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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Melissa Oldroyd Using active listening skills to improve listening comprehension October 2019

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using active listening skills to improve


discussions and this is presenting I'm

very pleased to welcome Melissa as

today's presenter Melissa has worked in

language education for almost 20 years

and her professional career bridges

between ESL and business

she is taught in Australia and overseas

in Spain Japan and China in a range of

settings from small private schools to

vocational colleges and universities

teaching English for business and global

communication she currently works with

international students on pathways to

graduate degrees in various fields at

Monash University that's in Melbourne

Australia as well as with post graduates

preparing to enter the Australian

workplace so I'll just hand you over to

Melissa now thank you

hi everyone thanks for joining me to

hear about how you can use active

listening skills to improve your

students listening comprehension in

expository discussions and have more

real lively enjoyable conversations in

the l2 I'm going to begin by explaining

the action research project I undertook

with my colleague and snares in 2017 and

after that I'll share with you some

examples of activities we found

successful that you might like to try

with your students ok I'm going to

pretend for a moment to be a couple of

students in my class discussing how best

to help endangered animals first student

says I think we should protect

endangered animals by building more

nature reserves because then they have a

safe place to live second student says

yes I agree we should stop pollution

because it kills all the animals how

about you does this sound familiar

a statement of opinion from the first

student and an entirely unrelated

response from the second student the

students are taking turns to state their

opinions but the absence of response to

each other's ideas suggests they are not

listening to each other

not really so we asked them a question

if a tree falls in a forest and no one

is around to hear it does it still make

a sound this question is an ancient

riddle the scientific view is that a

falling tree makes waves in the air

but to make a sound it takes an ear to

hear it the students were undecided so

we followed with a second question if a

person speaks and no one listens

is there really communication the class

was unanimous on this one

No so our purpose in asking these

questions was to raise awareness that

listening was an essential but often

overlooked half of communication and so

elevate its importance in the minds of

our students and why does it matter so

much that students get really good at

this well it defines their ability to

connect with others both inside and

outside the classroom

and how you do that is a cultural thing

and ultimately it will impact

opportunities that may be available to

our students and so we embarked on our

action research project with the purpose

of exploring whether active listening

skills could improve participatory

listening comprehension and so the

quality of communication in expository

discussion it was natural for us to go

to active listening skills because of

our backgrounds mine in business and

Ann's in coaching of course active

listening skills is a communication

technique we're all familiar with in the

context of counseling and conflict

resolution and we commonly associate it

with listening as intentional work or

the idea of hearing what people are

really saying being empathetic and

deferring judgment interestingly active

listening was an easy concept

for our predominantly Chinese students

because turns out it's also in their

language as can be seen from the five

aspects of the Chinese pictograph for

the word to listen so what do we mean by

active listening giving the speaker your

undivided attention

putting the speaker in the spotlight

being present to the speaker with open

mind and heart but also importantly

showing this with various verbal and

nonverbal signs which I'll speak more

about in a moment

so who were our students they're a class

of sixteen at Monash College they were

upper intermediate level which means in

Australia IELTS entry 5

we had them for 10 weeks a total of two

terms and taught them a mix of general

English with academic elements they were

all Asian mostly Chinese aged 17 to

early 20s so fairly mature and certainly

motivated they were mostly on

postgraduate pathways to Monash uni and

Monash was very interested in finding

ways to help them successfully

transition so here's what our active

listening skills program looked like we

did one action research cycle over a

period of 10 weeks each week we taught

and practiced a new skill through

various interactive activities and

integrated these into regular discussion

practice in the curriculum our aim was

to train the students in six different

sub skills of active listening and to

build these skills steadily and

reinforce them

in the first week we established the

concept and set the expectation of being

present to the speaker

we followed with nonverbal signs smiling

nodding eye contact leaning in mirroring

body language and semi verbal signs

specifically back-channeling uh-huh mmm

yep after that the more challenging

