One effective and nonthreatening way for students to develop stronger listening skills is through interpersonal activities, such as mock interviews and storytelling. Assign the students to small groups of two or three, and then give them a particular listening activity to accomplish. For example, you may have one student interview another for a job with a company or for an article in a newspaper. Even a storytelling activity, such as one that answers the question “What was your favorite movie from last year?” can give students the opportunity to ask one another questions and then to practice active listening skills.
Larger group activities also serve as a helpful method for teaching listening skills to students. You can begin with a simple group activity. For the first part, divide students into groups of five or larger and instruct them to learn one hobby or interest of at least two other group members. Encourage them to ask clarifying questions during the activity, and you may allow them to take notes if helpful. However, as time passes and their skills grow, you should limit students to only writing notes after the completion of the first part of the group activity. For the second part, have the students sit in a large circle, and then have each individual student share the name and the hobby or interest of the group members that she or he met. This second part of the group activity can also lend itself to additional listening exercises. For example, you may ask students to name a number of the hobbies and interests identified during the sharing session.
You can also teach listening skills through audio segments of radio programs, online podcasts, instructional lectures and other audio messages. You should model this interactive listening process in class with your students, and then instruct them to repeat the exercise on their own. First, instruct students to prepare for listening by considering anything that they will want to learn from the content of the audio segment. Once they have written down or shared these ideas, then play the audio segment, allowing the students to take notes if helpful. Once they have gained confidence and experience, repeat this activity but instruct students to not take notes until the completion of the audio segment. You can use shorter or longer audio segments, and you can choose more accessible or more challenging material for this type of exercise.
Another helpful resource for teaching listening skills are video segments, including short sketches, news programs, documentary films, interview segments, and dramatic and comedic material. As with audio segments, select the portion and length of the video segment based on the skill level of your students. With your students, first watch the segment without any sound and discuss it together. Encourage the students to identify what they think will be the content of the segment. Then, watch the segment again, this time with sound, allowing students to take notes if helpful for their skill level after the completion of the video segment, you can have students write a brief summary of the segment, or you can take time to discuss as a group how the segment compares with the students’ expectations.
Whatever method you use for teaching listening, keep a few key instructional tips in mind that will help both you and your students navigate the learning process. One, keep your expectations simple, as even the most experienced listener would be unable to completely and accurately recall the entirety of a message. Two, keep your directions accessible and build in opportunities for students not only to ask clarifying questions, but also to make mistakes. Three, help students navigate their communication anxiety by developing activities appropriate to their skill and confidence level, and then strengthen their confidence by celebrating the ways in which they do improve, no matter how small.