Albany NY.  Thanks to Peggy, I’m sharing part of my chapter with you in this post:

Excerpted from:

Reaching High With Language

A Collaborative Language Curriculum Pre-K – Grade

Peggy Morehouse, CCC-SLP


Whole Body Listening

Susanne Truesdale Poulette, CCC-SLP;  author of Whole Body Listening (1990).

Since we listen to learn, it is essential that we learn to listen. As babies, we begin learning language by actively listening; by attending to what we hear and acting on it. Perhaps we search for the source of a sound, and in time we may give it some sort of meaning or purpose. Through this process and with adequate hearing acuity, we learn and begin to use language. Clearly, listening to learn is not the passive activity of simply hearing sounds, as we might while enjoying a symphony concert. Listening to learn requires active effort to process, reflect upon, assign meaning, relate to prior learning, and store incoming information. As Jalongo (1995) describes listening and its connection to learning, “listening…is hearing and then making and shaping what you heard – along with your own ideas – into usable pieces of knowledge.”

Therefore, in teaching listening skills, it is important to understand that the listening process is much more than the automatic receiving of verbal information. Teaching active listening strategies requires more than simply following directions or repeating facts. There are numerous commercial resources available for practicing listening skills, for example, worksheets to complete following verbal cues, or sequenced multiple-step oral instruction tasks to carry out.  What appears to be missing from these activities is basic instruction in the active behaviors necessary for the fundamentals of effective listening.

Whole Body Listening (WBL) suggests that we provide students with direct instruction in listening strategies before carrying out practice activities. WBL is a tool for teaching listening skills by helping young children to discover for themselves how they can best listen using “doing” behaviors.  WBL was developed through a discovery activity using task analysis of listening behavior necessary for first-grade students. These strategies involve listening with specific parts of the body, in contrast to passively “hearing” auditory information with the ears alone. The strategies focus on behaviors for increasing awareness of self-regulation and attending, emphasizing “thinking about what is being heard,” that is, making an effort to understand, formulate questions, identify main ideas, form opinions, and personally respond to the message. These WBL strategies can be used to help students take responsibility for their listening behaviors by becoming aware of and reflecting on their own listening behaviors. Strategies are used to encourage students to take charge by self-questioning: “What do I need to listen for? Did I think about what the speaker was saying, or about what was happening outside the window? How well did I do? Do I understand it? Do I need to ask a question?”

 Another critical aspect of teaching any listening skills or strategies to children is to follow the adage, “Show, don’t tell.”  We know that children learn by watching, listening, and imitating. In fact, we may know all too well how fast a child can learn an unwelcome word or behavior. The same holds true for listening.

When adults are good listeners, we demonstrate how we want our children to listen. Without interrupting or rushing and by maintaining attention, we listen well and model the same courtesy to children as we do to adults. In the school setting, “…students’ attentive, involved listening depends considerably upon teacher behavior: modeling good listening habits, having developmentally appropriate expectations, managing the classroom well and communicating effectively.” (Jalongo, 1995.)

It cannot be overstated: as the adults in children’s lives, we need to teach and model good listening before we can expect the same of children.

 Components of  Whole Body Listening  

WBL is described with corresponding parts of the body: listening with the brain, eyes, mouth, hands, feet and seat.

 BRAIN:  Listening with the brain means thinking about what we are hearing, as we try to select and isolate a given message from competing sounds. This is the most critical element of WBL because when we think about what a speaker is saying, we are actively attending by connecting our mind with that speaker’s mind.

In listening with the brain, we are asking children to think about, and keep thinking about what a speaker is saying. While this focuses a listener’s attention, it can help develop an internal schema while thinking about what is being said and forming mental images. In this way, thinking about what is being said can encourage visualization and perhaps facilitate comprehension and retention.