verbal signs firstly echoing restating

key words of the speaker paraphrasing to

clarify meaning then reflecting which

also involves paraphrasing but to mirror

meaning and so demonstrate understanding

lastly questioning and commenting to

build on the speaker's idea and drive

the conversation so you're probably

looking at this and thinking hang on I

teach this to my students all the time

how is this different well our

experience was that telling is not

enough what's different was training

them in strategies step by step we

shifted away from asking what tools do

we need to give them to how can we help

them use the tools available to them and

use each other as a resource to scaffold

meaning for our research we collected

both qualitative and quantitative data

we conducted three surveys one at the

beginning the middle and the end

initially so students could self

evaluate their listening comprehension

and then to monitor changes in their

perceptions and confidence over time

students made video audio recordings of

themselves in revision lessons to

self-assess for active listening skills

and re-record to improve in the final

week week 10 they actually made a movie

to teach active listening skills to

their peers teachers and students kept

journals to capture weekly reflections

on learnings and there were the

assessment scores now we analyzed video

recordings of discussions in the

mid-course assessment which happened at

the five-week point and the end of

course assessment at the 10-week point

and these were the speaking assessments

specifically so we analyzed these to see

our class's progress over time and we

also compared exam results for speaking

with the rest of the upper intermediate

cohort now we needed a measure for

changes in listening comprehension in

this context we used relevancy of

response and degree of engagement

criteria that were already a part of the

speaking discussion assessment rubric at

Monash and we compared our class and the

rest of the upper mid upper intermediate

cohort the result for these two criteria

for our class was that there was a

noticeable upward trend in engagement

results between the mid-course

assessment and the end of course

assessment but there was no noticeable

increase in relevancy overall speaking

results in comparison with the rest of

the upper intermediate cohort can be

seen in the graph so our class in blue

were initially weaker on average than

the rest of the cohort but by the end of

the program they were almost on a par

the end-of-course median for our class

was 80% which was five percent higher

than the median in the other classes so

we that told us that we had a stronger

top half of students in our class so

it's worth noting the speaking

discussion exams were not scored by an

or me

but by other teachers watching the

videos of the exams later we could see

our students applying active listening

skills it was apparent to us that the

active listening skills effect was to

lead to an increase in engagement in the

discussion which led to a perception by

the examiner of greater communicative

competence which led to better speaking

exam results overall so what were our

students perceptions in surveys students

initially rated themselves highly on

listening comprehension in discussions

50 percent rated themselves greater than

rated themselves 7 out of 10 or more by

the end of the program 75 percent rated

themselves 7 out of 10 or more for

listening comprehension in discussion

now the main reason they gave for

discussions not going well was not

understanding each other and not knowing

what to do when comprehension breakdowns

occurred by the end they were more

confident in handling communication

breakdowns in discussion there was a 60%

increase in confidence

there were also collateral benefits

there was more class interaction with

the teacher and with each other

less going through the motions of

classroom exercises and instead more

authentic lively enjoyable conversations

there was improved motivation

and what's more we felt that we didn't

just teach them English but cultural

skills interpersonal skills and even

life skills developing them as human

beings a more holistic approach so what

was the difference active listening

skills made through really tuning into

each other an effective involvement was

generated between the students a kind of

interpersonal solidarity between

interlocutors this led to increased

motivation and freedom to speak without

fear more risk-taking which in turn led

to accelerated learning speakers felt

encouraged to speak and output was

pushed by feedback from the listener

here's how our students described their

active listening skills journey they

speaking and listening will affect each

other when listener got a good listening

and give a feedback of good

understanding and interests the speaker

will perform well and vice versa

I think the speaking is the area of

greatest improvement for me 10 weeks ago

I felt nervous when I talked to the

people who I was not familiar with but

now I can be a confident person to

communicate with other people it was so

great for us to see students make the

connection between speaking and

listening and overall an and I found the

whole project very enlightening and

rewarding ok so now the second part of

the presentation I have a sample of

activities we use to help train our


in active listening skills these

