Relationship Skills

Family Resources on Communication: Active Listener

Project and Purpose

Students participate in active listening exercises and observations.

Essential Questions

What is the biggest challenge and biggest reward of active listening?

If this lesson was used in the classroom: Students learned about the benefits of active listening and analyzed their listening skills. In class students participated in an improv game where they had to practice listening. In small groups students practiced listening to a story and assessed their listening skills using an active listening checklist.

Getting Ready for the Conversation

Active and attentive listening is a skill that is valued, but often not taught well. With practice, people can learn to be more attentive listeners which leads to greater success in all social contexts.

Conversation notes:
Once children begin to speak, many times people change their focus from teaching children to listen to teaching children to speak (and then to write). Improving listening skills is associated with greater success in social settings including the workplace.

More background on active listening from Coursera:

TED Talk by Julian Treasure that is referenced during student lesson:

Constructive Conversation Starters

The first item is for follow-up after participating in class activities.

How did the “Listing the Alphabet” activity go? Did you find it difficult? What else did you learn from listening to other students tell stories? What did you find out about your active listening skills from the active listening checklist? Describe why active listening could be difficult for some people.

How can you tell if someone is good at active listening? Why do you think so?

How do you rate yourself as a listener? What could you do better? Why is it important to learn to listen actively to others?

School to Home Resources on Communication: Active Listener



1. Sit with someone you trust.

2. Play Listening the Alphabet, a game created by Second City, the world-reknown improvisational theatre company in Chicago.
a. Students work with a partner and determine who will be Person A and who will be Person B in each pair. Their goal is to say each letter of the alphabet, in correct order, with the focus on listening to each other.
b. Instruct pairs to stand as they are able facing each other in an open body position, hands down by sides, making and maintaining eye contact.
c. Person A says the first letter of the alphabet, “A.”
d. Person B must wait until Person A has stopped speaking—all sound from A has stopped—and take a “beat” or a count of 1 before saying the next letter.
e. Person A waits for Person B to stop speaking, takes a beat, and says the next letter, and so on, back and forth, until the pair reaches the letter Z. Remind everyone that they should use regular speaking rates, not elongating the letters or stretching out any sounds.

3. When all pairs have finished, discuss the experience.

  • What was easiest about this exercise?
  • What was challenging about this exercise?
  • How did you determine who would be Person A and Person B? How did it involve listening?
  • What did you learn about your ability to…
  • Wait?
  • Listen?
  • Maintain eye contact?
  • Maintain an open body position?
  • Stay focused on the task?

4. Explain that this is an exercise in Active Listening, one of the soft-skills that employers look for and one of the top skills that will help them succeed in school and life.

5. Distribute the Discussion Organizer: Top Benefits of Listening worksheet and ask students to write their “Pre-viewing” response to the key question in the first box.

6. Watch the Ted Talk video Julian Treasure, “Five Ways to Listen Better.”

7. Immediately after watching the video, have students take one minute to write their responses to the second question on the worksheet. At the end of one minute, have the group share their responses to the Pre-Viewing question and the immediate reaction. Have them record a comment they heard from the discussion in the third box.

8. Tell students to save the final box for after they complete the next activity.

9. Distribute the RASA Active/Conscious Listening Checklist and review each category, asking students to apply the categories to their actions in the A-Z game. Point out how the categories on the sheet expand Julian Treasure’s acronym RASA: Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, and Ask Questions Afterwards. Ask for student volunteers to demonstrate each category OR demonstrate for them. NOTE: Many people chose to enact POOR examples of behaviors. While this can provide excellent comedic fodder, research tells us that it lessens the impact of learning appropriate behaviors.

10. Have them return to their A-Z partners and join with another pair, forming groups of four, to practice their active listening skills. One pair will be the observers, and one pair will be the presenters; they will eventually swap roles.

11. Assign roles within the first round.

  • Presenter group Person A will be the first speaker. Person A will tell a narrative story (ideas presented in step 13).
  • Presenter group Person B will be the first listener. Person B tries to use all the active listening skills well for the entire time Person A speaks.
  • Observer B will use the list to record observations about Person B.
  • Observer A is the timer who gives the start signal, a ten-second warning, and a final cut-off.

12. At the end of the time, Observer B has one minute to share the review of listener B, being sure to be as positive as possible

13. Each presenter speaks about a topic for one minute while one person actively listens. Some ideas of things to talk about might include:

  • A tough decision you had to make recently
  • The most difficult conversation you’ve had to have with a teacher
  • An academic challenge you worked very hard on and were successful
  • How you won an award of some kind
  • A recurring dream you have
  • The best birthday or holiday event you ever celebrated
  • Why you keep certain things in your personal space (room/locker/etc.)
  • Any narrative story about yourself

14. Swap roles within the group and repeat the process four times, giving each person an opportunity to play each role.


Ask students to share something about their listening experiences with their partners. Have students complete the final box on their worksheet and ask volunteers to share.

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