Quality communication begins with active listening.

Being able to speak and respond appropriately requires the ability to listen well. Speaking without listening produces one-sided conversation rather than meaningful dialogue. Students of all ages can benefit from learning how speaking and listening go hand in hand. According to the U.S. Department of Education, children who learn to speak as well as listen gain valuable language skills vital to success in reading and writing.

Let the Students Speak

Although times of quiet are always part of an orderly classroom, letting children engage in guided conversation throughout the school day is an effective way of teaching listening and talking skills. Post guidelines in your classroom that help students understand what positive conversation looks like. Things like “Make eye contact,” “Nod to let the person know you are listening,” “Ask questions at appropriate times” and “Don’t interrupt” help students remember how to speak and listen properly. The U.S. Department of Education suggests teachers gently reinforce the rules of good speaking and listening throughout the day as students work on their conversation skills.

Let the Games Begin

Using conversation games is a great way to enhance your students’ understanding of talking and listening skills. According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, students who understand the principles of speaking and listening will be able to engage in a range of discussions with diverse partners on grade-level topics and build on each others’ ideas while expressing their own clearly. Practice these skills by having students put their heads down on desks with eyes closed and focus their attention on what they hear around them; they should list those things out loud. Things like water running, birds chirping, clocks ticking, people breathing and others talking outside or in the hallway help train ears to hear more than what is obvious. Another activity is to play a story-writing game in small groups where students go around a circle adding pieces of a story while repeating what the other members of the group have added along the way.

Move for Meaning

Active listening is one of the best ways to ensure students are engaged in quality conversation and learning. The University of Kent recommends teaching students to reflect back and summarize what another person is saying without interrupting to let their conversation partner know they have been paying attention. Taking notes, using affirming gestures like head nodding and smiling, and encouraging the conversation partner to elaborate on what is being said also indicate that a student is involved in active listening.

Teach Telephone Talk

Today’s student spends more time texting and posting messages on social media than they do talking on the phone. Phone conversation is one of the best ways to show students the basics of quality conversation. Greeting the person they are talking to, identifying themselves and why they are calling, getting to what needs to be talked about efficiently and ending a conversation politely are all skills that can be taught with a telephone. The University of Kent suggests teaching students to think through in advance what they are going to say and make notes about important points before speaking on the phone. Have pairs of students go to the front of the classroom and pretend to talk to one another on the phone using the parts of conversation you have discussed as a group. Let the student audience offer critiques and suggestions to make the conversations better.