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10-15 minutes


Primary / Junior / Intermediate




To teach students to actively listen to each other, which helps them feel valued and understood

Discuss active listening skills:

  • Pay attention to the speaker.
  • Listen without interrupting.
  • Take turns to speak.
  • Use actions to show understanding.

In pairs:

  • Sit facing each other. Choose a topic to discuss, with which you each have familiarity.
  • Partner one whispers information about the topic, while partner two models one aspect of active listening.
  • Partners switch roles and return to the circle (or desks) when finished.

Discuss with students:

  • Did they look at their partner when speaking?
  • Did they wait until their partner was finished speaking before taking their turn?
  • Could they hear what their partner was saying?
  • Did they use actions to show understanding?

Further guidance and support may be needed for students to navigate cultural nuances of communication. 

  • This practice can be used with any curriculum topic.
  • Try the practice in groups of three: speaker, listener, and observer to summarize the listening skills.

Reactivity to others’ emotions is highly related to empathy and prosocial behaviour (Flournoy et al., 2016). Engaging in active listening can help students practice empathically responding to others’ thoughts and emotions, which fosters a safe community of empathic concern, and compassion in the classroom (Pace et al., 2013; van Schaik & Hunnius, 2016).

Flournoy, J. C., Pfeifer, J. H., Moore, W. E., Tackman, A. M., Masten, C. L., Mazziotta, J. C., . . . Dapretto, M. (2016). Neural Reactivity to Emotional Faces May Mediate the Relationship Between Childhood Empathy and Adolescent Prosocial Behavior. Child Development, 87(6), 1691-1702. doi:10.1111/cdev.12630

Pace, T. W. W., Negi, L. T., Dodson-Lavelle, B., Ozawa-de Silva, B., Reddy, S. D., Cole, S. P., . . . Raison, C. L. (2013). Engagement with Cognitively-Based Compassion Training is associated with reduced salivary C-reactive protein from before to after training in foster care program adolescents. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(2), 294-299. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.05.019

van Schaik, J. E., & Hunnius, S. (2016). Little chameleons: The development of social mimicry during early childhood. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 147(Complete), 71-81. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2016.03.003