You may think you’re giving your students your full attention. And your students may think they’re giving the same to you. But there’s a solid chance that distractions are keeping everyone from actively listening. If you’re not familiar with the term, active listening involves giving your full attention to the speaker—and listening to understand instead of to answer.
Some of the benefits of active listening for students include improved concentration and focus, better understanding of what’s being presented and improved productivity. Teachers can see improved in-class discussions and more learning opportunities.
Whether you’re presenting a lesson, holding a class discussion or participating in a one-on-one talk, we have active listening tips that will help you (and your students) get the most out of any conversation.
Use affirmative body language
You might be active and engaged mentally, but if you forget to show it in your face, the speaker may not feel they’re being heard. Show you’re tuned in by facing the speaker, making eye contact, nodding in affirmation and leaning toward the speaker.
Have students practice—or practice yourself—by posing a question to someone on any topic and letting them talk for a full minute while the listener is only allowed to communicate using body language. A digital timer or simple sand timer can be a great training giveaway to make sure every speaker gets their full minute.
Rely on silence
In a world of vibrating phones, pinging computers and other near-constant distractions, silence can feel awkward. Yet being silent for a few seconds, instead of jumping in to fill space, can give the speaker more time to gather their thoughts and ensure they don’t have more to say.
Paraphrase and clarify
Instead of immediately offering an answer or a rebuttal, make sure you truly understand what the other person just stated by paraphrasing. You can help confirm by using the following statements:
- “What I hear you saying is …”
- “When you say this, do you mean that?”
Have everyone put an adhesive note on their desk, folder or other space to help them remember these statements.
Sometimes students will voice something that feels unfair or difficult. Although you may disagree with what they’re saying, it’s important that you validate their feelings and put yourself in their shoes. Phrases to validate what they’re saying include:
- “That’s very difficult.”
- “I can see why you feel that way.”
- “I’ve experienced that as well.”
- “I appreciate you sharing this with me.”
Avoid judgement and delay advice
When you’re in the middle of a conversation—especially if you’re wanting to voice concerns or share wisdom—having an emotional reaction is normal. But it can also derail the discussion at hand.
A happy face stress reliever or fun pen can be a good reminder to not let emotions drive the conversation and remember to ask whether someone wants advice before offering it.
Hear and be heard
When the classroom uses active listening, better learning and improved interpersonal relationships happen—for both students and teachers. With the help of these tips, better communication will soon be on the horizon.