We know that effective listening goes beyond merely hearing what another person is saying; it requires one to understand and absorb what’s been said or presented. Thus, effective listening is a skill that, once learned and mastered, can pay dividends not only within one’s educational career, but in personal and professional settings as well.

As an instructor, you can play a key role in helping learners master the art of listening effectively. These simple activities, adapted from suggestions in Marilla D. Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie’s McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, can be worked into just about any class session, and will strengthen students’ ability to listen well.

  • Begin your class session with a quick writing exercise that prepares students to tune in to the topic at hand. Ask students to write down what they hope or expect to learn in that day’s class, or invite them to reflect on what they considered to be the key points of their course readings. Inform them that if they learn to ask themselves these types of questions prior to a course session or after a reading assignment, they’ll be better prepared to stay focused and mentally engage with what’s being presented.
  • During your lecture, instruct your students to stop taking notes for a few minutes as you address a particular concept. Then, tell them to write a brief summary of what they’ve just heard. If you have the time and opportunity, invite them to discuss their summaries with a nearby classmate. In order to summarize well, they’ll need to be especially focused; and the act of summarizing and discussing also works to reinforce what they’ve learned from the material you just covered.
  • For the last five or so minutes of class, have your students summarize the key points of that day’s lecture… for a classmate. The act of listening and summarizing on someone else’s behalf may cause them to pay closer attention.

After trying any of these “listening prompts,” ask your students if the activity caused them to listen in a different way, or if the act of taking these extra steps shaped what they got out of the class. Then, let them know that these strategies can be applied to any lecture course they attend (p. 69).

By demonstrating the importance of effective listening skills in your course, you’ll be preparing your students for more effective learning down the road.

Reference: McKeachie, Wilbert J. and Svinicki, Marilla. 2014.  McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, Fourteenth Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Have any suggestions for helping students hone their listening skills? Share them with us in the comments section below.