Developing Listening Skills for Kids

Developing Listening Skills for Kids

Active listening is the act of intentionally listening to understand and respond. The listener is generally able to:

  • Be engaged and interested in the conversation and may ask questions
  • Restate what the speaker has said
  • Maintain consistent eye contact
  • Use nonverbal communication, like nodding or facial expressions, that demonstrate that they are listening.

Active listening is a subset within the larger listening comprehension skill set. It can be broken down into discriminative listening, precise listening, strategic listening, and critical listening. Learn more about the specifics of active listening here.

Elementary students often struggle to show that they are actively listening, an often-overlooked skill in the classroom. Taking time to teach listening skills for kids explicitly helps them understand the importance of that skill.

How to teach a child active listening skills

One of the best ways to teach active listening skills is to model them. Students do learn many foundational skills by watching others. Teachers can model active listening skills with their students to show what it looks like to be an active listener by making eye contact, participating in meaningful conversations with students, and asking follow-up questions.

On the flip side, a fun classroom activity could be to model what active listening is not. Teachers could act like poor listeners by looking around the room, glancing at their phones, or simply walking out of the classroom. The key to this activity is to make everything dramatized so that it is evident that the teacher is using poor listening skills.

Once teachers have demonstrated what it looks like to be a lousy listener (and hopefully had some fun with it), students could have a classroom discussion about what the teacher did wrong and how it likely impacted the speaker.

Teachers should also utilize the power of positive reinforcement by recognizing when kids use active listening skills. If students see that others are being acknowledged for their stellar active listening skills, they will be more likely to use these skills themselves!

While teaching active listening skills may work in isolated instances, students will benefit more from lessons scattered throughout the curriculum. For the most success, teachers should implement active listening activities across different settings. That way, students can generalize this skill across multiple subjects.

7 Active listening exercises for elementary kids

Storytelling and Prediction

Read to students (or listen to a story) and ask them to write down or discuss predictions in small groups. By completing this activity, students will learn to listen to detail to make accurate predictions. For older students, teachers could take this activity further by asking them to write the ending to the story.

Popcorn Storytelling

This classic game, not to be confused with popcorn reading, encourages both creativity and active listening skills. Either teachers or students can begin the story, and students must go around the room, adding information to the story. Students must actively listen to the story being told by their peers to add relevant information and also must pay enough attention to know when it is their turn to speak.

Students can be shy when supplying their own ideas, so teachers can use a strategy like No Opt-Out that offers students support in providing an answer rather than letting them say “I don’t know.”

Write Down Questions or Use “Exit Tickets”

During a lesson, have students write down questions or comments that came up while listening to the teacher talk. Alternatively, a teacher could use an age- and level-appropriate news broadcast or a related podcast and have students ask questions or create study questions.

Students can either volunteer to share their questions with the group, drop their questions in a box at the end of class, or be asked to have a small-group discussion with other students.

This activity will likely vary depending on the age of the student. While the older elementary students might fill out questions on an exit ticket, younger students may do better by sharing out something they learned, a problem they had, or an interesting fact.

Sample lesson: Ask students to listen to the audio story “Woman Cooks 1,200 Lasagnas for Neighbors“ and respond to the following question as an exit ticket:

  • What are some other interesting ways to help our neighbors or people close to us when times are hard?

This can also be a good way to support empathy and other social and emotional learning (SEL) skills.

Simon Says

Many elementary school teachers use the Simon Says game in their classrooms, but fewer know the real benefit of this game. When playing Simon Says, students must listen carefully to follow the given directions, but they also have to listen for the name “Simon.”

To add some challenge to this game, try using other names that start with “s,” or make rules that students must follow, such as: “Simon says, everyone who is wearing red, jump three times.”

Red Light, Green Light

Red Light, Green Light is yet another classic game that offers practice with active listening skills. To play the game, students must listen to the teacher—or another student—to know when to run and when to freeze. Students line up on one side of a room or outside. If a green light is called, students run as fast as possible to the other side of the room; but they freeze if a red light is called. If students fail to follow the directions, they have to start over.

To add some flair to the classic game, add a yellow light for slow-motion or a purple light for dancing!

Partner Info Relay

Have students pair up and have one person from each pair leave the room. Once only half the class is left, give the remaining students three facts or pieces of information that they must provide to their partners. After inviting the other students back into the classroom, see who remembered the bits of information.

Memory circles

Having students repeat what was said before is a clever way to reinforce active listening.

Have students sit in a circle, either as a whole class or split into two circles, depending on the class size. The traditional way to play the game is something along the lines of “We’re going on a picnic, and so we brought….”

The first student would say a food that begins with the letter “A” (apple, for instance). The following student would repeat and add a food that starts with the letter “B” (e.g., bread), and so on.

The third child would say, “We’re going on a picnic, and we brought an apple, bread, and a car full of ants.”

The game can be modified to be items they saw in a picture book the class read, or the alphabet requirement could be removed to support fewer items or a more restricted topic.

Active listening as a tool for student success

Students who can successfully use active listening skills can experience several benefits. Not only do students exhibit better comprehension, but they can become better problem-solvers and overall communicators. Other benefits may include:

  • Increased ability to complete assignments
  • Better understanding of curricular material
  • Increased autonomy
  • Better social relationships
  • Increased resourcefulness
  • Better collaborative skills

Making a place to teach active listening skills for kids in the classroom explicitly encourages students to see the importance of listening - not only to their teachers but to their peers, as well.

Explore other teaching activities for teaching listening comprehension skills for middle and high schoolers. And find more research-based instructional strategies in Monica Brady-Myerov’s book, Listen Wise: Teach Students to be Better Listeners.