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2. Set

In this activity…

Students experience the difference between hearing and listening and are given the opportunity to reflect on personal barriers to listening.


Before the lesson, print enough copies of the “Listener” and “Speaker” instructions for every student to receive either one or the other. Fold the paper so that the instructions are not visible and write ‘Listener’ or ‘Speaker’ (or simply ‘L’ and ‘S’) on the respective pages to distinguish the two sets of instructions.

Listener and Speaker Instructions available in downloads section.

To start the lesson, hand out the instructions to students, asking them not to unfold or read their pages. Tell students that there are two different sets of instructions for different roles in the upcoming activity, as suggested by the words ‘Listener’ and ‘Speaker’ (or ‘L’ and ‘S’) written on their pages.

Ask students to pair up with someone who has a different set of instructions, so that there is a listener and a speaker in each pair of students. Alternatively, you can pair students before handing out the instructions, give each pair a copy of both instructions, and let them decide who wants to take on which role. Each pair of students should find a comfortable spot where they can sit facing each other.

Once everyone is ready to start the activity, ask students to silently read their instructions. Be sure to emphasize that students should not share or reveal their instructions to their partner. Give students one minute to read the instructions and (for the Speaker) to prepare themselves for the activity. On your command, speakers will then spend three minutes describing their perfect vacation and listeners will quietly count the number of words ending in “ing” that their partner says.

After three minutes, end the activity and ask students to return to their desks for a discussion. Start the conversation by asking listeners how many “ing” words they counted. Students will likely want to turn this into a competition and try to “one up” each other. Explain that the true purpose of this activity was not to identify how many “ing” words there were. In response to this, listeners might protest saying that “that’s what the instructions said”. Settle the class down and ask listeners the following questions:

  • How much of the speaker’s story do you recall?
  • Were you able to concentrate on both the story and the “ing” words?
  • Would you say that you heard the individual words that the speaker was saying?

Based on the listeners’ response to the last question, ask the class to determine whether there is a difference between hearing someone and listening to them. Students can refer to their experience with this activity or provide any other examples to communicate their understanding. Use guided questions to help students arrive at the following distinctions:

Hearing is a physical process (a sense) that is automatic, involuntary and effortless. Hearing simply involves the perception of sound waves.
Listening is a purposeful and focused skill that requires the investment of effort and attention. Listening involves hearing, but it is also about understanding, meaning-making, and communication. People who listen do more than just hear words. They consider the body language, facial expressions, tone, and disposition of the speaker in order to build connection and better understand the full story.

Ask students to identify whether the listeners in the previous activity were truly listening to the speaker or if they were just hearing the speaker’s words. Then, turn to the speakers and ask them the following questions:

  • Did you feel like you were being listened to? If not, what made you feel like your partner wasn’t listening?
  • How did it feel to tell your story without the full attention of the listener?
  • What kind of things might a listener do to communicate (verbally and non-verbally) that they are listening to you?

Once a number of speakers have shared their experience, tell students that listening is a skill that can be learned and which needs to be practiced, and that they will be doing both of these things in the upcoming lesson.