listening · silence · Talking · writing workshop

The Art of Listening

Silence. It is the other side of talk. It is the back board of listening. When we are silent it opens up our mind to what is going on around us. It allows us to listen and reflect on what others are saying. When we are silent we are able to tap into the art of listening.

When we open our workshop with talking the other side of this is teaching children to listen.The job of the listener is not only to be silent and take in the information from the talker, but to think and wonder, to see and feel what the storyteller is communicating. This art of listening is something students need to be taught. It is about setting the expectation and teaching children that they gain more from being silent when they truly sit back and take in the stories around them.


Whispering partners get kids listening even closer. 


Here is an example of how to teach listening behaviors.

Students, today we are going to practice listening. I have a book on tape that I would like to share called, Sadie and the Snowman written by Allen Morgan. Instead of showing you the book I want you to imagine the pictures in your mind. This story is about a little girl who builds a snowman over and over again, watching him change over time as the season changes from winter to spring. Listen to the story and think about what Sadie does, what she uses and what happens each time she builds him. As I look around I see many of you are ready, you are looking at me and I can see your ears are ready to take in the words of this story. What are some other good listening behaviors I should notice?

Students chime in with, “We shouldn’t look at our neighbor.” “We should be thinking about the story.” “We should sit quietly. “We shouldn’t get up to go to the bathroom.”

Right, these are all good listening behaviors and while you listen I am going to watch your good listening behaviors in action. I hope to catch each of you listening. When the story is finished I will ask you some questions about what you heard and what you imagined as the story was read.

The reason I chose a book on tape for this lesson is so I can really observe the students listening behaviors. When we practice listening it becomes more natural.

The art of listening is perhaps more about self control in young writers. Often, even as adults, we like to chime in when someone is talking. Practicing and modeling listening behaviors is a way to show students the expectation. Making a chart of good listening behaviors also brings a visual that can be referred to easily when re-directing behaviors that deviate from listening.

It is also important to be specific in our compliments of listening and talking. When we say things like “Wow, I really like how you are listening Sarah!” Sarah doesn’t necessarily know what she is doing to be a good listener. Point out her specific behaviors that are fostering the good listening. “Sarah, I notice you are giving really good eye contact to your partner. That is a nice listening behavior.”

Try the art of listening with your students and see how talking and listening open up a window into story in your classroom.

5 thoughts on “The Art of Listening

  1. Betsy,
    Listening does need to be taught and retaught. I love the idea of having a recording rather than a read aloud to allow for observation and true practice for our kiddos. As an aside, some of my students come from very loud households. Silence is in fact an uncomfortable place for them to be. When they encounter it they don’t know what to do. Other students have no problem in silence and maintaining it. So interesting…


  2. This reminds me of the Story Corp work done across the country. People are able to enter the Story Corp booth and tell a story that is recorded and archived for future listening. The name of the first book related to the project is Listening is an Act of Love. Thanks for reminding us that teaching children to listen deserves our attention.


  3. Betsy, what a wonderful post! You are so right about this critical skill. That we can’t assume it is one students have in hand (or mind rather), especially these days, when as a culture, listening has almost become a lost art. Yet, it is so critical to not only our work as writers, but as my training in Johnston’s work, and as a Literacy Coach has shown, our collaborative work with others as well.


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