Purposeful listening

Listening is an active process. It is the process of making meaning from what is heard, and as such, has a critical function for learning.  Although students spend a large portion of their class time listening, it is a skill that might not be explicitly taught (Tindall and Nisbet, 2008).

A process that focuses on teaching listening skills is active listening (Wegner, 2014). Active listening has three main foci. This first focus involves behaviour, that is, what does my face and body do to demonstrate listening behaviours?

  • Look at the speaker and make eye contact
  • Use facial expressions to convey understandings
  • Adopt an active listening stance

The second focus involves paraphrasing what the speaker has said, and checking for understandings. The third focus may include the asking of questions to encourage the speakers to elaborate upon their talk.

An emphasis on listening in the classroom positions students as listeners who have a central role in the communication process. The process of purposeful listening can be taught from the early years of primary school.

Other activities to promote listening:

F – 2

  • Use a rhyming picture story book and ask students to wiggle fingers when a particular rhyming word is heard
  • Oral close activities
  • Barrier games.  Students work with a partner and sit back to back. One person draws a picture or builds a construction using blocks or makes a creation using modeling clay, while giving instructions to their partner who tries to create the same, with only the use of oral language as a resource
  • Spot it. Students work with a partner and a detailed picture. Partners take turns at using positional language to describe where to find something on the page
  • Oral coding activities. Use Bee-bots (or similar coding robots). Partners dictate oral codes to each other to use when programming the robots.

3 – 6

  • Dictation relays. Students work in relay teams. First runners run to the front of the room. Read a part of a script and run back to tell the team, who record what is said. The next runner then runs to collect the next section of information. The words must be recorded exactly.
  • Oral and written paraphrasing
  • Formulating and answering questions
  • Three minutes. Three statements. Three turns. Students make groups of three. The teacher provides three statements relevant to the class’s current learning, read out one at a time. Students each speak about the given sentence for one minute. Each student has a turn at being first, second and third to speak
  • Play ‘Would you rather…?” and explain why. For example: Would you rather have a day off school or a sleepover at school?
  • Listen for the difference. Read a passage to students. Re-read the passage with some minor changes. Students identify the changes
  • Use a listening text to focus on comprehension.

Links to the Victorian Curriculum - English

  • Listen to and respond orally to texts and to the communication of others in informal and structured classroom situations using interaction skills, including listening, while others speak (VCELY174)
  • Listen to, recite and perform poems, chants, rhymes and songs, imitating and inventing sound patterns including alliteration and rhyme (VCELT209)
  • Listen for specific purposes and information, including instructions, and extend students’ own and others' ideas in discussions through initiating topics, making positive statements, and voicing disagreement in an appropriate manner (VCELY244)
  • Listen to and contribute to conversations and discussions to share information and ideas and negotiate in collaborative situations and use interaction skills, including active listening and clear, coherent communications (VCELY275)
  • Interpret ideas and information in spoken texts and listen for key points in order to carry out tasks and use information to share and extend ideas and use interaction skills (VCELY307)

Links to the Victorian curriculum - English as an Additional Language (EAL)

Pathway A

Speaking and listening

Level A1

  • Demonstrate attentive listening behaviour (VCEALC001)
  • Respond simply to questions and prompts (VCEALC002)
  • Participate in simple and familiar songs, rhymes and chants (VCEALC007)
  • Understand a simple spoken text (VCEALC005)
  • Recognise simple questions and instructions through intonation and context (VCEALL017)
  • Use simple strategies to respond to conversation breakdown (VCEALA011)

 Level A2

  • Demonstrate active listening and follow speech (VCEALC083)
  • Respond appropriately in a range of common social and classroom situations (VCEALC084)
  • Participate in class performances of songs, poems and rhymes (VCEALC089)
  • Understand key information in a short spoken or multimodal text (VCEALC087)
  • Recognise questions or statements through word order and vocabulary, as well as through intonation (VCEALL099)
  • Use a small range of strategies to negotiate meaning in conversation (VCEALA093)

Pathway B

Speaking and listening

Level BL

  • Demonstrate listening behaviour, attending to tone and intonation (VCEALC162)
  • Identify basic items of information in short spoken texts (VCEALC167)
  • Ask for repetition or ask questions to check meaning or elicit help (VCEALC164)

Level B1

  • Demonstrate active listening skills, attending to tone, intonation and body language (VCEALC240)
  • Identify some key points of information in short spoken texts, with guidance (VCEALC245)
  • Participate in extended conversations with reliance on other speakers to scaffold, interpret, clarify or elaborate (VCEALC243)
  • Ask for repetition or clarification to confirm understanding or elicit help

Level B2

  • Demonstrate independence in extended conversations (VCEALC321)
  • Identify key points of information in short spoken texts (VCEALC326)
  • Comprehend social English in most familiar contexts, and use conversation partners to support understanding
  • Ask speaker to repeat or speak slowly, or ask what a word means (VCEALC323)

Level B3

  • Contribute information, express ideas and give reasons for opinions in group tasks or classroom discussions (VCEALC401)
  • Understand a new topic delivered with extensive contextual and teacher support (VCEALC406)
  • Self-correct or reformulate language to convey meaning more clearly
  • Initiate and participate in casual exchanges and in learning contexts (VCEALC404)


Tindall, E. and Nisbet, D. (2008). Listening: A vital skill for learning. International Journal of Learning. 15(6), pp. 121- 128

Wegner, H. (2014). The Relative Effectiveness of Active Listening in Initial Interactions. International Journal of Listening. 28(1).