activities are not necessarily unique or

even original but they're a blend of

ideas found online and our own what's

new is the active listening context in

which they are applied so I encourage

you to take them adapt them to suit your

contexts and I'm sure you'll be able to

develop and improve upon them ok an

excellent friend versus a terrible

friend so this is an experiential

activity where students discover the

power of body language and back

channeling in giving positive feedback

to the speaker so making the speaker

feel at ease and feel encouraged to

continue and to speak more openly and

honestly so break your class into groups

of three and round one student a shares

a problem student B is a terrible friend

and student C the observer give them

time to have this exchange and then have

a class debrief ask student a what was

that like elicit well I didn't want to

continue I felt they weren't interested

ask the student sees well what did be do

to be a terrible friend what did you

observe elicit lack of eye contact a

bored expression possibly playing with

the mobile phone

no encouraging noises or sounds round

two again a shares a problem this time B

is the observer and C the excellent


in the class debrief ask eh what was it

like illicit well I felt I wanted to

tell him more I felt he really cared be

be students well what did she do to be

an amazing friend what did you notice

elicit signs of listening smiling

nodding eye contact leaning in a

sympathetic expression and listening

noises back-channeling yes Oh No uh-huh

so this was a really fun activity and a

great way at the beginning for students

to take ownership of the nonverbal signs

a further activity you could follow this

up with is analyzing a video of an

interview or a conversation in the media

to see how people show interest so the

next suite of activities the listener

demonstrates active listening by seeking

clarification sorry you've lost me or

paraphrasing speakers words to check

understanding so you mean plus

paraphrase the speaker may prompt the

listener as well to confirm

understanding are you still with me okay

so for this activity first brainstorm or

pre teach the language on the slide and

then put the students in any real

context where they experience

communication challenges and need to ask

for clarification to maintain

communication some examples we tried the

bad phone line students work in pairs

and pretend to have conversations on the

phone with their partner each student

receives a role card with instructions

to invite their partner to a particular

event and give them directions on how to

get there while students are talking add

some background noise

for example a thunderstorm turn it up

every so often to increase the

difficulty solve a maths problem in

pairs students solve a maths problem one

student reads the problem while the

other does the maths start with five

multiplied by four divide that by two

subtract three then multiply by ten then

take half of that what do you get I

still with me

draw a picture pears sit back-to-back

one describes a picture while the other

reproduces it as accurately as possible

discussion benchmarks in small groups

students have a discussion about a class

topic and are given the following

benchmark they must check each they must

each check for understanding at least

once asked for clarification twice and

explain something in different words

once okay so moving on another important

sign of listening for students to learn

is reflecting by this we mean mirroring

the speaker now this can happen in many

different ways we can mirror body

language this is something that happens

subconsciously in conversation when a

positive connection occurs but this tech

this can also be a technique that can be

consciously used to build rapport it

works because people are drawn to what

similar we can also mirror the emotions

of a speaker this is for the purpose of

showing empathy and can be seen in

copying the facial expressions of the

speaker or naming the speaker's feeling

so having pre taught vocabulary for

emotions in controlled practice pairs a

and B take turns reading sentences with

emotion the listener guesses the emotion

and reflects it back

for example speaker a I lied to my

parents about my exam results speaker B

you're feeling a bit guilty about that

now it's speaker B's turn no matter how

much I diet I can't seem to lose weight

speaker a Oh

frustrating okay so the next is

reflecting words so this is a technique

called echoing where you simply the

listener simply repeats the speaker's

key words to show that they heard to

show that the message got through

so how is this boy going to echo this

love smitten girl I think I love you

love me so to practice this skill you

can ask your students to imagine that

they're at a cocktail party set the

scene by playing Miles Davis relaxing

students write down three impressive

facts about themselves they'd like to

share with the people they meet at the

party as they mingle the listeners must

echo key words and do little else in the

debrief after the activity ask how they

felt when people at the party echoed

what they said elicit what we felt

encouraged to speak we felt like people

were interested in what we had to say it

helped us keep the conversation going

another sign of active listening is

mirroring the ideas of a speaker to show

comprehension so this is effectively

