Active listening, which includes eye contact, appropriate body position and language, and the acts of asking questions, summarizing, and not interrupting, is an essential skill for making new friends, understanding information, and communicating effectively.
Whether students are building relationships with friends or learning a new concept from teachers, they must engage in good listening in order to be successful. In fact, the benefits of active listening extend beyond the classroom, and is a quality many employers seek when interviewing candidates.
These fun and simple active listening exercises invite students to consider the actions and impact of focusing on what is being said and sharing feelings about being truly heard.
Recommended Grade Level: Elementary, Middle, and High
SEL Skill(s): Communication
Duration: 30 minutes
- Chart Paper and Marker
- Active Listening Exercises: Partner Cards for Elementary, Middle, or High
Instructions for Active Listen Exercises
Gather students in a common meeting area and select one student to come forward.
- Ask the student to tell you what their favorite meal is. As they speak, maintain active listening behaviors including body language and acknowledgement (“Mmhmm” or nodding).
- When the student stops speaking, restate what they said (“I heard you say your favorite meal includes…”) and then ask a follow-up question (“I wonder what you would have to drink with that,” or “What kind of sauce goes on top of that?”, etc.).
- Allow the student to answer your question, then restate the details (“First you told me your favorite meal is a hamburger and fries, then you also said you like it with a lemonade and ketchup, is that right?”).
- After the student clarifies, ask the group whether they thought you were being a good listener and how they could tell.
Optional: Make a chart of good listening behaviors including eyes on speaker, body facing speaker, not interrupting, asking to understand more, etc.
Next tell the group you will show what it looks like when someone is not being a good listener.
- Ask the same student again to describe their favorite dinner, this time turning away, showing poor body language and poor eye contact, and interrupting the student mid-sentence.
- When the student is finished, ask whether it felt better the first time or the second time they shared their favorite meal details with you.
- Have the group describe the differences in your listening behavior.
Tell students that when we listen with our ears, eyes and bodies it’s called active listening.
Connect with Bodies
A simple kinesthetic exercise can be added to let students practice the rhythmic pattern of active listening.
- State: Active listeners listen to what is being said, retell what they first heard, ask questions to learn more, and retell new understandings.
- Write Listen, Retell, Ask, Retell on the board, noticing that it’s a pattern.
- Have students repeat the phrase after you.
- Say the phrase again, clapping your hands once with each word. Have students repeat your actions.
- Continue the process with stomping each word, jumping each word, and squatting each word, with students echoing your actions.
- Split students into pairs* giving one partner an A card and the other a B card.
- Remind the group how you listened when the student described their favorite meal.
- Set a 2 minute timer and allow the A partner to ask the B partner the question on their card. The A partner should practice the active listening process of listen, retell, ask, retell.
- After the 2 minutes, have partners switch roles, allowing the B partner to ask and listen as the A partner speaks.
- Call on students to restate what they learned about their partner and to share what it feels like to be truly heard.
*If you have an odd number of students, you can play along, too!
Options For Older Students:
You may wish to begin by asking students already familiar with active listening to describe what it looks like. Have a conversation about why active listening behaviors matter for communication and relationships. Ask students to share their career goals and how the role they think active listening will play in being a good employee. Explore the idea of RASA listening and recognize the importance of each step of the acronym. Practice active listening with the prompts from the cards.