Do you have to repeat yourself constantly because your students just don’t know how to listen? Maybe it’s not them. Are your directions are unclear? Do you have their attention? Maybe your instructions were unclear. Nobody likes a yelly teacher. So here is how you can fix your directions and improve their listening skills at the same time.
It’s time to change your strategy.
Teachers love to talk. (So do ninjas-it’s amazing we get anything done.) Instead, try silence. Wait for them to be quiet, with an evil eye of course. If they interrupt, stop and wait. It may take a few tries, but they will get the hang of it.
This includes that pause time for students when they are answering questions. Let them have quiet to process think and answer. Wait time is really challenging for teachers. Maybe it’s because we always feel like we have so much to do that there isn’t time to wait, but it’s important and your students will get used to you waiting patiently for responses.
Now, you might get those little voices than shush the rest of the class or say, “She’s waiting.” Don’t respond to those students with more talking (for now). Once the entire room is silent tell the class you appreciate that some of the classmates were trying to encourage silence, but in the future let’s try a quiet hand signal. Create this hand signal with your class and practice using it. We just use a finger to the lips without any shushing.
Model Listening Skills
Show students the body language that comes with good listening skills. Teach them to face the speaker and wait to speak or ask questions until after the speaking has finished talking. Model it when they speak to you. Praise students who demonstrate listening body language.
We make an anchor chart with our students to talk about what listening looks like, sounds like and feels like. We even teach students how to ask listening questions (to get deeper into listening). Listening questions clarify, they do not ask a person to repeat what was said (because that should already be answered if they were listening).
Most important, be a good listener when students are talking to you! Our students copy us, so don’t half-listen to them. If it’s not the right time, encourage them to schedule a time that you can give them your undivided attention. We schedule appointments over recess breaks or before and after school.
We like to play a game early in the school year to show our students how to listen. You can get a free copy of the Would You Rather Cards when you sign up for our mailing list. We use these cards to start conversations and then model how to be a good listener. If you’re already a ninja, you can find a copy in our Resource Library.
Remember, students are like mirrors. They will do as you do so be sure to show them the right way as often as possible.
Keep it Short and Specific
Sometimes it’s miscommunication, not poor listening skills. This happens to us when we move a little too quickly through something or it’s something we’ve done before but forget that our students haven’t.
Have students repeat back to you what they are to do. You might need to do this a few ways. Have them point to the places to get supplies or hand things in. Use fingers to demonstrate the steps by kind of acting out the workflow.
Give students visual cues when possible. This can be as simple as writing the steps on the board or making an anchor chart if it’s a workflow that will happen on a regular basis. Allow students to use a smaller version of this as a checklist at their workspace.
Keep the number of steps down to no more than their grade level at a time. So, if you’re teaching Grade Two, they can handle two steps independently before they’ll need to ask for your help again. If you’re teaching Grade Five they can handle about five steps.
Appoint a Leader or Liaison
To be honest, this one is our favourite and our students love it, too.
Give your students their instructions for any task that you would normally be doing anyway. After you’ve given the instructions, review with your class just as you normally would to make sure everyone understands.
Appoint one student to be the classroom leader or classroom liaison. This person will answer the other students’ questions about what to do. All questions must go through the leader or liaison and if that student isn’t sure how to answer, they may come to you for assistance. Don’t worry, the novelty will wear off (you’ll have lots of questions for the leader on those first few days).
Once things settle, students who work as your liaison will gain a new appreciation for your job. Most of all, you won’t have to repeat yourself anymore and can use that time to work with students on actual work.
Make this role even more special by creating a lanyard or crown of some sort that your student leaders will wear. This is just one of our strategies that we use to have students “run” the classroom.” You can read more about Creating a Sense of Agency in our blog post.
Teach a Valuable Listening Skills Lesson
Now, this one is a little more daring because it means slightly pranking your students, but you’re pranking them for a good reason and a valuable lesson. No one will get hurt, but you will make your point very effectively. (If your students love harmless pranks, read this post.)
