From a physical point of view the human ear converts sound waves into nerve impulses. These impulses are then perceived and interpreted by the brain as sound. Aside from this bit of physiology, did you know that there is a difference between how we “hear” and how we “listen” or that there are ways to “train” our listening skills?
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key.
Excerpt: The Science and Art of Listening, By Seth S. Horowitz, The New York Times
“HERE’S a trick question. What do you hear right now?
If your home is like mine, you hear the humming sound of a printer, the low throbbing of traffic from the nearby highway and the clatter of plastic followed by the muffled impact of paws landing on linoleum — meaning that the cat has once again tried to open the catnip container atop the fridge and succeeded only in knocking it to the kitchen floor.
The slight trick in the question is that, by asking you what you were hearing, I prompted your brain to take control of the sensory experience — and made you listen rather than just hear. That, in effect, is what happens when an event jumps out of the background enough to be perceived consciously rather than just being part of your auditory surroundings. The difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention.
Hearing is a vastly underrated sense. We tend to think of the world as a place that we see, interacting with things and people based on how they look. Studies have shown that conscious thought takes place at about the same rate as visual recognition, requiring a significant fraction of a second per event. But hearing is a quantitatively faster sense. While it might take you a full second to notice something out of the corner of your eye, turn your head toward it, recognize it and respond to it, the same reaction to a new or sudden sound happens at least 10 times as fast.
But when you actually pay attention to something you’re listening to, whether it is your favorite song or the cat meowing at dinnertime, a separate “top-down” pathway comes into play. Here, the signals are conveyed through a dorsal pathway in your cortex, part of the brain that does more computation, which lets you actively focus on what you’re hearing and tune out sights and sounds that aren’t as immediately important…
Hearing, in short, is easy. You and every other vertebrate that hasn’t suffered some genetic, developmental or environmental accident have been doing it for hundreds of millions of years…
But listening, really listening, is hard when potential distractions are leaping into your ears every fifty-thousandth of a second — and pathways in your brain are just waiting to interrupt your focus to warn you of any potential dangers. Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload. And yet we dare not lose it…
Listen to your significant other’s voice — not only to the words, which after a few years may repeat, but to the sounds under them, the emotions carried in the harmonics. You may save yourself a couple of fights..The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.” read more…
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video.
Objective: Students will read the article with a focus on reading comprehension and new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through discussions, and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Tasks
Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post, and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Based on these sources, ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary or thesaurus for assistance.
- …the clatter of plastic followed by the muffled impact of paws landing on linoleum —
- meaning that the cat has once again tried to open the catnip container atop the fridge…
- Hearing is a vastly underrated sense.
- But hearing is a quantitatively faster sense.
- This is because hearing has evolved as our alarm system-
- The sudden loud noise that makes you jump activates the simplest type: the startle.
- A chain of five neurons from your ears to your spine takes that noise and converts it…
- elevating your heart rate, hunching your shoulders…
- This simplest form of attention requires almost no brains at all and has been observed in every studied vertebrate.
- “You never listen” is not just the complaint…it has also become an epidemic...
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the article, have them complete the following paragraphs taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
“Here’s a trick question. What do you hear right now?
If your ___is like mine, you hear the ___sound of a___, the low throbbing of traffic from the nearby highway and the ___of plastic followed by the muffled impact of ___landing on linoleum — meaning that the ___has once again tried to___the catnip container ___the fridge and succeeded only in___it to the kitchen floor.
The slight ___in the question is that, by asking you what you were hearing, I ___your___to take control of the ___experience — and made you ___rather than just___. That, in effect, is what happens when an ___jumps out of the___enough to be ___consciously rather than just being part of your ___surroundings. The difference between the sense of___and the skill of is attention.”
hearing, open, sensory, brain, home, listening, listen, printer,
trick, humming, knocking, prompted, background, clatter,
paws, cat, perceived, atop, auditory, hear, event,
Using Adjectives to describe pictures
Directions: Have students choose a picture from this lesson and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Reading Comprehension Check
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion /Writing Tasks
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. After, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics.
- The article states, “ Hearing is a vastly underrated sense. We tend to think of the world as a place that we see, interacting with things and people based on how they look.” Provide an example of what the author means by this observation.
- “Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Provide reasons to support your answer.
- Do you consider yourself a good listener? How do you know?
IV. Listening Activity
Video Clip: What’s Your Listening Level?
Introduction: “How well do you listen when you’re in a conversation? Communication expert Dr. Bill Lampton describes Stephen Covey’s five listening levels, and challenges you to accept the highest level.
While Listening Tasks
True /False statements
Directions: Review the statements with students before the watching the video. As students listen to the video if a statement is true they mark it T if the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- Bill Lampton wrote the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
- The title of chapter 5 is : “Seek first to understand and then to be understood”.
- Covey gives 6 levels of listening in this chapter.
- The first level of listening is Hearing Other People.
- Dr. Bill Lampton gave the following scenario to explain this level:
- You are at a social gathering when you are talking to someone who seems to be paying you attention because they were looking you in the eye.
- But what they are really doing is glancing over your shoulder looking for someone more interesting to talk to.
- The second Habit is Paying attention.
- An example of this habit is we are giving eye contact and maybe our non-verbal signals say we are listening to the person, but we’re really not. In fact we’re thinking of something else like “Gee… was it bread or milk I was supposed to pick up on the way home from work?”
- The Third level is Selective Listening
- In the Selective Listening level you listen to everything.
- An example of this level was your annual review where your boss looks at all your accomplishments then he tells you that there are some things that need improvement. This is where you “hear” both the good things and the negative ones.
- The fourth level is Attentive Listening.
- In this case we are really giving the person our concentration, we are trying to catch what they say.
- According to Dr. Covey this is full listening.
- The fifth Level is Empathic Listening.
- This means that we go beyond the words that are spoken and we go beyond what we just hear audibly. We try to get the feelings.
- Real communication is when we learn to listen to the words.
- Dr. Covey said the toughest habit for him to follow was number 4.
Questions for Discussion
Directions:Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions.
1. After “listening” to this video has your personal idea of the art of listening changed in any way? If yes, describe in what way. If no, describe your original opinion of.
2. Did you agree with everything Dr. Bill Lampton said? Discuss which comments you agreed with and which ones you tended not to agree with. Explain why.
3. Based on the five levels of listening, how well do you listen to others in a conversation?