Introduction: The following lesson plan uses a collection of short communication exercises to focus participants on barriers to listening and skills for overcoming them. They exercise is meant to be fun while raising awareness of the work involved in listening closely.
Goal: When this session is complete, participants should be able to…
- Be aware of communication styles between students and adults
- Identify new personal capacities for listening
Time: See “Procedures.”
Space: See “Procedures.”
Considerations: Each of the following activities consists of a short description along with several suggested debrief questions. Mix and match exercises, do them all, or supplement them with other information. After doing a couple of the exercises, facilitate a general discussion about what it means to listen, how you can best do it, and how people can apply what they have learned from these activities.
Exercise 1: Pair Observations
Space: Enough for people to work in pairs.
Description: [20 min] The first exercise are “Pair Observations.” Have the group divide into pairs (Person A and Person B). Person A asks person B the following questions:
- What is your name?
- Where were you born?
- What makes you happy?
- What makes you sad?
When those questions are complete, switch and have Person B ask Person A the questions. After both have interviewed each other, have them sit back to back and ask the following questions:
- What color hair does you partner have?
- Does your partner wear glasses? What was your partner wearing?
Have them quiz each other and then bring the group back together to discuss ho many answers people got right. You may change the four interview questions to something that may relate more directly to the work of the group.
For a wrap-up, explain to the group that this exercise shows us how little we perceive even when we are supposedly paying focused attention on someone. You might ask…
- Were people able to answer the second four questions? Why or Why not?
- What does this tell us about how we listen and communicate?
- What affected expectations have on communications?
- How might one improve communication based on what you’ve learned form this activity?
Exercise 2: Listening and Not Listening
Time: 30 min
Space: enough for people to wok in pairs.
Description: Have the group divide into pairs. Ask the pairs to come up with a simple situation in which one person (person A) is talking to another (Person B)—for example, a friend telling another about his/her day, a student asking a teacher about a homework assignment, etc. Each person in the pair then chooses one of the roles. When you tell them to begin, person A starts talking. Person B is to do everything he or she can to demonstrate that they are not listening. Let this go until it is clearly time to stop (about 2-3 minutes). Create a list f “not listening” behaviors. Then challenge participants to three it again, this time with Person B doing everything he or she can to demonstrate he or she is listening. Make a list of what people did this time that was different.
Purpose/ Questions: This exercise illustrates some of the specific behaviors around listening and not listening and gives people the opportunity to experience what both experiences feel like.
- How did it feel when Person B wasn’t listening?
- When he/she was listening?
- Which was easier?
- How do you know when someone is really listening to you?
Exercise 3: Explaining a Process: Communicating Back to Back
Time: 30 min.
Materials: Blank Paper and pencils for half the group. Slips of pear with simple drawings on them for the other half.
Space: Enough for people to work in pairs
Description: Ask the group to divide into pairs. Ask the pairs to sit back to back and designate themselves Person A and Person B. Person A is given a slip of paper with a simple design (preferably abstract). Person A attempts to explain the design and instruct Person B in how to draw it. Person B may not talk! They have 10 minutes (variation: After 5 minutes, tell them that Person B may now talk). When time allows, have partners switch roles, shuffle a new design, and have them try again.
Purpose/usage: Most likely, the drawings will look nothing like they should, illustrating the importance—and the difficulty—of clear communication.
- What you think you are saying may not be what others perceive.
- What strategies for describing the picture seemed to work?
- In what situations might those kinds of strategies also be useful?
- How can you be clearer and more precise?
- The clearer you can be, the less likely you are to run into misunderstandings (and the anger and confusion that can accompany them).
Exercise 4: Focusing with Body Language: Impulse Circle
Time: 5-10 min.
Space: Enough for the group to stand in a circle
Description: Group stands in a circle, holding hands. Facilitator squeezes the hand of the person on their right, sending an impulse around the circle. The group sees how quickly they can do this. After a couple times around, add a second impulse. See if they can keep two going at once.
Purpose: The impulse Circle can be used to help a group focus and concentrate.
- Ask participants to do the activity in silence or with their eyes closed.
- What is difficult about this activity?
- How might you make it easier?
- Why would that help?
Exercise 5: Challenging Assumptions about Language: Making PB & J
Time: 25 min.
Materials: A loaf of bread, jam, peanut butter, knife, plate, towel
Space: A table with the group around it
Description: Set up the materials on the table. Ask for two volunteers, then assign one to be the sandwich maker and the other to be the sandwich director. Explain to the group that the sandwich maker is an alien form another planet and has only the most rudimentary understanding of your culture, let alone your language. The sandwich director’s job is to instruct the alien in the art of peanut butter and jelly sandwich making using only words, with no actions. The audiences job is to call foul if they think the sandwich director is using concepts or words that are too sophisticated (such as “open the jar,” or “pick up the knife”) or otherwise committing fouls, like pointing.
Demonstrates the assumptions we make about language.
- How do your assumptions about what people understand affect communication?
- How can we change that effect?
- What happens when you make too many assumptions and aren’t clear enough?
- How can you apply what you have learned to other communication? It’s much easier to get work done when you have common understanding.
Additional Lesson Plans
- Facilitator Notes and Requirements
- Intro to Student/Adult Partnerships
- Intro to Student Voice
- Readiness for Student/Adult Partnerships
- Bias Against Students
- Being Students
- Understanding Who You Are
- Language in Schools
- Learning to Listen
- Feedback Techniques
- Jargon in Schools
- Power, Trust, and Respect
- Ground Rules
- Group Strengths and Weaknesses
- Trust Circle
- Action Planning
- Problem Solving
- Staying Solutions-Focused
- Letting Go & Taking Charge
- Ideal Partners
- Creating Roles for Students and Adults