What Does Listening Look Like?

What does listening look like?

This blog post is part of an ASCD partnership with Wonder Media. To see all blog posts from Wonder Media on the 16 Habits of Mind, you can click here. 

Now that we are deep into the swing of the new school year, we can rest assured that our rules have been set and routines have been established. We are now ready to teach all of the important things we need to teach, with confidence that every child in our classroom will listen attentively! …Right? Well, in a perfect world, maybe. Perhaps there is more work that needs to be done.

While the beginning of the year is an essential time to convey expectations to our students, the questions that beg to be asked are:

“What does really good listening look like?” and “Can children be taught to be mindful listeners?”

Creating a culture of thinking and learning in my classroom is what I strive for each year. One way this culture develops is through carefully planned lessons, activities and discussions centered around “The Habits of Mind”. The Habits of Mind are a series of 16 habits that promote healthy life skills. They were developed by two amazing leaders in education, Bena Kallick and Art Costa.

Each year, I begin with the habit:

“Listening with Understanding and Empathy”

I begin by using a thinking routine from Ron Ritchhart’s classroom changing book…Making Thinking Visible, called “I used to think-now I think”. I introduce the word “empathy” and the students use post-it notes to guess what the word means. Then we get to work learning about empathy using books, videos, examples, and role-playing. I love to show this Sesame Street video as an example.

The students then use another post-it note to record their newfound knowledge of empathy in words and pictures. We have many follow-up discussions around empathy and its meaning. Two of my favorite books to share with my students regarding this topic are Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy and Stand in My Shoes by Bob Sornson.

What DOES listening look like?

In addition to teaching my students about empathy, I also do A LOT of role-playing to emphasize exactly what listening looks like. I show examples (still hands, still feet, still body, voices off, eye contact) and non-examples (playing with my hair, whistling, tying my shoes, singing, pretending to talk on the phone, etc.) so that children can make connections and have a visual reference to answer this very important, essential question. When I feel comfortable with their level of understanding, we move on to one of my all-time FAVORITE activities:

Tell Me, Tell Me, Tell Me!

The students’ task is to interview their partner and find out three things their partner did that summer- only three. They need to show me (and their partner) what listening looks like during this “Think-Pair-Share” routine. They must be able to repeat back to their partner the exact three things that were shared. As I remind them that eye-contact, still bodies and quiet voices are all qualities that make up what a good listener looks like, they begin their interviews.

Then, each group must introduce their partner to the class,”This is my partner, Benjamin. This summer, Ben visited New Hampshire, went to camp, and celebrated his birthday.” I ask partner pairs whether or not they feel like they were listened to and we share feedback. As a follow-up activity, the students are then asked to put the interviews in writing.

“What does listening look like?” has become a through-line in my classroom that remains on display for the entire year. I refer to it often and review exactly what it looks like to be a “mindful listener”.  I review this, and the other habits of mind, often throughout the year. I recently discovered an amazing resource called WonderGroveLearn. It is a wonderful website that includes all 16 Habits of Mind as Instructional Animations. They have a beautifully animated story that models what “Listening with Understanding and Empathy” looks like. The website includes 230 lessons that reinforce not only the Habits of Mind, but many skills necessary for school readiness, learning, and life!

Teaching children how to listen is not only crucial at the beginning of the school year, but a life skill that they cannot afford to miss out on. Let’s face it, many adults have trouble being mindful listeners. Perhaps some of us could benefit from a little exercise in Listening with Understanding and Empathy from time to time. What an amazing world this would be if we would truly take the time to listen to what one another has to say…to actually empathize and understand each other. This is a world I would like to live in. This is a world that I would like my students to create.


Laura Fitzpatrick has been an Early Childhood Educator in South Florida for 16 years. She is an avid blogger, presenter, and most recently, a published author of her first children’s book, “Words Glow…Minds Grow”, published through The Institute for The Habits of Mind. Laura is passionate about weaving the Habits of Mind into her classroom and into her curriculum. Follow her on Twitter: @Misfitz333 and https://wordpress.com/posts/wordsglowmindsgrow.wordpress.com


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