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How to Engage Children in Active Listening

Last updated Wednesday, August 3, 2005

The following article was written by long-time educator and Reading to Kids volunteer Susan Thibodeaux.

Research has shown that children who are read to are more likely to develop the skills they need to read successfully on their own.

Reading aloud at any age serves multiple purposes:

Provokes children's curiosity about text
Conveys an awareness that text has meaning
Demonstrates the various reasons for reading text (for example, to find out about the world around them, to learn useful new information and new skills, or simply for pleasure)
Exposes children to the "language of literature" which is more complex than the language they ordinarily use and hear
Provides an opportunity to teach the problem-solving strategies that effective readers employ. As the children observe the reader interacting with the text, expressing enthusiasm, and modeling the thinking aloud process, they perceive these as valid responses and begin to respond to text in similar ways
Models adults' interest in and enjoyment of reading

General Suggestions for Engaging Active Listening

Introduce the story by telling the children the title and a brief comment about the topic. To allow the children to anticipate what will happen in the story, be careful not to summarize.
Activate prior knowledge by asking children what they know about the topic.
Invite children to interrupt your reading if there are any words they do not understand or ideas they find puzzling.
Read the story expressively. Occasionally react verbally to events or other aspects of the story. These responses might include showing surprise, asking questions, giving an opinion, expressing pleasure, or predicting events.
Model comprehension strategies in a natural, authentic manner:
visualizing, asking questions, predicting, making connections, clarifying, summarizing.
After reading a passage, ask a child to retell it.
At the conclusion of the reading session, discuss with the children their reactions: how the story reminded them of things that have happened to them, what they thought of the story, and what they liked best about the story.

Open-Ended Questions for Engaging Active Listening

Before reading the story, ask children to listen for the answers to the following questions:

What do you already know about this topic?
What new information did you hear in this chapter?
What seems especially important? Why do you think so?
What information did you not understand?
What does this story make you wonder about?
What is the genre?
What is the setting?
Which character is most like you... unlike you? Why?

More Ways to Engage Active Listening

Children can be asked to listen for specific information and asked to show a non-verbal signal when that passage is read aloud:

Scratch your head when you hear a passage that describes a setting.
Every time you hear a sensory description, give a thumbs up.
When the setting changes, touch your shoulders.
If you hear a passage that describes food, rub your stomach.