“Thinking about what is being said,” is not as abstract as it may sound.  If we hear the words, “pink elephant,” some image of that will probably come to mind. Cues such as, “Try to get a picture in your mind about what you are hearing,” may help to focus listeners on attending and listening mindfully, while inhibiting distracting thoughts. Another cue to encourage a listener to think about and internalize what is being heard, is, for example: “As you listen, think about how you feel about what you hear–the characters and their events.

Another application of listening with the brain relates to how listeners’ expectations and prior knowledge affect comprehension. Wallach (2011) explains that language and background knowledge create expectancies of what we think is coming and what we think we hear. As these expectancies influence what is attended to, perceived, and remembered, we can apply listening with the brain strategies to alert children prior to a listening task. Having some familiarity with the vocabulary, structure, and the purpose of the message provides positive listening practice and opportunity for skill development. Pre-tutoring of vocabulary and concepts, and providing the main ideas before a task can be followed by a cue such as, “As you listen with your brain, think about____ and what it means to you.” 

EYES:   Listening with the eyes refers to looking at or toward the speaker, or to visual props used in a presentation. This does not suggest that children be expected to make or maintain steady eye contact with a speaker. Some children are naturally or culturally uncomfortable with reciprocal eye gaze, and for others, it may be contraindicated due to their individual needs. Rather than fixed eye contact, listening with the eyes suggests taking in as much visual information as possible in a listening situation, by attending to facial expressions, body language, situational cues, illustrations, photographs, charts, maps, videos, and other visual aids. While listeners are watching for visual signals, they may be more engaged and less likely to be distracted from the listening task.

MOUTH:   Listening with the mouth suggests remaining quiet and not talking while listening to a speaker. Perhaps it is fair to say that we cannot listen effectively and speak at the same time. Focusing on maintaining a quiet, listening mindset can contribute to self-awareness and behavior management necessary for listening actively, thinking about, and acting on incoming verbal information.

We can also use the idea of listening with the mouth to identify and reduce distracting or noisy behaviors such as snapping gum or chewing on items like pens, pencils, neck chains, or collars. This can be another step in helping a child to reflect upon and self-manage good listening behaviors.  

 HANDS:   Listening with the hands suggests that hands are still and quiet, unless required to write or follow directions. Some individuals say they can listen more effectively when doodling, tapping or fidgeting with their hands. However, for others, busy hands can be distracting or noisy, and interfere with hearing and attending to

listening. As with listening with the mouth, this strategy can help in self-reflection and self-management of listening behaviors.

 FEET and SEAT:   Listening with the feet and seat suggests postures that can facilitate active listening. Whether seated in chairs, or crisscrossed on the floor, this strategy focuses on reducing disruptive movements and noises associated with foot tapping or kicking. It also suggests that sitting up “tall” encourages alertness and readiness to listen. Children are encouraged to signal the speaker in this way to show that they are working on listening. These suggestions refer to typical instructional times, not informal, relaxed listening activities, such as when a teacher or parent may read to young children as they rest while reclining.

CAVEAT:   WBL is a tool, not a rule, for active listening. The critical word is “tool.”  WBL should be flexible and modified as needed for students who have special needs, difficulty with self-regulation, or discomfort with eye contact. It should always be used with sensitivity for a child’s developmental readiness and attention span level, and with particular flexibility in areas of the eyes, posture, and expectations of time on task.

WBL lessons are therefore, suggestions for teaching and practicing listening strategies. WBL is a tool that can also be used as a key phrase to pre-set, or as a reminder for good listening, but not for lengthy performance expectations.


Jalongo, Mary Renick, (1995) Promoting active listening in the classroom, Childhood Education, Volume: 72, Issue: 1.

Truesdale, Susanne P. (Poulette) (1990). Whole-Body Listening: Developing Active Auditory Skills.  Language, Speech, And Hearing Services In Schools, Vol. 21, No. 3, 183-184.

Wallach, Geraldine P., (2011) Peeling the Onion of Auditory Processing Disorder: A Language/ Curricular-Based Perspective, Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools Vol. 42, 273–285.


easel 053