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Listening skills for teachers

June 25, 2008

Hello again,

It is important for teachers to listen actively to their students. I think we often hear what we expect to hear rather than what students are really....

...saying so here are some techniques for active listening.

Two techniques that can help us become more competent at active listening are Summarising and Reflecting.


This is concerned with the factual side of the message and involves stating back to the speaker the listener's understanding of the information. This paraphrasing should take place at regular intervals and has the advantage of:
• Checking understanding
• Offering opportunities for clarification
• Showing the speaker that you have been listening to what has been said, thus demonstrating your interest
• Giving the speaker feedback on how well the message has been expressed
Useful phrases are:
• "As I understand it, what you are saying is ...."
• "So your point is that ...."

This is like holding a mirror in front of the speaker, reflecting back phrases as you hear them. This increases clarity and lets the speaker know that you are hearing accurately. You may be reflecting back data or feelings. In the case of the latter, recognition of the speaker's feelings builds empathy between you.

Non-verbal communication

Active listening is greatly enhanced by the use of non-verbal communication, which includes:
• The receiver making eye contact with the speaker 60 - 80 per cent of the time
• Nodding and shaking the head when appropriate
• Mirroring the speaker's body language, although it is important not to "mimic" the speaker's posture
Research has shown that we take in 7% by words, 38% by tone of voice and 55% from body language. That means that HOW something is said, and HOW they hold themselves reveals more than WHAT they say.

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  1. Eric Roth Says:

    Thank you for sharing those two fine, time-tested suggestions.

    I might also suggest, especially in more advanced classes, video-recording the mock interviews and even class discussions to document how often students - and teachers - misunderstand each other. While reading some of the research from discourse analysts can raise doubts about whether any human communication occurs in normal conversation, our concerns in ESL classrooms are less abstract and far more practical. We just want to help our students reach this "normal" level of miscommunication among fluent speakers!

    Clarifying, repeating, and echoing techniques can all work - and provide opportunities for people to make more balanced, nuanced, and smarter statements. As Hermann Hesse famously noted, "everything sounds a bit different when spoken aloud."

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