Strengthening Students’ Speaking and Listening Skills

Having productive conversations requires students to listen deeply, reflect on what is said, express ideas clearly, sustain attention, ask insightful questions, debate respectfully, and develop comprehension of information taken in. These essential listening and speaking skills need to be taught and practiced and will help students have successful conversations both inside and outside of school. Taking the time to teach and practice academic conversation skills helps prevent or minimize problems that can arise during collaborative work and enables students to be more deeply invested in their interactions and learning.

By giving our students practice talking with others, we give them frames for thinking on their own.” – Lev Vygotsky


How to teach listening and speaking skills

Listening requires the fundamental skill of focusing attention on the speaker to be able to hear and understand what the speaker is saying. Speaking skills require students to take turns, speak confidently, stay on topic, and speak with clarity. Students are more likely to master speaking and listening skills when they can actively engage in learning them. Interactive Modeling gives students a clear picture of these skills and an immediate opportunity to both practice them and receive feedback.

Middle school students collaboratingHow to practice listening and speaking skills
  • Teach students activities and games that bolster their ability to demonstrate listening skills while also having fun.
  • Provide ongoing support by displaying anchor charts that list expectations, such as: voices off, eyes on the speaker, focused attention on the speaker.
  • Provide multiple opportunities to practice.
  • Give explicit and inclusive positive feedback.
  • Have students reflect on their progress with listening and speaking skills.
  • Use a variety of interactive learning structures that vary ways to practice the skills, such as Inside-Outside Circles, Four Corners, Maître d’, Swap Meet, Partner Chat, and Table Talk.
Why these skills matter

To have productive discussions in all subjects, students need to be able to express ideas clearly, concisely, and confidently. Having successful communication skills leads to better social relationships. For any conversation, knowing when to speak – and when to listen – is essential.



Written by Ramona McCullough, Responsive Classroom Consulting Teacher, and Educational Consultant and Coach
Tags: Conversation Skills, Language Arts

10 Replies to “Strengthening Students’ Speaking and Listening Skills”

  • This was superbly penned down. Can you please share more articles regarding application of these things @ home as well.

  • Ramona,
    Thank you for posting about teacher language, as I find this topic to be particularly important as a social studies teacher. I wish that my colleagues were more aware of the need to explicitly teach speaking and listening skills prior to facilitating classroom discussions. I love the quote you chose from Vygotsky, as students do need to practice talking to others. I will be sure to share your “how to” section with my colleagues!

  • Hi Ramona,
    Thanks for sharing about the importance of practicing speaking and listening! It is not enough to teach them to listen to the teacher, but to participate and listen in conversations with each other. This is an incredibly important skill for both the classroom and socially. As a world language teacher students are often engaged in conversation, but the importance of listening to one another is something I will continue to work on next year.

  • Hi Ramona, thanks for this, but can you update us more on how to teach listening and speaking

  • I learnt a lot as an educator on how we should interact listening with speaking and it is mostly important that we as teachers in the process provide support.

  • This Content is very useful to both teachers and student teachers because it defines listening and speaking into details

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