Teaching Listening Skills at the Start of the Year

teaching listening skills at the start of the year

Teaching listening skills at the start of the year is so important it is actually the first social emotional skill that I teach during the year. There are two different important parts to teaching listening: how to show we are listening, and why we listen to others. In this blog post I’ll show you how I teach listening. You’ll also get some great activities and games to practice listening!

How to show others we are listening:

teaching listening skills at the start of the year

Teaching listening skills at the start of the year begins with teaching how we show we are listening. It is important to explicitly say that people might be listening in many different ways, but other people don’t always know that they are listening unless they show they are listening. You can show you are listening by facing the speaker and having quiet mouths and hands and feet. Knowing the students in your class is important, as some learners, especially students with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,  might listen better when having a fidget or doing some self-talk. However, the goal of all students is to show they are listening with quiet mouths (doesn’t have to be silent, just not distracting) and hands and feet. The fidgets should not be distracting if they are tools to help with listening. 

When I am first introducing how to show we are listening, we all model and practice facing the person speaking and putting our eyes on speaker or the learning material, like the book or video. We also practice having quiet hands and feet and quiet mouths. I teach my students to raise their hand if they want to say something. After teaching this, I try to use a quiet visual of my hand being raised or a picture or raising hands as a reminder. I don’t want to interrupt my teaching to say “raise your hand”. If I do, then I am giving more attention to the interruption and I don’t want to reward it.

When we are practicing these different skills I say, “don’t listen with your eyes…. Ok now listen with your eyes! Don’t listen with your hands… ok now listen with  your hands!” This gives them a chance to have a little fun by being silly with their body and then to practice regulating their body and turning on the “listening look”. 

“The listening look”

Speaking of the “listening look”… many teachers require “criss cross applesauce”. I do teach this sitting position as it does work for many students and helps everyone to fit on the rug. (I’m even sitting criss cross right now as I write this blog post!) However, not everyone likes it. It’s important to let students sit in a way that is comfortable for them, as long as they aren’t bothering anyone else.

On my rug, we have squares. These squares become the student’s rug spot. They learn that as long as they keep their body in their rug square they can sit how they like. There is one exception to this rule. Students can’t sit up on their knees blocking the view of others. If I know I have students who like to do this though, I just move them to the back row so they won’t block anyones view. This all leads to wonderful discussions on how everyone learns different and our bodies are different, but it’s still important to work as a classroom community so that everyone can learn. This means staying in our rug square and staying on our bottoms so everyone can see. 

Why we need to listen to others:

teaching listening skills

Teaching listening skills at the start of the year is not just about how to listen, but also why we listen! It is important to teach students why we listen to teachers and why we listen to our classmates

Why we listen to teachers

Students need to learn that we listen to teachers because teachers are here to keep them safe and to help them learn. When teachers give directions it’s usually either to keep them safe or to help them learn! This is why it is so important to be “first time listeners” and follow directions the first time they are asked. I love to use Howard B Wigglebottom to help with this lesson (see below for more about this awesome read aloud!)

Why we listen to our peers

We listen to our peers to show we care. When we listen to what our friends like and dislike we can make connections with our friends. We can wait till they are finished talking and then add on to what they are saying to build on our conversation. This is how we become friends! When someone is talking to us about their favorite color purple and then we decide we want to talk about elephants, our friend will feel sad that we weren’t listening to what they were saying and what they cared about. I love using My Mouth is a Volcano for this lesson (see below for more about this awesome read aloud!)

Listening read alouds

teaching listening skills at the start of the year

These are my favorite listening read alouds and you can grab them all in my Amazon storefront. As mentioned above, my go-to, must have, listening books for teaching listening skills at the start of the year are Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen and My Mouth is a Volcano! Howard B. Wigglebottom has some amazing animations for each of the stories too. My students are always asking for more Howard! Did I mention these are free?! Check them out – there’s a ton of great topics! My Mouth is a Volcano is another of Julia Cook’s fantastic social skills stories. This book helps teach students to hold in their blurts and wait for their turn to speak. It’s great for teaching students to listen to their friends and family and to listen with their heart and brain – think about what the person is saying and connect to it. 

5 Listening Activities

teaching listening skills

One of the best games to play for listening practice is Simon Says. The students have to listen for when you say “Simon Says” to follow the direction and when you don’t say it, they shouldn’t follow the direction! This also great for impulse control! Of course, you can always change the name to your own name too!

Partner Listening is a great break during lessons or for morning meeting. Give a question or a prompt. Then have partners share with each other their answers (great for practicing turn and talks). After everyone gets a chance to talk, then have one of the partners share out what they other partner said to the class. This encourages children to listen to their partner and remember what their partner said. 

Of course, YouTube has some great activities too. There’s this whole body listening song that is so fun, as well as this listening motor break activity! The kids love them both!

Finally, take a listening walk with your students! Read The Listening Walk by Paul Showers and then go outside and take your own listening walk! Pause every so often. Have students use one of their five senses to listen. Then have them share out what they hear, feel, see, smell (maybe not taste though…). This is also great for teaching and practicing mindfulness. It’s also easily incorporated into their writing as students work on adding details to their writing!


Teaching listening skills at the start of the year is important so that students learn how to show they are listening and why it is important to listen to teachers and their peers. When we break down the how and the why for students we set students up for success. Once students learn how and why we listen, then they are ready to start learning the academics you have planned for them!

Get just the listening unit filled with activities, teaching points, visuals, and parent letters. Or better yet… get the full social-emotional bundle and have everything you need for teaching social-emotional skills to your kindergarteners!


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