This can only be used ONCE during a school year because you’ve done it, you can refer to it, but you can’t repeat it.
Choose an activity like a short quiz or worksheet. This needs to be something you can make extra copies of. We recommend something that is one-sided so you can reuse the paper.
Start the activity as usual and when you start to get all those repeated “how do I…?” questions stop the lesson, sit down facing your class and start talking to them as though you’re going to have a serious heart-to-heart conversation.
Express your frustration about them not listening. Be genuine and speak from your heart, but express it in a way that you feel like a failure as a teacher and you want to help them but you just don’t know how.
Ask them how many times they need you (the teacher) to ask them to do something. Let’s say it’s “three” for this hypothetical situation. Agree to this and repeat yourself three times so make sure they know how to do the page. Let them finish the page and hand it in.
Tell your students it’s time for the next activity and hand out THE EXACT SAME PAGE. So, when they finish the activity the first time, you’re going to start it all over again.
They’ll try to correct you and tell you they’ve already done the page and you’ll agree with them. Then you’ll point out that they need you to do everything three times, so you’ll expect them to do everything three times as well.
Now of course they’ll have a reaction, but then you can talk about how using class time efficiently is important to get through all the learning and to enjoy it with fun things in between all the hard work, but in order for that to happen they need to do their best to listen the first time, clarify and then get to work.
If you approach this “prank” with genuine care and compassion it can be very effective. If your students start slipping back into old patterns, you can just remind them they don’t have time to do everything three times.
Create a Relationship
Students who respect their teacher will do a better job of trying to listen in class. This can only happen when a teacher and student have a relationship. This means getting to know them and letting them know you as a person. You can find ways to do this in these posts: Getting to Know Your Students and How to Build Relationships With Students.
We use these appointment cards to schedule time with students. This way they have our undivided attention. You can find them in our Resource Library or we can send them to you when you join our email list.
Is it listening skills or a hearing problem?
It is worth mentioning, that sometimes a listening problem is actually a hearing problem. This is not the fault of your student. Reduce background noises when possible. This means if you know you have students with hearing issues, things like background music can make hearing more challenging.
Using an FM system or microphone can help all students hear you better. This is especially effective in saving your voice, but providing clear sound for all students-especially those with hearing problems.
Follow up with students who are hearing impaired or are having trouble processing what they hear. This can sometimes be solved with a doctor’s appointment and hearing check. Sometimes adjusting your seating plan can be enough. You’ll have to adjust your expectations for each student and their individual circumstances. Ask hearing impaired students where they hear best in the classroom. Do not make assumptions.
And on a personal note, don’t assume that someone with a hearing impairment doesn’t want to hear you. That is like assuming a blind person doesn’t want to see you.
Have you ever tried teaching explicit listening skills? Sometimes students haven’t been taught what listening looks like in different situations. We expect students to know how to listen, but it is important to actually teach this skill. We teach listening skills in our Life-Long Learning Unit and have found since completing the lessons, we have to do less reminding to listen carefully.
A listening story…
We were working in small groups to practice our listening skills. One groups consisted four girls and a boy. We noticed the boy wasn’t speaking often and despite appearing to have lots to say, he let each of the girls have their turn before he took his own. We asked him about this after the lesson and his response was, “My dad told me that it’s always best to let the women finish talking.”
~From a Boy Age 9
Don’t underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. When you’re students do a good job of listening, praise them. It doesn’t need to be anything more than a pat on the back or a thank you for listening so effectively, but it will help build confidence in your learners and make your relationship with students stronger.
Getting your students to listen is part of an overall classroom management plan. If you’re finding your students don’t listen, chances are there are other aspects of your classroom management that could be tweaked. If you’re looking for more ideas, you should check out this post about classroom management.
Do you have any other tried and true ways to get them listening? Are you frustrated because they just don’t listen to you? Let us know your struggles and success in the comments section below. We want to hear from you.