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Web resource for listening

My public speaking classes always included a few lessons about listening. Sometimes it was a tough sell to convince students about why it is necessary to take time out to talk about listening too.

This article from Avinoam Nowogrodski at Fast Company highlights some reasons that students will find compelling: not only does active listening help get the job but also to perform better on the job. The public speaking classroom is a great opportunity to improve listening skills, and to do so while listening to a variety of speakers on a variety of topics–some of which may be the important public issues of the future.

I tell my students this story: The best speaker that I ever had in class took notes on his classmates’ speeches. This is not something that I assigned, but something he did on his own. One day I asked to see his notes and realized how much they were improving his own speaking. He had two columns. In one, he made a brief outline of the speech to see if he could easily outline it. In the other, he made a note of what he and/or the audience responded best to from the speech and one thing he saw as a weakness. He used this information when planning for his own speeches. By the end of the semester, the other students actively looked forward to Joe’s name being on the board on speech days because he always impressed them. Because he listened to them.

Link to article


Examples for male/female communication differences

These are four brief sample conversations that I wrote based on student suggestions about the differences in how men and women communicate. I would use these examples on tests with a question like “Based on what we have learned about how men and women communicate, identify five differences in communication style that are contributing to a misunderstanding.” Find the in-class activity that I used to generate these conversations here:

1. “What do you want for dinner?”

A couple are on a drive and the following conversation takes place:

Female:             “Do you want to get something to eat?”

Male:             “Sure. What kind of food do you want?”

Female:            “I don’t care.”

Male:             (pulls into a KFC)

Female:             (sighs loudly)

Male:            “What’s wrong?”

Female:             “Nothing, it’s just that I thought you knew that I don’t like chicken.”

Male:             “We can go somewhere else.”

Female:             “No this is OK, I’ll just have a Pepsi.”

Male:             “We can go get a pizza instead.”

Female:             “This is fine. I haven’t had pizza in a long time though.”

Male:             (Starts to leave parking lot)

Female:             “What are you doing?”

Male:             “Going to get pizza like you said.”

Female:      “I didn’t say to get pizza. I said we can do whatever you want and you want fried chicken so this is fine.”

Male:     “If changing your mind was an Olympic sport you would have a gold medal.” (laughs)

Female:     “What? Why are you being a jerk?”

Male:             (stops car) “Just make up your mind.”

Female:             “Stop yelling at me!”

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In-class activity for distinguishing facts and opinions

It can be a challenge for college students to distinguish facts and opinions in writing and speaking, but it is so important for public speakers to be able to do this with their own information so that they know where they will need to provide more support.

I used a sample story for students followed by a series of questions to illustrate that the lines between fact, opinions and inferences are not always clear-cut. I can’t find that exact story online and do not know if I am allowed to type it in since I got it from an educational publication, but I found a similar example online at problem 2. It has an answer key as well.

There are also several examples online of brief statements that ask students to identify facts and opinions, much like problem 1 on the above link. These could be done as a group discussion (this is how I did it) or as a small group activity with groups also discussing how they could support the opinions or inferences in a speech.

If you have found any other paragraph examples online, please let us know in a comment.

In-class activity for listening

Link to 30-Second Memory Test description

This link gives a brief activity to illustrate some principles of listening. You can either read or provide a visual of a series of 12 words. If using a visual, leave the words up for only 20 seconds then remove it.

Then ask the students to make a list of as many words as they recall from the list. Give them a few minutes to do this.

After they finish, ask the students to find the word “sleep” on their list and circle it. (In my experience many students go “oh yeah!” and add it to their list). Then put up a visual of the list of words and let them know that “sleep” was not on the list at all.

With listening, I connect this to the idea of jumping to conclusions. Our brains fill in details when we think we know where something is headed. This exercise description calls it “false memories”.

It is a quick class activity. Students are often surprised by the results and what it shows them about how they listen.

Video for listening

Video and in-class activity for listening

Although this is not directly related to listening, it effectively makes the point that most of us do not do well at having our attention divided.

In this 1:22 video, watchers are challenged to count how many times the team passes the ball. Something unexpected happens during the video, but watchers usually miss it because they are focused on counting the passes.

Although many people claim to multitask effectively, we often fail as listeners by trying to do too many other things while listening. Instead listening is selective — we must choose what will get our attention and be aware that other things will be slighted.

This could be developed into an in-class activity by having students count the ball passes then work with a small group to compare answers and come up with a final count. In the debriefing you could also ask if anyone noticed anything else about the video. It may be necessary to exclude students who have seen it before — the video has been around for a few years and you may have students who know about it already. They could be assigned as non-participant “observers” in the other groups if needed.

Note: The video is currently free at YouTube and likely at other sites too. It provides the exercise along with an explanation although it does not reference listening directly.

Have you seen other good video examples of selective listening or attention?

A written assignment for listening

This written assignment is a nice choice for right after a discussion of listening or for students to do on their own if you will not have time to cover the listening chapter.

Describe in detail a situation you have experienced in which problems with listening interfered in the communication process. Look over the various listening problems given in the textbook. Which of these reasons do you think interfered with your listening? Why? Now review the textbook’s suggestions for improving your listening skills. Which of these tips would do most to help you improve listening skills in the situation that you described? Why? How might you begin to employ this tip?

It is better to ask some …

It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers.

James Thurber, playwright

Video for listening (or interpretive competence)

Link to episode description

Simpsons: Season 6, episode 13

This episode recounts the birth of Maggie. Midway through is a clip where Homer is enjoying his new job at a bowling alley. He has not yet found out that Marge is pregnant although everyone else in town already knows. When several people congratulate Homer on Marge’s pregnancy, he interprets their comments to be about his new job — sometimes absurdly.

It is a nice clip to show biased listening and a failure of interpretive competence with regard to salience.

Photo courtesy of Simpsons Wiki

Video for listening

Video for listening

Simpsons: Season 4, episode 2

The beginning of this episode had a nice sequence about listening, or lack thereof. Marge informs Homer that she is leaving to try out for a play that night, a musical version of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Homer and the kids are distracted by a beauty pageant on TV and miss Marge’s multiple messages about the audition. It is a nice example of the differences between hearing and listening and I ask the students follow-up questions:

  • Is the problem here that Homer can’t hear her?
  • How do we know he can hear her?
  • Is he listening to her?
  • How do we know he is not?
  • What are the barriers that are keeping him from listening?

Note: This clip does have an offensive word. It is easy to cut the clip down for time and to remove the word and still be effective.