“What was that?”
“Can you repeat that one more time?”
“I wasn’t listening; can you say that again?”
Teachers frequently hear these types of responses, from all different types of students, during all types of classes. Students that do not pay attention, and do not listen closely during instruction, do not retain information. Teachers find themselves repeating things over, and over, and over again. And as frustrating as this can be for the teacher, it might be just as frustrating for students. Do students know how to listen? I mean REALLY listen? Have they been introduced to listening skills? Do they know what they are supposed to listen to, or for? Do they know the purpose behind why they are being asked to listen?
What is Close Listening?
Close listening requires students to actively listen to information that is being provided by a speaker. It can be live, or a recording (video or audio) of a speaker that is relaying information, an opinion, or entertainment for a purpose. Listening skills are helpful to engage students in the environment that surrounds them, to better understand a concept or what is expected of them to correctly complete a task. Teachers should select appropriately chosen examples that fit the subject matter. It may be influential and persuasive, such as a speech given by a president or civil rights leader; figurative and beautiful, like an excerpt from a play, poem, or novel; or informative and logical, perhaps a documentary by a scientist or astronaut. Just to name a few. Sometimes close listening is a skill included in watching a production or excerpt of a work. Close listening skills can be adapted to accommodate many different types of classroom activities, and sometimes the impact of immersing visual and listening skills into one activity can better reach students with different learning styles.
Why Teach Close Listening?
Good listening skills help people of all ages gain the knowledge necessary to be good students, employees, and employers, as well as expand on the quality of our personal relationships. In the educational, professional, and personal world learning close listening skills can further our understanding and knowledge on a topic, expand our use of logic and persuasion, and prove our worth as a contributing member of society.
The Common Core State Standards say that focusing only on foundational reading skills is not enough. Literary and listening skills must be practiced at all grade levels. “If literacy levels are to improve, the aims of the English language arts classroom, especially in the earliest grades, must include oral language in a purposeful, systematic way, in part because it helps students master the printed word.” (CCSS Appendix A, p26). For this reason, Read Aloud texts play an important role in the elementary Common Core, especially in grades K-2. As students in these early years of school cannot read yet, they can track read along with the teacher as well as formulate their listening skills during instruction and listening activities.
The Common Core State Standards testing includes audio passages and presentations for most grades. Students will be asked to listen and extract the necessary information needed to answer questions related to what they heard. See an example of a Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium 4th grade sample question below.
In an article published by the National Education Association, it was noted that good versus poor listening skills can have a major effect in the classroom. The article also defines the traits of a “good” versus “poor” listener and how to better refine listening skills.
Close listening skills are helpful for students of all grade levels. Watch this video for an example of a very creative teacher using hand gestures and specific language to incorporate close listening strategies in her classroom. Close listening strategies can be modified for all types of classrooms.
Tips for Teaching Close Listening Skills
- Background – Provide students with an introduction and any necessary prior knowledge about what they are going to be listening to. Close Listening sometimes varies from Close Reading in this aspect; close reading activities might not provide students with background information for the first read-through of a selected text. Sometimes close listening activities require some historical context or background knowledge about the selected listening activity.
- Focus – Encourage students to focus on who is doing the speaking (visual/audio recordings, or live speakers).
- Vocabulary – Have students listen for clue words or important vocabulary about central ideas or the rephrasing of ideas during the listening activity (e.g., the central idea is…, in other words…, as said before…, etc.)
- Share – After listening, have students share ideas and paraphrase what was said by the speaker with a partner. Sharing ideas can provide more insight and better understanding for students, as they might have different understandings of what they heard.
- Repeat – When necessary, have students listen multiple times to any important quotes, statements, or sections of a close listening activity. Close listening skills will improve with each close listening opportunity. More exposure offers students the chance to hear something different each time they listen.