It’s been almost 30 years since Susanne Truesdale’s article “Whole Body Listening: Developing Active Auditory Skills” was published in Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools. The lesson in the original article says “When we hear a sound, we use our ears. When we try to listen, we need to use more than our ears. We also listen with our brain, eyes, mouth, hands, feet, and even our seat!” This simple principle introduced young children to the difference between hearing and actively listening.
Good listening skills go way beyond manners. In social situations, listening helps build friendships and relationships. Active listening is also a prerequisite for academic success and improves comprehension.
Whole Body Listening (WBL) was later adopted into the Social Thinking® Curriculum (Michelle Garcia Winner). The goal of WBL is to change an abstract concept (listening) into a concrete, easy to understand one. Rather than require children to determine what is meant by “listen to me”, each part of the body (ears, eyes, hands, feet, mouth, brain and heart) is described as either on or off.
I find teaching children whole body listening skills fun and engaging with principles that can easily be incorporated into the classroom and home. Here are some of my favorites:
Books are such an effective way to introduce and review WBL. For the very young, Nita Everly’s Can You Listen With Your Eyes? is a classic. Early elementary students enjoy meeting Whole Body Listening Larry by Kristen Wilson & Elizabeth Sautter, who knows a lot about active listening! And Howard Wigglebottoms is a fun read for our active students who need to be aware of their bodies.
Making posters helps build understanding by taking advantage of multi-modalities such as visual and kinesthetic. You can download a visual here. If you have some room, my kids love making outlines of their bodies and labeling their own WBL parts!
I’ve used Mr. Potato Head as a visual for whole body listening for years. Use the body parts to talk about what ears, eyes, mouth, hands, brain (hat), and bottom should be doing, adding body parts as you discuss. To wrap up the activity, have students complete their own drawing of the big spud. You can download a student copy here.
I have found that most of my students struggle with the concept of “listening with your heart”. Interestingly, this was not included in Truesdale’s original article. The first time I encountered this was in Everly’s book, and certainly Social Thinking® teaches the importance of caring about what the speaker is saying. Since this is critical to developing empathy and perspective taking, I developed a resource to help make “listening with your heart” more concrete. You can check it out in my TpT store here.
If you have old magazines around, have students cut out pictures of different body parts and create their own Whole Body Listening collage. Internet pictures work just as well! Then have students label the different body parts and talk about whether WBL skills are being demonstrated or not and why. This activity gets a lot of giggles, but is very effective!
What kid doesn’t love a good video? Here’s a few I use frequently:
Although the featured year is 2014, this quick video still captures the attention of younger students.
My students never grow tired of Tom Chapin’s Whole Body Listening:
And of course, Sesame Street’s Biscotti Kid!
Do you have any fun ways to teach Whole Body Listening skills? If you do, please share below!