Listening skills are vital to school and career success, and yet most people receive very little instruction in the subject. Michael Opitz, professor of reading at the University of Northern Colorado, and Matthew Zbaracki, Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at Rhode Island College, make a very good case for including listening exercises in the routine curriculum for all ages. Many children receive as much as half of their educational programming through listening but have little instruction on how to listen effectively. Exercises in five categories can help rectify this situation.
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The first strategy to develop listening skills is to pay attention. Focusing attention on the words is vital to comprehension and recall. Exercises and practice can help learners improve this skill. Before starting, declare a "secret word" that will be mentioned in the listening text and have learners respond when they hear it. Audience participation stories are also fun for students of all ages. These stories set up specific words as cues for the audience to shout, move or respond to when the words are heard. The cue words are sprinkled throughout the story, eliciting audience responses every few sentences.
Good listening also relies on distinguishing between words, particularly similar-sounding words. Listeners may have particular difficulties with hearing differences at the ends of words. An exercise to help with this skill is called "Stranger in the House." The leader says a list of four to ten words that all end with the same sound or the same syllable and includes one word that ends differently. For example, the list might include "sat," "bet," "hit," "car," "jet," "dot." When players identify the word that does not belong to the group, they shout it out. In this example, it would be "car."
Listening also involves memory skills. In order to be a good listener, a person must be able to recall the details of what was said. Play auditory memory games to build this skill, such as "I'm going on vacation and I'm going to take..." Each player repeats the list and adds a new item. Auditory memory can also be honed by teaching students to use mnemonics. Names of classmates can be more easily recalled if each person pairs his or her name with a food beginning with the same letter during introductions.
Promoting Active Involvement
Listeners are more effective when they are actively engaged in what is being said. Simply repeating a set of random numbers is a difficult listening task, but students repeating the same set of random numbers to earn points for their team will generally be more successful. Likewise, learners are generally involved if they perceive direct benefit to listening. Play games that rely on listening skills, such as Simon Says for younger children.
Listening skills will also improve when students mentally interact with the information heard. Help students activate previous learning by discussing known information before introducing new ideas. Give students a purpose to listen, such as discovering the answer to a specific question or writing down three facts about the topic. Listeners also benefit from making predictions and summarizing the information presented to them. These activities force the learner to take the information and manipulate it mentally, making later recall more effective. Listeners benefit from interacting with the auditory input.