paraphrasing but not to check meaning

rather to build rapport to simply

demonstrate that you're listening

so how would he mirror her idea

Melbourne is known as the architectural

capital of Australia so I can see lots

of interesting buildings there try some

controlled practice in pairs a and B a

reads out a sentence and B reflects the

idea back to a like so I'm not very keen

on romantic move on romantic comedies

what would speaker B say just to reflect

the idea okay so you prefer more serious

films uh-huh you're not a romantic type

speaker B's turn graffiti artists are

just vandals speaker a aha so you don't

think graffiti has any artistic value an

extension of this which students really

enjoyed was a discussion which could be

in groups of any size some students are

participants and some are observers the

only rule is that a student cannot speak

unless they first paraphrase reflect

back the idea of the previous speaker to

show they listened if they don't the

observer hands them a yellow card for

which they have to either paraphrase or

if they can't give up the turn to

another speaker the students really

enjoyed this one and were quite


because they they recognized that a lot

of the time they were not listening they

were simply thinking about their own

thought and preparing what they wanted

to say so it was an excellent exercise


moving on to the last skill questioning

so to explore the power of questioning

begin by eliciting from students

different reasons why we ask questions

in conversation elicit clarifying

finding out more details

checking understanding moving the

conversation forward in a particular

direction creating engagement and

interaction between speakers ask the

student what a good question looks like

the question matches the topic it links

fluently to what was just said the

question is open not closed so inviting

more discussion one good example of an

activity here was a slow conversation

about hobbies students work in teams of

three and asked me the teacher about my


after each response they brainstorm with

their group for one minute to come up

with an amazing follow up question the

group who asks the best question is

given a point a colored card there are

ten points to be gained students write

their question on the card so we can

take a closer look later I answer the

question I find most interesting and the

process repeats itself questions must be

on topic open and probably a little

quirky and therefore offering

opportunities for progressing the

conversation in interesting ways

students finish by typing all their

awesome questions in a Google Doc

so the very last activity I have for you

is the marriage counselor

this was another fun one that brings

quite a lot of the skills together so in

groups of three students brainstorm

problems that a newly married couple

might have that could cause them to stop

speaking to each other

secondly the three students are each

assigned a role husband wife or marriage

counselor the marriage counselors role

is to save the marriage

but because the newlyweds aren't

speaking aren't on speaking terms

everything the husband or wife says must

go through the counselor who must relay

it to the other person paraphrasing the

meaning and the emotion remind

counselors not to make a judgement okay

now to recap the reasons for success of

our active listening skills intervention

it raises the awareness of the

importance of listening it sets the

expectation of being present to the

speaker showing you're listening it

trains in strategies rather than tell

strategies and the need to build and

negotiate meaning provides the reason to

learn the strategy it gets the affective

involvement of students so enhancing

their motivation the quality of

interaction and understanding and it

integrates listening and speaking skills

the output of the speaker is pushed by

listener feedback through repetition it

leads to retention okay that's all I

have for you I hope that was interesting

and helpful and I'm happy to answer any

questions as best I can

there we go and some really good results

from your students as

well as great activity shown there so

thank you very much of that yeah please

type in your questions and I shall try

and put a few now to to Melissa

so let me kick off with a few the first

one I've got here is what were the

challenges or limitations of the

research that you carried out I think

finding the time to do it all as an you

know something beyond the daily work of

teaching the curriculum overcoming

initially some just some disinterest

perhaps by the students they needed to

buy into the concept and I think I think

probably that was that was all I was

interested that the results for

relevancy didn't improve I think this

was because basically there were still

language challenges and it takes

obviously takes time too

for language to come up but certainly

the interactivity and the negotiation of

meaning between the students was the

most valuable outcome I think yeah

thanks for the question in just if you

had a two hour class or let's say a very

short amount of time and then within

that you you've got only got a small

amount of time to do listening skills

what what things what key things do you

think you would focus on you know what

activities are what part of listening

would you focus on if you just got a

short amount of time with your students


well traditionally we we follow the

