Listening is the first skill children practice, no matter what language it is. Every parent starts speaking with their newborn the moment they see him/her.

We could, therefore, expect it is well-practised skill needing no special attention.

Contemplating about it ...

Have you ever been in a situation, when all (or a lot of) separate words were familiar to you, but you couldn't understand the meaning? 

Well, I have. Specially, when I was learning a foreign language. So maybe, understanding what someone says is not so self-understood after all? It's not only words that count ...

Understanding spoken language is the first skill children practice in foreign language learning. Let us try to recall how we go about our teaching when listening skills are involved:

How do we address children when giving instructions to execute an activity? In what language? Do we translate instructions? Is there a step-by-step demonstration involved?

How do we speak during the lesson? Is it English all the time or do we use separate English words, the ones we think children would understand and the rest is spoken in our mother tongue?

How do we evaluate children's listening skills? Do we check how they understand a complex text (a story, for example)? Do we simply enumerate fixed and well-practised non-related sentences and expect children to only detect and understand the change of an object in it (It is a blue truck. It is a red kite etc.)? 

There are different listening skills we need in our everyday life.

Global listening ...

... addresses the ability to understand the general idea of the spoken text.

Specific listening ...

...addresses the ability to discern information from the context.

Focused listening ...

...addresses the ability to focus on all the relevant information in order to be able to execute the instructions. 

Being able to do all the above means a person knows how to listen to UNDERSTAND THE MESSAGE.

Teaching listening in a very young classroom

How does one teach listening in a very young classroom (since children don't know any words in a foreign language)?

I am sure you have heard of silent films or pantomime. No words are spoken there, it is purely visual art, but it conveys the message nevertheless. 

Can you get the gist of it?

In its essence that is the way how to go about introducing a new language - through visual art. With one IMPORTANT difference, you speak what you act.

How to do it in a classroom?

When I introduce the language to the children for the first time, I forget about other steps of the PBA for the first few months and devote my entire lessons to the activities in the introductory routine

This way I prepare children to learn:

  • how to control their body in relation to other schoolmates and space (socialising);
  • how to control their brains (focus on concentration through rhythmic games and brain gym activities);
  • how to retain their focus when giving instructions.
All of that is, naturally, learned through playing games while using the target language.

Three months later ...

By December, the children are ready for their first project. Of course, I cover all the steps but let's focus only on listening today.

In Storytelling, we address different aims but listening prevails. 

  • The pre-reading activity 'activates' the sensors through listening discrimination.

  • The reading activity is performed in such a way to address multisensory learning and global listening.

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
  • The post-reading activity addresses focused listening ...

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson - playing a game

... and selective listening

Which picture was described?

The step do it yourself extracts the language through focused listening.

Doodling - In the Wilderness at the workshop  (GB

The step Listen, Execute and Present introduces new songs and texts to children, teaching them how to focus on global and selective listening through a given context.

(Sorry, I have no pictures of the activities. But you can try it out at the Summer Saturday Meeting).

So, is teaching listening important?

I believe that a lot of problems regarding discipline can derive from the simple fact that children do not know how to listen. 

Children's concentration span is short. They simply cannot be focused for 45 minutes in one go; they need regular switch-offs. We should, therefore, not expect to have complete silence in the young children's classroom. 

By teaching them how and when to listen, on the other hand, we can gradually prepare children to be able to efficiently comprehend the instructions and consequently execute the activities successfully

Want to learn more?

Follow us on our C00lSch00l FB pageWe post activities we do in our classrooms.

Also, we have a FB group called Igra je resna stvar! (Playing games is a serious business!) where we discuss our classroom practices on the PBA approach (in English). You are welcome to join us if you feel it is your cup of tea.

Moreover, there are regular workshops performed in Slovenia throughout the school year. For other countries, do drop me a line and I'm sure we can arrange something.

Wish you all a successful continuance of 2019!


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