Listening skills are learned behaviors, and young elementary students need to develop the basics of each skill so they understand what is expected of them at school and at home. Incorporate discussions and explanations of listening concepts into your activities so your students understand why they need to learn these skills, and always model each activity before you begin.
Have students sit in a circle, and join them. Whisper a short phrase into the ear of the student next to you. Have that student whisper the phrase into the ear of the student next to him or her, and have that student whisper to the next student, and so on. When the last student in the circle finally hears the phrase, have that student stand and call out the phrase so the entire class can hear. Discuss how the phrase might have changed along the way, and encourage your students to pay close attention. You can then get up and move to a different spot in the circle, and begin the game again.
Explain to your students that it is important to let the person who's speaking know that they're interested. Ask the class to call out the ways people behave when they are listening well, and make a list of these behaviors on the whiteboard. Make sure that behaviors like "facing the speaker," "not interrupting" and "asking questions" are on the list. Pair students up and have them practice listening to one another by using the behaviors you listed. Give them each a subject to talk about, and have them switch roles after a minute or two. Afterward, have the class discuss the ways in which they listened well, and how it felt when their partners listened attentively to them.
Have your students sit in a circle, and explain that they will each tell a story to the class about something they did during the last week. Give them only about a minute to think before calling on the first student to speak. As soon as that student finishes, call on others and ask them to repeat the first student's story. They probably won't be able to recall the story accurately because they were busy thinking about their own stories. Explain that active listening is important, and that they must pay close attention even if they're trying to think of something else. Continue having students speak and recall stories. You should notice that the class improves their overall listening ability after your reminder.
Read a story to your students that they all know and enjoy. After you finish the story, tell the class that you'd like to read some of the sentences again, and that you want them to listen very closely. Read a sentence to them at a slow, even pace. Then, tell them you're going to repeat the sentence, and you want them to see if it sounds any different. Read the sentence again, but this time leave out a word. Ask the class if they noticed anything different. If they have trouble identifying the missing word, you can write the sentence on the board before you read it again.
Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."