How To Develop Good Listening The First Month Of School

How To Develop Good ListeningListening is always a problem with a new group of students.

You can count on it.

Dwelling on it or complaining about it—as many teachers are wont to do—is a waste of time.

The effective teacher is only concerned with what they can control. They’re only concerned with the actions they must take to fix the problem.

They meet their students where they are, and then show them the way up.

When it comes to developing good listening, the key is to speak in a way that will cause your students to tune in naturally.

It’s to make the act of listening to you a habit.

Here’s how:

Stand in one place.

Standing in one place encourages your students to focus on you. It settles restlessness. It calms excitability. It removes many of the distractions and obstacles that interfere with listening, so that your highlighted voice becomes the most prominent stimuli in the room.

Soften your voice.

Most teachers talk too loud, believing that it helps students pay attention. But the truth is, it does the opposite. It makes them passive and disinterested. It discourages them from looking in your direction and tuning you in.

Good listening is active. It requires students to lean in and follow your lips, facial expressions, and body language. It requires them to meet you halfway, to do their part, and to seek out meaning and understanding. The good news is that students do this intuitively when you soften your voice.

Stop repeating yourself.

Repeating yourself effectively removes any reason for your students to listen to you the first time. It grooves the habits of passivity and learned helplessness and weakens the power of your words.

When you say it once, on the other hand, and expect them to get it, you encourage active listening, engagement, and relevant, pointed questions.

Cut the fat.

The fewer words you use, the better your students will listen. This underscores the importance of staying focused and on topic, of providing only what your students need to be successful.

Keep your thoughts, fillers, and digressions to yourself. They only water down your message and lessen its impact.

Pause often.

Remembering to pause will give your students a moment to download the previous information. It also makes you more interesting. It infuses your words with depth, importance, authority, and when needed, drama.

Pausing also allows you to check for understanding. In time, you can become remarkably accurate assessing comprehension simply by pausing to take notice of their expressions.

Focus on doing.

When speaking to your students, as much as possible, focus on what you want them to do. This is inherently more interesting to students and immediately activates their visualization powers. They automatically see themselves in their mind’s eye doing what you ask.

Furthermore, successful classrooms are action-oriented. They’re productive and active and locked-in on completing their objectives. Even lining up to leave the classroom is an opportunity to do something well.

It’s About You

Many teachers can be overheard lamenting the poor listening in their classroom, but their solution to the problem rarely has anything to do with them. In their mind, their students are the problem.

So they harp on the importance of good listening. They put their frustrations on display. They show a complete lack of faith in their students by incessantly moving about their room, increasing their volume, and repeating their words.

But good listening isn’t about the students. It’s about the teacher.

It’s about speaking in a way that leaves no one behind, that empowers students to tune in, that provides the conduit through which active, tenacious listening becomes a habit.

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18 Responses to How To Develop Good Listening The First Month Of School

  1. Chuck August 30, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    Doing good with this so far. My only problem, what happens if a student doesn’t know what to do? I usually encourage them to ask someone else, but I discourage this during independent work so that they don’t distract others.

    I want them to know to raise their hand to ask me for help if they need it during independent work, but I also don’t want to repeat myself.

    • Michael Linsin August 30, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

      Hi Chuck,

      I’ve written about this extensively both on the blog and in the book, Dream Class. The key is in how you prepare your students for independent work, how you check for understanding, and your attitude during independent work time. I encourage you to spend time in the Learning & Independence and the Attentiveness categories of the archive.


  2. Mrs. Anna Nichols August 31, 2014 at 4:50 am #

    Good Morning, Michael!
    This is a highly relevant article – it is so incredibly important for students to learn to be good listeners! Last year, I spent 2 entire days in the classroom without being able to make a sound. My voice was completely gone, and I could not get a substitute. It was a fascinating learning experience for me, trying to come up with ways to communicate effectively as well as still control my classes. I wrote on the board, made a power point for step-by-step directions, and had a student “speak” for me by reading what I wrote. The kids disciplined themselves to watch me, and I used a LOT of gesturing. My most interesting observation was that the students who struggle the most with behavior issues had the hardest time being tuned in to and watching me for direction. They seemed to habitually ignore me, and to get their attention I needed to tap them on the shoulder or stand directly in front of them. Why do these students ignore the teacher? I think it is because they get primarily negative attention when they interact with teachers. I made it a point after this to specifically look these kids in the eyes, smile, and wave a greeting. To see their eyes change from dull rebellion to the light of a friendly greeting made my day and opened my eyes to a simple truth – it isn’t hard to send the message that teachers really do care!
    Thank you for reminding us of the fact that our students need us to teach them how to listen well; “It’s about speaking in a way that leaves no one behind, that empowers students to tune in, that provides the conduit through which active, tenacious listening becomes a habit.”
    Great work!
    Mrs. Anna Nichols, visual art instructor, grades 6, 7, 8

    • Michael Linsin August 31, 2014 at 6:43 am #

      Thanks Anna!


