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Teaching Strategies to Get Students Listening

Janelle Cox

The worst thing that can happen to a teacher is for a colleague, a parent, or even the principal to walk into the classroom and the students are out of control. You give your students a direction and you see most of them complying, while the other third of the classroom is causally going about their business as if you haven’t even said a word. The students have become so reliant on you repeating yourself, that it’s as if it has become part of your daily structure. So, how do we use teaching strategies help our students become better listeners so we don’t lose our voices from repeating ourselves every day? Here are a five simple teaching strategies to encourage active listening in your classroom.

Strategy #1: Create Simple Teaching Strategies, Commands

Instead of asking students to open to page 54 in their science books, start off by creating a series of simple commands that get kids up and moving. For example, you can start by saying “Please stand up”; once everyone is standing, you can go to your next command. “Touch your head”: Once everyone is touching their head, you can say “Sit in your seats,” then you can instruct students to “Open your science books to page 54.” You will find that by giving students these simple commands (especially elementary students), you have captured their attention. Once you have their attention, it’s easy to get them to do what you want.

Quick Tips:

  • It’s important that you give one direction at a time and pause in between each direction to give students time to complete the previous direction.
  • Do not model each direction, just use a normal toned voice command.
  • Do not repeat yourself, the whole purpose of this strategy is so you don’t have to repeat yourself. Students will catch on fairly quickly when they see their peers complying with your commands.

Strategy #2: Apply the Motto, “I Only Say it Once”

When you repeat yourself over and over again, students become accustomed to it. This then produces lazy listeners who will tune you out until they feel the need to listen. Start the school year off by telling students that you only say things once, and that if they don’t hear the directions the first time then they are out of luck or have to ask a friend. You will find that students who tend to tune people out will quickly realize that they must listen closely the first time, if they want to be able to know that to do next.

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Strategy #3: Use Hand Signals

Hand signals are a great non-verbal way to get students to listen to you. This tool will help sharpen any child’s listening skills, and it’s a great outlet for your shy students who don’t like to use their voice too often. There are two ways that hand signals can work. The first way is for you, the teacher, to create a hand signal such as holding up two fingers when you need everyone’s attention. Once you hold up your two fingers, you wait patiently for your students to follow and hold up their two fingers until everyone is quiet and ready to listen. The second way is to have your students hold up one or two fingers when they want to speak. For instance, you can instruct students that after they hear you read a passage, they can put up one finger up if they agree with the passage, or two fingers up if they disagree with the passage. This strategy is a great way to get students to participate, as well as get them to listen quietly by using hand signals to communicate.

Strategy #4: Be a Role Model

It’s not only important for students to listen to you, it’s equally important for them to see what good listening looks like. Be a role model and actively listen when your students are talking. Too often people tend to formulate what they want to say while they are trying to listen to what others are actually saying. Teach your students to actively listen by showing them how to. Once a student has spoken, reiterate what they have said so they know that you were listening. This is a common strategy that most counselors suggest to enhance listening skills. Students can practice this strategy by pairing up with another student and take turns restating what the other has said.

Strategy #5: Hold Students Accountable

If you want your students to really listen to what you have to say, then you have to hold them accountable. You can do this by giving them a reason to listen to you. Instead of giving them a comprehensive outline of everything that will be on their test, give them a simple outline where they will have to listen to you in order to know what will be on their test. By having them fill in the gaps on the outline, you are making them be accountable for themselves and what they need to know.

Getting and keeping the attention of students these days is not easy, thanks to all of the new technology and the media that there is today. Use the above tactics to help you learn the shortest route to getting your students to actively listen to you.

What are some ways you encourage active listening in your classroom? Please share your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear what you have to say.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, as well as a contributing writer to and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators

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