Effective listening skills can help you go far in life. People appreciate it when they know you’re listening to them… so it’s an important “soft skill.” And of course, when you listen, you learn!

For college students, there’s no better time than the present to build and develop their listening skills. In her book Practicing College Learning Strategies, Seventh Edition, Carolyn H. Hopper offers students several practical strategies that can help them to become better listeners. Share these suggestions with your students, and they may see an improvement not only in their skills, but in their grades and relationships!

Ten signs that you’re a distracted listener

As part of the process of becoming a better listener, Hopper recommends that students first pay attention to their own listening behavior. In one of her text’s exercises, she suggests that, the next time they attend a lecture, they should observe which of these “obstacles to listening” are most likely to distract them. They should write down their “top five,” and then note the specific ways that they will work to overcome these behaviors in the future.

1. Talking instead of listening
2. Thinking of what you’re going to say instead of listening
3. Mentally arguing with the speaker
4. Thinking about something else while the speaker is talking
5. Getting impatient with the speaker
6. Giving in to a poor environment—too noisy, too hot, too hungry
7. Dividing your attention—texting, finishing homework, writing a letter,
staring at someone cute
8. Not listening actively—not taking notes, not asking questions, and so on
9. Not being motivated to listen—thinking the subject is boring
10. Being distracted by the speaker’s mannerisms, voice, or appearance 
(Hopper, 130)


Principles that will help every student become a better listener

Next, Hopper offer nine principles that will help students become better listeners in college courses, which we’ve summarized below.

As students review the list of suggestions, Hopper advises them to think through why each of these habits are important, and how they’ll help them develop better listening skills. (Do they need hints? Refer them to our previous post on “How to Focus and Listen Attentively to College Lectures.”)

1. Before you even get to class, be prepared—complete all assigned readings and coursework, and bring all needed materials with you.
2. Sit in a seat as close to the front of the room as you can.
3. Get to class on time—if not early.
4. Establish and maintain eye contact with the speaker throughout the lecture.
5. Listen for verbal cues. (These can be specific words, such as “first,” “then,” “however,” or “my main point is…”—or, they can be found in the speaker’s tone of voice or level of enthusiasm.)
6. Watch the speaker’s gestures and other non-verbal behaviors.
7. Have your notebook and pen or pencil ready at all times.
8. Respond to and reflect on the lecture as it proceeds. As any questions come to mind, jot them down in your notes.
9. Eliminate distractions (such as those mentioned above)… and steer yourself away from them! (Hopper, 131-132)


By putting these practices into place, students will be better equipped to absorb, understand, and respond to the material that you present in your lectures.


Reference: Hopper, Carolyn H. 2016. Practicing College Learning Strategies, 7th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.


How do you help students build effective listening skills? What steps did you yourself take to become a better listener? Share your suggestions in the comments.