  3. Bill Alexander September 2, 2014 at 7:24 am #

    Hi Michael,
    Great post, delivered with your customary sure-footedness.
    I agree that teacher talk is easy to get wrong and we do need to formally train our students to learn how to listen. Like most things in the classroom, being consistent and persistent is the key to developing a mutually attentive climate.


    • Michael Linsin September 2, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

      Hi Bill,

      Good to hear from you! It’s been awhile. Thanks for your customary insight. 🙂


  4. Dustin September 15, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    Hey, I’m a fairly new teacher and I’m having a bit of a struggle with my kids this year. I taught school for 2 years in a rural setting and I am now in an urban setting. I’m seeing a stark difference in behavior (I knew this would happen of course). I have been reading your advice over the weekend and and I implemented the the warning, timeout, note home strategy this morning. Instead of a decrease in unwanted behavior, I am seeing an increase. Do you have any suggestions on how to regain a functional environment? I know it’s best to come on strong in the beginning and I’ve done that to the extent that I have been able at this stage in my career, but if you have any advice, I’d love to hear it.

    Thanks, Dustin

    • Michael Linsin September 15, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

      Hi Dustin,

      Indeed you have to start over from the beginning, methodically and thoroughly teaching, modeling, and practicing your classroom management plan as if it’s the first week of school. Teaching routines and procedures and holding your students accountable for following them is also critically important.


  5. Jessica September 19, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I used your classroom management plan last year and it was really effective. My new class is a nice group of kids, but much bigger than last year’s class. They can be really hardworking, but they talk a lot. The classroom gets too noisy or they talk during a lesson, while transitioning, etc. This seems to be a big problem in the afternoon. I use what you’re suggesting on your site: stretching/active breaks, the side-talking signal, ‘do it again’, the classroom management plan, etc. What I find to be the hardest is when they are talking during a lesson, etc. and I ask for attention, model what I was seeing (the wrong way), model the right way (or have them do it again) and they start right up again. I feel like we’re losing a lot of class time and I’m a broken record. What would you suggest? It’s frustrating because in the AM they show themselves to be capable.

    • Michael Linsin September 19, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

      Hi Jessica,

      You must hold individual students accountable. The first one or two you see or hear talking, you follow your plan. Do this and you’ll curb talking virtually over night.


  6. Jessica September 19, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

    Ok, thanks, Michael. Also, how many times would you suggest ‘doing it again?’ If it’s retaught and done again, and students are still not following directions,would you just keep ‘doing it again’ until it’s done right, regardless of how much time it takes/instruction is lost?

    • Michael Linsin September 19, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

      Hi Jessica,

      Yes, however, this is a sign that there are other problems in need of addressing. Namely, respect for you and your program or general dissatisfaction.


  7. NNorrell September 19, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

    Good Day,

    So this year I have 37 first graders (41 on roll). Yes in one room without an assistant. I felt like I attempted to use my discipline plan right away and modeled the routines of the classroom. The first couple of days were my best first days of school as I am in my 3rd year. I can honestly say Im sure there are some procedures that I missed teaching on the very first day and/or I haven’t followed through with. For example sharpening pencils is an issue. But then there are issues that I just didn’t foresee happening, ex: students lifting up their desk, or drumming on the desk with their pencils. I really want to be a better classroom manager, something inside of me says that if I were better then I could command (for lack of a better word) 50+ students. But when Im in the mist of the day and it seems like the students aren’t responding to my discipline plan and i want to yell, I think it’s not just me there are just too many students in one small room.

  8. Diana September 15, 2015 at 2:59 am #

    Hi Michael,
    Thank you for your great articles. My question is in the first month of school as an art specialist to k-5, isn’t it necessary to repeat my directions several times while they are learning the new routines?

    • Michael Linsin September 15, 2015 at 6:48 am #

      Hi Diana,

      Never in the same period. You may, however, repeat certain directions week to week.