Listening Strategies for First Graders

Children need guidance and practice to improve listening skills.
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Listening and following directions are important skills for first graders. It can be frustrating for teachers and parents when kids don't listen. However, adults need to remember that listening skills require teaching and practice. Never assume your child knows how to listen. Keep a positive attitude as you guide your first grader toward listening success.

1 Define Good Listening

Help your child understand what it means to listen by defining it clearly. Talk specifically about what good listeners do. Consider posting a simple chart in a main living area to remind your child how to listen, and include pictures for first graders who are just learning to read. Possible ideas for the chart include: good listeners make eye contact (e.g., an illustration of eyes), don't interrupt (e.g., a picture of lips with a finger in front of them), ask questions to clarify (e.g., a picture of a question mark) and repeat the task in their own words (e.g., a picture of a child talking). Review the characteristics of good listeners often, especially before you give your child directions.

2 Break It Down

According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association, your first grader should be able to follow three to four oral directions in order. Give multiple-step directions as simply as possible by breaking each step down into a concise statement or word.

For example, if you need your child to get dressed, brush his teeth and get his backpack ready for school, review the steps with him by saying, "Clothes, teeth, backpack." Ensure understanding by asking him to repeat the steps back to you before he attempts the tasks.

3 Incentives and Praise

Turn listening into a fun challenge or game by providing incentives for good listening. Time your first grader to see how fast he can put up his toys and wash his hands for dinner, or offer a hug or a high-five for good listening. Incentives do not have to be tangible or costly. Your child will gain confidence just by being recognized and praised often for being a good listener. Focus on the positive by praising him often with comments like, "I love how you are such a good listener," or "You made good eye contact while listening today. I'm proud of you!"

4 Attention Getters

In order for your child to begin listening, you must gain his attention. Teachers use attention-getters to get groups of students to listen to a set of directions, and the same strategy can work for parents. You might try clapping a particular number of times and asking your child to repeat until you have his full attention. You can also try counting backwards slowly from 10 or five, expecting full eye contact by the time you get to zero. You might even use a bell or a train whistle as your signal. Regardless of the method you choose, make sure you teach your child what to do when he hears the signal. Practice often and soon he will automatically come to attention.

Dana Tuffelmire has been writing for DMS for three years. She taught elementary school for seven years and earned a master’s of education degree with a specialization in literacy. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two sons. Her dream is to one day write a children's book.