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Active Listening


Alice Hanbury took the reigns of the Thursday Morning Thriller on 11th June.  She told us about her experiences as a trainee RE teacher when the concept of a talking teacher was considered to be a very bad thing.  How many of you remember the phrase “Too much teacher talk” ?

In a very astute observation, Alice posed the question,

“How can I teach the students something new if I can’t talk to them?”

I think it is worth pointing out that a student passively sitting and listening to a teacher talking at length, lesson after lesson, without an opportunity to apply or explore knowledge is not a great place for that student to be in and is likely to result in the student losing concentration and an inability for that student to engage with the material being presented.  However a concise and insightful dialogue initiated by the teacher can be just the thing to spark interest, lively debate and an advancement in understanding.  As a learner myself I can recall a number of occasions when a teacher has been able to talk briefly to me to help reshape my thinking and subsequently my understanding has improved. In short I learnt!

As a school we were lucky to have @learningspy visit us in November to deliver some INSET which I am delighted to see has sparked a number of different teachers to experiment with new ideas in their classrooms. Alice explained that in particular the ideas that David presented around the structuring of lessons and the development of high quality student talk as a precursor to writing resonated with her and encouraged her to experiment in her own classroom.


Alice felt that the most likely point for her to be talking with students was in area 1 (Setting the context & building the field; also called the Connect stage in Oriel speak!). However before exploring the strategies to encourage effective listening it is worth identifying characteristics of students who are actively listening to what is said:

  • Attentive
  • Curious
  • Engaged
  • Responsive
  • Critical
  • Questioning

Alice then shared some strategies that she uses regularly to transform the type of listening that students undertake when learning:


Best used when revising a topic previously covered. Students predict a list of 5 key words that they think will be mentioned when discussing a topic. As they are mentioned they tick them off their list.

Cautionary note: be prepared for students to try to steer the conversation so that they can complete their ‘line’!


The use of a series of symbols that students can link to the meanings they hear. This requires them to assimilate the information they hear quickly and work out how it relates to the main topic.  The more creative you are with your choice of images the better it seems to work!



This is exactly as it sounds; remove the irrelevant or inaccurate information as you listen. This could be used really well if students are listening to group presentations and the teacher wants to ensure the consistency and quality of information taken onboard.

Big Questions

Presenting an open ended (and possibly contentious!) question that can be debated by groups of students. The listening value comes from students having to shape their own responses to the big question posed.

Development Tasks

Asking students to give their views on various points. Then after listening to information (presented by teacher or student) students revise their initial viewpoint, responding to the information just received. This allows students to reshape their viewpoint, developing their own individual perspective. Useful for developing complexity.

Forming Questions

Asking students to form personalised questions about the learning focus is a useful starting point. Asking students to respond to those questions, having responses carefully listened to adds listening value. Could combine well with both the Big Question and Development tasks detailed above.

Alice’s presentation can be downloaded here:

Active Listening



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