How to Encourage Active Listening in the Classroom

Active Listening on topfloorteachers.com

We all have standards to address in the classroom, and we admit that it can be overwhelming reaching all of these in 180 days (even less if you are in a testing grade!). That being said, it is nearly impossible to reach these standards without first focusing on some soft skills. One of the most important of these is active listening. Children are not inherently good at listening to each other. This is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced in order for students to truly master it.

When Joe was a teenager, he was a camp counselor. One of the lessons that sticks out the most from the transformative week of counselor training is the concept of SOLER for active listening. This is an acronym for a technique created by author and professional management consultant Gerald Egan. With all the teacher acronyms out there crowding our brains, this is one that is still easily accessed, perhaps due to its simplicity and practicality. Each letter conveys a component of appropriate body language of an active listener.

  • S (Square) - An active listener sits squarely, facing the person speaking, showing an interest in what is being said.
  • O (Open) - Keeping one's body open also shows the speaker that you are ready to receive any information being stated. This means arms and legs are not crossed.
  • L (Lean In) - A slight lean toward the speaker shows that you are involved in the conversation.
  • E (Eye Contact) - One of the most difficult parts of active listening for children AND adults is maintaining eye contact. This not only reassures the speaker that you are interested in what they are saying, but it also helps the listener truly hear and remember what was said.
  • R (Relaxed) - Keeping a relaxed body posture as opposed to sitting or standing stiffly or fidgeting shows the speaker that you are focused.
Active Listening Strategy by Top Floor Teachers
During the first few weeks of school, we go over this acronym daily and remind our students what it means to be an active listener. The most important thing is to model, model, MODEL! We are constantly aware of our own body language when listening to students speak. We show examples of what active listening SHOULD look like. We ask students to role play active listening. One great way to do this is the "Fishbowl Strategy." In this activity, we have two students sit in chairs in the center of the room. The rest of the class forms a circle around them. The pair of students is given a topic to talk about. One student is the speaker, and the other is the active listener. While the students have their conversation, the rest of the class is silently observing the listener. After the conversation ends, we hold a class discussion noting what the listener did well, as well as any possible areas for improvement. The instant, honest feedback helps students quickly improve their listening skills.

As with anything in the classroom, maintaining the body language of an active listener takes work. However, using this simple acronym from Joe's teenage years has made a huge impact in our classroom. Feel free to download our completely FREE poster outlining the SOLER method to hang in your classroom. We would love to hear how you reinforce active listening with your students. We are always on the lookout for more strategies!
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4 Things You Should Be Doing to Make Routines and Procedures Successful in the Classroom


Back to School Routines and Procedures


The first days of school are a time of excitement and nervousness as both the teacher and students get to know one another.  In our opinion, the most important thing to do right away, besides building a classroom community, is to teach routines and procedures. We all have routines.  Think about what you have to do each morning when you wake up.  You probably have a certain way you do things.  You've been doing it so long, that if something changes it would probably throw you off.  The classroom can be like this too.  We must spend the necessary time teaching classroom routines and procedures so that our students start to do it naturally.  We have found that if you remember 4 important steps, you and your students will have a high success rate with making these routines successful in your classroom. 

The first step is REASONING.  Although this sounds like a no brainer, we often know how we want things done in the class so we just tell the kids this is how it's done.  Taking the extra step to explain it will really help students buy in to why they should do it a certain way.  For example, when talking about lining up tell students why you want them lined up a certain way.  Is it for safety reasons? Is it so you can be more efficient getting to one place to another without wasting any school minutes? The more we tell students WHY we want it done a certain way, they will do it without questioning you.  Allow students to also be part of the conversation why it should be done that way.  Don't just spend the first days lecturing students on what to do.  They will be thankful that they are part of the process. 

Next is SHOW THEM HOW.  Get students to demonstrate how you want it done and join in! It's always fun when they see their teacher modeling how to do it the correct and incorrect way.  They see that you can be silly too.  Students also like to model how to do it incorrectly.  Be sure to follow that up with many examples of the correct way so they have a good understanding of that routine or procedure. 

The third step is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.  Students will not be perfect the first day, week, or maybe even month! Give them lots of opportunities to practice and show you how to do a certain procedure.  We have to remember that some kids (the older ones) have been through many classrooms with different routines.  They've trained with that teacher all year and now they have to relearn new routines.  If you feel a routine needs more time, give it more time.  Let your class guide you in how much time you need to practice.

The last step is REFRESH.  This step often gets forgotten.  It isn't forgotten because the teacher doesn't care about it anymore.  It is forgotten because it may happen later in the year when we assume students know what is expected.  You might start noticing the same student forgets the same procedure each week.  Take that as a sign that you need to go back and refresh the procedure for everyone.  Try not to call out that student and make them feel embarrassed. Go back to reasoning and repeat the steps.  It might sound redundant, but some students just need to be retaught how to do a certain procedure.  In addition to refreshing students' memories, make sure you stay patient.  It's easy to lose our cool because we've been sounding like a broken record, but a quick refresh can help make the year run smoothly.

Procedure and Routines with Top Floor Teachers

In our classrooms, we always start the year by playing a little game with procedures.  We call it, "Going on a Picnic".  Essentially, each student has a card faced down on their desk.  On each of these cards, we have listed a different procedure.  We tell the students not to look at their card.  We tell them they are going on an imaginary picnic.  In order to attend they must bring a very specific item.  It's a secret as to what item is correct for them to bring, but they need to choose an item with the same letter as their first name.  For example, Sally can bring sandwiches or any "s" letter item.  As volunteers start choosing the right item, you tell them to flip their card over.  The card may say "bathroom".  This is when you will start talking about your restroom procedures.  After you teach this, another student can volunteer to join the "picnic".  Eventually, students start to figure it out.  Some might not, but encourage a growth mindset before giving them some very helpful hints so they can get it as well.  It's an easy game, but the kids always love it!

You can easily write them on index cards and save them all year or if you want a cute template with picnic backgrounds, we have already made them! You can check it out in our TeachersPayTeachers store.  We include a reflection and some editable templates to save you time!

Editable Back to School Procedure Cards

We want to hear from you! How long do you spend teaching routines and procedures? No matter what year of teaching you are in, we are all in the same boat during those first few days.  


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