Social Skills Series #22: Listening, Really Listening (Part 2)

Here’s a cute little song from Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat Songbook. I learned it for our Dr. Seuss theme in and used it with three consecutive Kindergarten classes. Take a listen:

Now, here’s the funny thing: every time I introduce this song to a new group of kids, the same thing happens. I start out, “I once knew a fellow who had twelve teeth…”

They’re interested, they’re engaged, the lean towards me, and I continue, “Five up on top and five underneath…”

…and one or two kids, the ones paying the most attention, call out, “Hey, that’s only ten!”

“Hold on!” I say, vamping on a chord. “Just hold your horses, I’m not done!”

“…And one in his pocket, and that left one more…”

I stop playing completely and point out, “See? It’s twelve. Five, plus five, plus one, plus one.”

“…that he kept back home in his bureau drawer.”

After that there’s a whole conversation about what a “bureau” is, and the song is derailed again. For a forty-second song, it does take quite a while to get through the first time.

Kudos to the kids who question Seussian math. They have skeptical minds and a head start on basic addition. This example illustrates perfectly, however, that when you interrupt someone before they finish making their point, it leads to misunderstandings.

Listening attentively and respectfully, without interruption, is an important social skill. Here are a few tricks and techniques you can try with your little ones to discourage interruptions.

  • When it’s time to listen attentively, say “put a bubble in your mouth!” and watch them puff out their cheeks until their turn to speak.
  • Have them tune out distractions by closing their eyes. Use the phrase, “Close your eyes and open your ears, I have something I want you to hear.”
  • “If you can hear my voice”: This is an effective trick for groups of kids (or adults). Get them to stop chattering and pay attention by saying, not too loudly, “If you can hear my voice, clap once.” Listen for the claps, and repeat as needed. Then say, “If you can hear my voice, clap twice.” You’ll hear two claps, then a glorious silence.
  • Dual dictation: Try this with your child, or have two children do it together. This activity is borrowed from the British Council’s “Teaching English” website:

Ask students to get into pairs to write a dialogue. When student A is speaking, student B should write down what they are saying and vice versa. When they have finished the conversation, they should check what each other has written and put the two sides of the conversation together. You could then ask students to perform their dialogues again to the rest of the class, or to swap with other pairs. This activity works best if you give students a theme or role-play, e.g. a conversation between friends about holidays, an argument between siblings, an interview with a famous person, [or] a scene from a film.

For more great listening activities geared toward families with little ones, try this list, 15 Activities to Build Listening Skills from Family Maven.

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Vanessa Farkas is a writer, musician, educator, and lifetime learner who worked at the Phoenix Education Foundation as a music teacher from 2010-2018 and has left to retrain and pursue a new career as a legal assistant. Her eight years at Phoenix have left her enriched with experiences and stories, and this series blends those stories and experiences with practical advice and perspectives on helping children develop social skills. Names have been changed.