Whole Body Listening
Whole Body Listening
Throughout the Elementary School Years
By Wendy L. Barrick, MS, CCC-SLP
Whole body listening is a technique that can be incorporated in various ways to help school-aged children in grades K-6 focus, refine their listening skills, and improve auditory processing for all academic and life skills tasks. The concept of whole body listening was first set forth in 1990 by Susanne Truesdale.1
Subsequently, it was mentioned in ADVANCE.2 The speech-language pathologist in that article had developed Truesdale's technique of whole body listening for use with preschoolers to give them a way to actively engage in listening.
I have drawn upon Truesdale's concept and developed concrete, hands-on, fun lesson plans for the K-6 population. Initially, I used it as a lesson at the beginning of the year for my pull-out groups.
From there it became an introductory lesson in the district-wide Developmental Speech-Language Kindergarten Program, which is a push-in type of co-teaching program in all kindergarten classes. I spend 45 minutes to an hour every day in each kindergarten class, providing language enrichment and phonemic awareness activities to class lessons.
Finally, the whole body listening concept went school-wide at the Sunrise Drive Elementary School in the Sayville Public School District on Long Island, NY. Teachers from all grades requested that speech-language pathologists provide lessons in whole body listening for their classes. Special area teachers--art, gym, music, etc.--began asking about whole body listening and incorporating the terms and techniques into their class time.
Every year or so, a few teachers ask for a "refresher" for themselves and their class, and the speech-language pathologists arrange to go in and reteach the children about whole body listening. Even though all children receive the information in kindergarten, if it is not reinforced periodically throughout the grades, it does not remain effective.
Effective strategies incorporated in the whole body listening concept deal with giving the students tangible referents for what listening looks and feels like when we're doing it properly and providing visual, hands-on, interactive materials for the students to refer to during and after the lesson. Just telling someone to listen often is not enough because we haven't taught them how to listen.
Listening and processing are skills that children need right from the start of their academic careers. As the students move through the grades, these demands become greater, requiring more responsibility on the listener's part. If whole body listening is used consistently from the outset of children's schooling, they can become more efficient in understanding and learning the material presented.
Better listeners will develop better comprehension and use of the language around them. They will be able to understand what is required of them and apply it to the tasks before them.
However, as we now know, not all students process the world around them in the same way. This is another reason why whole body listening is such a valuable concept. It incorporates techniques and activities in many sensory modalities and utilizes most of the senses in the process of listening.
Whole body listening is taught by first asking children what part of the body listens. After they inevitably answer "the ear," they are told that they are partly correct, but the rest of their body can help the ear to be a better listener. They are told how the eyes help (by looking at the speaker), the mouth (by keeping it closed), the brain (by thinking about what is heard), the hands and feet (by keeping them still and quiet and to themselves), and even the bottom (by keeping it seated in one place while listening).
This technique can be taught in large or small groups, to young or older elementary students. Younger age groups receive a large cut-out of an ear with small pictures of the various body parts. As each part is discussed, the children glue it on the ear. At the end, yarn is used so the ear becomes a necklace to wear throughout the school and at home.
For the middle elementary schoolchildren, a smaller ear and body part pictures are used on a page that has room at the bottom to write an ending for the sentence, "When I'm a whole body listener I...."
For the upper elementary grade students, an even smaller ear is drawn on a page, with circles around it where the children can draw or glue the body parts. At the bottom of the page are two sentence fill-ins: "Whole body listening means..." and "Two ways I can help myself remember are...." The last fill-in refers to study skills that are discussed and tied in with the whole body listening lesson given in the upper elementary classrooms.
Study skills involving memory strategies are a natural outgrowth of using whole body listening. Some memory strategies discussed are listening for key words or numbers, picturing the directions in your mind, writing notes about the directions you hear, repeating the directions to yourself, and listening for words that are repeated or said louder. In addition to the page that the students work on and keep, each classroom posts a small whole body listening page as a visual reminder for the students.
While these whole body listening lessons are being given, role-playing often is used so the students can pick out improper listening behaviors and explain what they are and how they interfere with the effective listening process.
Listening is essential to all we do in our busy days, both in and out of school. Whole body listening gives children a chance to be successful at something they had no way to measure before. Awareness of this listening process should begin early and continue to be reinforced throughout a child's elementary school career. Students must internalize this process so they can take responsibility for their own learning and success as they advance in their academic careers.
1. Truesdale, S. (1990). Whole body listening: Developing active auditory skills. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 21: 183-184.
2. Palacio, M. (2000). Whole body listening: Simple approach to building preschool skills. ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists & Audiologists, 10 (12): 6-7.