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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