Friday Lesson: Active Listening

Courtesy of Micah Jacobson |

What is the difference between hearing someone and really listening? How do we know when we are really listening, and maybe even more important, how do others know? In this lesson, we are going to work on listening in a more active and thoughtful way than we do most days.

Activity #1: Make a Sentence

    Supplies: None
    Physical Set-Up: Teams
    Source: Journey Toward the Caring Classroom by Laurie Frank, Teamwork and Teamplay by Jim Cain and Barry Jolliff, Adventure Education for the Classroom Community by Laurie Frank and Ambrose Panico, The Boomerang Project.
    The words in italics and quotation marks are suggested directions for you to give your group.

Have everyone get into teams of 4, 5, or 6.  Have each team stand in a separate circle.

“I need one person in each circle to raise your hand and say, ‘I’ll go first.’”

(Make sure all groups have identified who is going first.)

“Okay, those people going first will start their groups by saying one word.  To make it an easy start, the word must be an article like: ‘The,’ ‘A,’ or ‘An.’  Please choose one of those words.
Once the people going first have said their words, the persons to their right must supply the next word in the sentence.  They can say anything they want, but it must make grammatical sense.  For instance, if the first word is ‘The,’ the next word could be ‘cow.’  However you would not say ‘this’ for the second word because that would make no sense.  The next person will deliver the next word and so on.
When a sentence appears to be finished, the next person says ‘period’ instead of saying a word.  For example, your group has built the sentence, ‘The cow drank some water.’  The next person to add a word can say ‘period,’ and your group can then start the next sentence.  Let’s try this for about 2 minutes.  People going first, get started!”

How closely did each person listen to the people that came before them?

Did our sentence break down at some point? How and why?

What does it really take to not just “hear” the person, but rather to “listen” to them.

Teach: Active Listening Consists of 3 Components:
1. Hearing/Attention
2. Understanding/Connecting
3. Confirming/Extending

Most of the time, we are distracted when we are listening to someone. Let’s explore some of the ways that listening can break down.

Question #1: How do we show that we are listening?

Eye Contact                                    Body Language                                    Facial Expressions

Activity #2: Listening Pairs

Have everyone get a partner (maybe based on how they hop on one foot!). Have the person with the longest hair in each partnership become partner A. The person with the shortest hair will be partner B.

“Partner A: You are going to tell a story. It can be any story that you want but it has to be long enough to last for about 2 minutes. You may think about a recent day at school, a vacation, or maybe a concert that you attended.”

“Partner B: You are going to listen to your partner’s story, however, as they talk you are going to listen in 4 different ways. I will stop you every 30 seconds and have you change the way you are listening. Do your best to follow my instructions precisely.”

  1. Look anywhere in the room except at your partner
  2. Look at your partner with a constant angry expression
  3. Constantly nod “yes” to your partner.
  4. Constantly shake your head “no” to your partner

What did you notice about talking while someone was listening with specific responses?

Did you really feel “heard”?

What got in the way of really listening?

Question 2: How do we show that we understand?

Reflection                            Response                             Inquiry                        Connection

Activity: Listening Pairs, continued

Switch roles now so that Partner B will now be the storyteller. Same rules apply but there will be different listening instructions.

  1. Stare at your partner with no emotion or reaction.
  2. To everything your partner says, respond with “I disagree.”
  3. Ask questions about everything your partner says.
  4. Constantly try to interrupt your partner to tell your own story.

How did it feel as your partner responded with those specific listening styles?

Do you think they were able to really understand?

What got in the way of understanding?

“Of course today these listening styles were set ups. Have any of your ever had someone display one of these behaviors while you were trying to talk to them?”

Brainstorm: Instead of these behaviors, what would it look like to be an “Active Listener”?

Close:Putting it Together
“Now it is time to practice those behaviors we just brainstormed. Each partner will now tell a new story. The other partner will try to use their best Active Listening skills to Hear, Understand, and Connect with their partner. Partner A will go first.”

This lesson is compliments of Micah Jacobson. To find more information and to contact the author, please visit:

Thanks for joining us in January, 2010 for Friday Lessons with Micah Jacobson. Micah is the author/coauthor of several books, including Open to Outcome with Mari Ruddy and Springboards with Mary Beth Campbell and Carolyn Hill.

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