The Value of Close Listening

    “If speaking is silver,

    then listening is gold.”

                   — Turkish saying

    This quote is important to me because now in our culture SPEAKING seems to be gold and listening is pretty much non-existence.  Everyone is racing to be heard – to get their point across – to be in the limelight.  Very few people slow down enough to listen. This is also true of me.  I often find myself thinking about what I’m going to say next instead of really listening to the other person. For the last few years, I have been intent on slowing down and creating opportunities to teach students how to pay close attention and actively listen.

    This past October at the Rutgers Literacy Center’s Conference on Reading and Writing, I presented a workshop for teachers to help students develop close listening skills. I thought I would share some of the ideas I presented because it is such an important subject and integral to learning in all content areas.

    First, let’s start with the question – Why do we listen?  We listen to obtain information, to understand, to learn, and for enjoyment. The five key components of listening are: paying attention, discriminating sounds, building memory, processing information (understanding what is being said), and promoting active involvement (responding to what is heard).

    Depending on the study being quoted, people remember only 25%to 50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, students or spouse for 10 minutes, they pay attention to LESS THAN HALF of the conversation! On the other hand, this means YOU are not fully listening when getting directions or being presented with information either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25-50%, but what if they’re not?

    Over the years, the teachers and I noticed that students needed instructions repeated several times because they were not fully attending to the teachers’ instructions. Also, we observed that students would raise their hands without listening to the question that was being asked. Students raised their hands while another person was speaking and concentrated on what they wanted to say, not what the speaker was saying. In addition, as a whole, the girls’ CPT IV scores in Auditory Comprehension were generally lower than the Reading Comprehension scores, which measure the same skills. Given these observations, the teachers began to consistently institute active listening skills and I created a listening curriculum in 2nd grade which consists of three types of activities: listen and draw, listen to poetry, and listen to stories. For listen and draw activities, the girls listen to a set of directions twice and then draw what they heard from memory. Once they have become familiar with this type of listening, the teacher reads a poem aloud and asks the students to visualize what they have heard. Then the students respond to questions about the poem as a group. After listening to many poems, the teacher then read aloud a picture book stopping regularly to ask questions and student responding in writing, a method we call “stop and jot.” These listening activities promote active listening and help students practice important comprehension skills.

    Active Listening Skills

     Ears are ready to listen.

    1. Eyes are on the speaker
    2. Mouth is quiet.
    3. Hands are quiet and raised when you want to speak.
    4. Your mind is on what is being said.

    Close Listening Resources

     Articles & Books for Adults:

    “ Active Listening: Hear What People are Really Saying”


    “Exercise to Teach Listening Skills” by Sandy Fleming (

    “Say What? Five Ways to Get Students to Listen” by Rebecca Alber (

    Teaching Children to Listen by Liz Spooner


    Books To Read With Children:

    Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen by Howard Binknow

    Lacey Walker, Nonstop Talker by Christianne C. Jones

     Listen, Buddy by Helen Lester

    Listen And Learn by Cheri J. Meiners

    My Mouth is a Volcano by Julia Cook

    The Listening Walk by Paul Showers

    Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern

    Why Should I Listen? by Claire Llewellyn

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