comprehension approach with listening

where we

we listen to an audio and and the

students answer comprehension questions

but I need to state restate that this

was participatory listening so this

listening was a part of a speaking class

so in teaching speaking skills the

approach is to actually teach them to

listen better and so scaffold off each

other so it's it's it's very important

to get student buy-in to the idea and go

step by step so I in any speaking lesson

even a short one I would introduce this

concept of the importance of listening

and then say okay today we're going to

practice this skill and teach the skill

and then in the speaking practice they

get to use that in in discussion I hope

that answers the question okay another

one here I think this was towards the

beginning of that they talked about

reflective sub skills could you give an

example of what you mean by the reflect

reflecting sub skills hmm so reflecting

is a broad umbrella term for mirroring

the speaker and we can do that by

mirroring body language we can mirror

key words by echoing you know like I've

got a PhD from Harvard Oh Harvard it's

just just repeating or mirroring a key

word and we can also reflect emotion and

we can reflect ideas so paraphrasing the

speaker's idea to demonstrate that we we

got the message we understood

yeah okay another question you think um

should we be teaching a culture as well

because I think that comes from I don't

know maybe you see differences in

different students from different parts

of the world with their with their

listening but what do you think about

that where you are or you know the

country that you're teaching in yeah

well the way I see it

obviously language is an intricate part

of culture and when we learn language we

learn culture we can't help that process

happening and I think the way people

interact with each other is embedded in

culture and yeah so I think

intercultural skills and intercultural

competence is something that we comes

with the territory of learning a

language and we model that as teachers

and yeah I mean it's not our first

purpose but it's it's embedded in

language learning I think yeah it's a

good question here I said this is from

somebody I have read somewhere that 45%

of the day is spent in listening but we

rarely rarely listen to 30% of what is

being said what can be the strategy that

can keep students motivated towards

listening more basically I think that's

what they're trying to say especially

with the younger learners there's a

number of questions about younger

learners as well yeah I I think is that

there's always a motivation or question

there to keep students of this age you

know younger learners and sort of team

then is motivated or listening yes well

I I'm not working with very young people

I'm most working with people in their

20s and

III think describing the problem you

know that that our minds work a lot

faster than we can speak so we can

listen a whole lot faster than then the

speaker can speak and so we end up

focusing on our response or focusing on

our own thoughts going on a thought

journey of our own and we and the moment

we do that we stop listening and and I

think obviously with young people and

mobile phones we live in a world of huge

distraction so yeah I think I think for

them to get on board they need to see

the value of it and and I think they

start to enjoy being listened to and

returning the favor and and also also

actually helps them with their with

their speaking where so where there are

decoding gaps and they can't follow you

know they hit a wall in the

comprehension in the discussion or

they're a weak speaker they know that

they can echo and that they can attempt

a paraphrase or you know ask a question

that that that can assist them in

participating in the conversation so I

think just a strategy to make it easier

to listen is to actually focus on and

repeat in your mind the words that the

speaker has said and this this can

actually help you overcome distractions

yes sure and obviously the more practice

said it you get the the quick you are at

responding or better at listening

excellent so another question how do you

encourage students to express emotions

while speaking I think you did have some

exercises there and I think in red you

have the emotions to be expressed but is

there any way that you can really try

and make students aware of or use

use emotions more I don't I don't know

really that was that wasn't a huge part

of our program actually it was just a

bit of a an experiment and I mean we

played games with them where they stood

up and mirrored each other so pretending

there was a mirror and they were looking

into a mirror and two rows of students

and so one one row reflect the body

language and and expression facial

expression but then transferring that

into expressing feeling as you speak is

almost a bit of an acting skill but yeah

so I don't I don't really have an answer

except that I do a lot of modeling and

hamming things up to sort of show them

what I want that's great well thank you

very much I think we've I think we've

grilled you enough there thanks

everybody so much for attending and for

your questions I'm sorry we we could we

could talk about this all day and thank

you for being very good listeners during


The Description of Melissa Oldroyd Using active listening skills to improve listening comprehension October 2019