The Art of Active Listening in the Classroom

Active listening can be described as “a multistep process, including making empathic comments, asking appropriate questions and paraphrasing and summarizing for the purpose of verification” (McNaughton, Hamlin, McCarthy, Head-Reeves & Schreiner, 2008). Teaching children with special educational needs may be challenging for most teachers as teachers have to put in their best effort to ensure that all learners are being given an equal opportunity to learn despite having different interests and abilities. According to Rigelman and Ruben (2012), when teachers are able to communicate effectively with each other through active listening, they are better able to meet the needs of their students. Vostal, McNaughton, Benedek-Wood and Hoffman (2015) conducted a study on pre-service special educators. When compared to the pre-test results, the post-test results showed that participants were able to demonstrate active listening skills after they were taught explicitly on how to do it.

These skills were adapted from McNaughton (2008) who designed a framework to promote active listening in the classroom: LAFF Don’t CRY

L Listen, empathize and communicate respecte.g. ‘I understand that you are worried about [situation]. Can you please tell me more about it?’
A Ask questions and ask permission to take notes

e.g. ‘May I know how long has this problem been? Have you ever spoken to anyone else about this problem?’

F Focus on the issues

e.g. ‘I would like to review [the situation shared].’

**You should give some time for your student/ student’s parents to listen to your summary of the issue and correct you for any misinformation and add on details to the issue.

F Find a first step

e.g. ‘As a first step, I would like to speak to your parents/ the student’s school teacher’


C Criticize people who aren’t present

e.g. ‘Your (child’s) school teacher may not have much experience with dyslexia.’


React hastily and promise something you can’t deliver

 e.g. ‘Maybe you should find another educational therapist for the child?’


Yakety-yak-yak- We should avoid talking about topics which may divert our attention from the real problem

 e.g. ‘I understand how difficult it must be to manage [the situation]. Few years ago, I used to know someone who….’

Hence, to illustrate active listening in the classroom, we can refer to the following real-life scenario and conversation between an educator from the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) and a student. Pseudonym is given for the educator and student to protect their identities.

Student A is a 12 year old boy who is in primary six and will be sitting for his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) this year. He comes from a dysfunctional family and is less favoured by his parents resulting in him acting out in class often, throwing tantrums, and having frequent and volatile mood swings. He is currently in a class with four other students with no behavioural issue. One day, he came to class with a bad mood as observed by his body language. The educator began the class by checking in with everyone.

Educator How is everyone today?
Student A (Looked up at the educator and continued to fiddle with his pen, ignoring the educator’s question)
Educator Student A, how are you doing today?
Student A Can you stop asking me?! Clearly you can see that I’m not happy right!
Educator I can see that you are not happy. Would you be more comfortable to share more about it?
Student A NO!
Educator It’s okay to have strong feelings and I am sure none of your friends here are having a good day everyday either.
Student A They are not my friends! I don’t have friends! No one wants to be friends with me!
Educator I understand that you may not be comfortable sharing your feelings in front of your classmates, why don’t we step out of the classroom and talk about how you feel?
Student A (Agrees and follows the educator outside)
Educator I realized that you did not like me using the word ‘friends’ and you also mentioned that you do not have friends, so how long has this been going on?
Student A Since forever, I have no friends.
Educator As a first step, why not try making friends with your classmates here? I could help you with that.
Student A (started to tear) What if they don’t like me?
Educator You won’t know unless you give it a shot. We can start off by sharing your interests with your classmates? For example, your interest in Call of Duty?
Student A What if they judge me?
Educator Remember that we have this in our classroom rule – not to judge each other and to be kind. I will speak to them and remind them too.
Student A (nodded in agreement)
Educator Do you feel better now? Do you want to share what you were unhappy about earlier?
Student A (shook his head) No.
Educator It’s okay but remember that I’m always here if you need someone to talk to.
Student A Okay.
Educator Are you ready to join your classmates now?
Student A (nodded in agreement)

In the above scenario and conversation, the educator employs active listening strategies that have been discussed in the earlier part of this article. Thus, it is important for educators to engage in active listening in the classroom and this can be extended to their personal lives and relationships with colleagues and loved ones. During mentoring at the DAS, educational advisors (EA) and senior colleagues will continuously inform the trainee educators on the challenges that they may potentially face while teaching students with learning difficulties to emotionally and mentally prepare them for their journey here. With the increase in academic demands, as well as , differentiated instructions, it is vital for us to be able to work together to help educators achieve the goals that they have set for learners in their classrooms.

Educators can practice making use of this framework in their classroom and help their learners identify the challenges that they are facing, as well as, figure out their emotions and thoughts that are associated with these challenges. Subsequently, they can work together with their learners to overcome these challenges and achieve one small goal at a time.

Nur Ashabiena & Sathi Menon
Educational Therapists
Bishan Learning Centre

Learn more about Ashabiena and Sathi!


McNaughton, D., Hamlin, D., McCarthy, J., Head-Reeves, D., & Schreiner, M. (2008). Learning to listen: Teaching an active listening strategy to preservice education professionals. Topics in early childhood special education, 27 (4), 223-231.

Rigelman, N. M., & Ruben, B. (2012). Creating foundations for collaboration in schools: Utilizing professional learning communities to support teacher candidate learning and visions of teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28, 979–989. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2012.05.004

Vostal, B. R., McNaughton, D., Benedek-Wood, E., & Hoffman, K.(2015). Preparing teachers for collaborative communication: Evaluation of Instruction in an Active Listening Strategy. National Teacher Education Journal, 8 (2), 5-14.