Use Interactive Learning Structures to Strengthen Listening and Speaking Skills
“Before you speak, listen.”
—William A. Ward
Listening With Purpose
As I listen in on the student conversations occurring around the classroom, I notice that my students have a firm grasp on the basics of listening and speaking. They turn their attention toward the speaker and maintain a calm body. They lean in to listen, using supportive facial expressions, and sustain their attention on the speaker. When they speak, they take turns and speak at the right volume. Yet I wonder: Are they listening with purpose? Are they making meaning from what they hear? How can I help them strengthen and deepen these listening and speaking skills?
Interactive Learning Structures
Social interaction is at the heart of listening, speaking, and making meaning. What better way to strengthen these skills than to use interactive learning structures? An interactive learning structure provides students with opportunities to practice listening and speaking skills. It also creates movement and interaction around content and so can be woven in throughout the day.
Structures That Strengthen Listening and Speaking Skills
Be intentional about strengthening your students’ speaking and listening skills. Start out by trying one of the following interactive learning structures:
- Inside-Outside Circles
- Maître d’
- Paired Verbal Fluency
- Say Something
- Swap Meet
- Use Interactive Modeling to introduce the format of new interactive learning structures.
- Provide sentence stems to support listening for understanding such as “What I hear you saying is . . .” or “If I heard you correctly, you think . . .”
- Remind students of the listening or speaking skill to focus on during the interactive learning structures. For example, “As you take turns sharing your ideas, check in with your partner by paraphrasing what they share.”
- Scaffold interactive learning structures by moving from pairs to small groups to the whole class.
- Debrief and ask for volunteers to share an idea or summarize their discussion for the whole class.
As students learn how to listen for understanding, exchange ideas, summarize, paraphrase, and ask and answer questions, you will notice their responses are more thoughtful and connected to the content that the speaker shares. Your students are making meaning from the conversations and building stronger communication skills.
For additional information on strengthening students’ speaking and listening skills, check out The Language of Learning: Teaching Students Core Thinking, Listening, and Speaking Skills.
Julie Kelly is a consulting teacher for Center for Responsive Schools and a contributing author for Empowering Educators: A Comprehensive Guide to Teaching Grades 3, 4, 5.