Teaching Tips

Active listening strategies

Last Friday, many of our professors got together to discuss effective teaching strategies across the disciplines. We gathered in groups and shared our perspectives about effective teaching strategies. One idea that every group hit upon in one way or another was the importance of listening. So many of us are concerned with getting our points across to the students; we feel we need to teach all the content and not miss anything. Often we are so focused on imparting information, we forget to listen to what our students are telling us. In a single class period, students can give valuable information that will help us more effective teachers.  By watching and listening for these verbal and non-verbal signals an instructor can discover:

  • Additional knowledge that the teacher might not have included in the lecture, or didn’t even know
  • How to fill gaps in the students’ knowledge foundation
  • How to clear up misunderstanding from the homework
  • A lack of preparation
  • An inability to keep up with the lecture or other class activities
  • Discomfort with an in-class group situation
  • An important question
  • Ways to provide opportunities for advanced study


The need for active listening strategies is being recognized more often in higher education.  A few examples of the importance of listening pops up everywhere on the net. The Russell Group University believes active listening happens when instructors “allow for thinking time and silences.”  Northwestern University offers a course called The Importance of Listening. And thirdly, in her essay, Tell Me More, On the Fine Art of Listening, Brenda Ueland says, “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.” She goes on to say people who “really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and want to sit in their radius as though it did us good.”

So, what are some strategies that help us to be better listeners?

In the Faculty Focus Blog, there was a very helpful article about active listening. The author, Isis Artze-Vega listed seven ways to help students listen. She cited talking less, accountability, and modeling as key ways to promote listening (see complete article here http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/active-listening-seven-ways-to-improve-students-listening-skills/).

In the TESOL Quarterly, Rebecca Palmer gives 9 listening strategies including modeling (hmmm….this seems to be a familiar theme!), taking notes, responding and summarizing (http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolc/issues/2014-06-01/3.html).

Even Forbes recommends we become better listeners. The suggestions by their columnist, Dianne Schilling include eye contact, keeping an open mind, and empathy. (Her article is here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2012/11/09/10-steps-to-effective-listening/#1bfb4d773891)

With these strategies, we can help students be better listeners and we can become more attentive ourselves.


Grove, J. (2017, February 14). How to teach: 13 top teaching tips for university lecturers.  [Web log Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/how-teach-13-top-teaching-tips-university-lecturers

Hlavac, R. Northwestern University Online Course  https://www.coursera.org/learn/importance-of-listening

Ueland, B (1998).  Tell me more; On the fine art of listening. Tucson, AZ: Kore Press.


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