Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium once said: “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”

We believe he was referring to the skill of active listening, which promotes less talking and more listening. Rather than listening passively or listening just enough to form a response, active listening takes it to a new level. The goal of active listening is to understand the complete message. It involves:

  • Paying attention to what is said and how it’s said.
  • Being aware of body language, tone of voice and overall attitude.
  • Reflecting or paraphrasing the message to ensure understanding.

Students who are active listeners are more equipped to participate in class discussions, they’re more on task and they have increased academic understanding. Equally important, they have the ability to bring greater connection, clarity and understanding to their relationships.

In this activity, students will put both their listening and writing skills to the test as they use active listening to differentiate and identify sounds in the environment. They will be challenged to replicate the sounds with their voices and with instruments. Lastly, students will label the sounds and use the labels to create a story.



  1. Have students sit quietly and listen to all of the sounds around them.
  2. After several minutes of quiet listening, ask students to name, or briefly describe, the sounds they heard while you list them on the board. For example:
    1. Shuffling of feet
    2. Ticking of clock
    3. Banging of door
    4. Sound of a car starting (ignition)
  3. Take students outdoors and repeat the procedure, listing the sounds on a notepad.
  4. Once back inside, ask students to reproduce the sounds they heard - first with their voices and then with rhythmic instruments.
  5. Ask them if they can think of words to describe the sounds they are making (loud, soft, clicking, humming, etc.). List these “sound words” separately.
  6. When you have a lengthy list, use the words to write a group story. For example:
    1. Andy was humming a tune on his way to school. The soft clicking of the bicycle spokes kept time. He stopped singing and swerved when a loud car passed him going way too fast.
  7. An alternative method of creating a story is to go around the group and ask each student to contribute one word. To elicit more words, go around several times. Use a recording device to record the story, or simply write it down as it develops. Play (or read) back the completed story and discuss the results. Help students understand that in order to add a word that makes sense, they must listen to the words that came before

Wrap up the activity with a few discussion questions. What sounds did students hear today that they usually ignore? What was their favorite sound? What did they learn today by listening carefully? Most importantly, discuss the difference between hearing something and really listening to something. The goal of this activity is for students to practice their active listening skills in order to be more effective communicators in the classroom and beyond.

This activity is adapted from After-School Explorations: Fun, Ready-to-Use Activities for Kids 5-12