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Listening and Spoken Language Strategies in the Classroom

Listening and Spoken Language Strategies in the Classroom
Ashley Garber, MS, CCC-SLP
August 6, 2012
This article is sponsored by Cochlear Americas.

This text-based course is a transcript of the live seminar, "LSLS Strategies in the Classroom," presented by Ashley Garber, M.S.CCC-SLP as part of the HOPE series from Cochlear Americas. Please download supplemental course materials.

My name is Ashley Garber. I am a speech language pathologist and a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist (LSLS) certified auditory verbal therapist (AVT) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I have been working with children and adults with hearing loss for about 15 years in a variety of settings, most recently in private practice where I am pleased to be able to consult frequently with professionals in the public school setting. It is through some of those experiences that I will talk with you today about using LSL strategies in the classroom setting.

We will start by identifying some of the classroom-specific issues, defining some Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) strategies and then talk about infusing auditory opportunities into the classroom. Towards the end we will have time for discussion and questions. To start, think about for a moment some of the challenges that we face in integrating auditory learning into the classroom. The following quotes are things that I have heard as I have talked with teachers about what they face when trying to integrate LSL strategies and auditory strategies into their classroom environment:

"Planning purposeful language ahead of time is difficult."
"All of my kids have different auditory skill levels."
"How do I balance content goals with language skills and auditory skills?"
"It is difficult for me to choose targets when vocabulary needs are so overwhelming."
"There is so much to cover. How do I fit it in?"

These quotes are straight from the mouths of teachers of deaf children in programs designed for grouping children with hearing loss together prior to mainstreaming.

Maximizing Auditory Learning in the Classroom

To start us off on this topic I want to go back in time to a HOPE session that I presented a couple of years ago with Mary Ellen Nevins (2005) called Creating Listeners in the Classroom. Paraphrasing from that program, one of the first steps that we will talk about towards maximizing auditory skill development is conceptualizing a relationship between groupings of children within our classrooms and how we use instructional time. That relationship may prove to overcome some of the barriers that we have towards building auditory skills in the classroom. For example, we might group children based on their auditory ability for at least part of the day. We can meet needs for children at all different levels across the classroom if we group them based on their auditory skill level for part of the day and then maximize opportunities for individualized instruction for children during those times.

If yours is a program where some children leave for special services such as occupational or speech therapy, you can use that time to individualize instruction for the children that are remaining in the classroom. Another step you can take is to look closely at the schedule for each instructional date and see if you find time that has been underutilized for instructional purposes. For example, there may be a few minutes between special activities or leaving the classroom and coming back, lining up time, or time between art and dismissal. Any of those overlooked little chunks of time may be useful for purposeful listening activities.

The third concept we talked about in that program was the idea of using classroom content as a vehicle for auditory work. That might seem like the most obvious place we would look, and it is where we are going to focus today in terms of the strategies for incorporating our listening and spoken language strategies into the classroom. While it is, perhaps, the most accessible place, I think we sometimes underutilize that opportunity. In this age of improved access to sound, the classroom is a wonderful place for differentiating auditory learning purposes for auditory training. We have the ability to focus on the connections between listening and language and cognition right there in the classroom. It is really the optimum place for maximizing auditory learning with the hope of carry over to the other areas of listening and cognition.

From our surveys I know that almost all of you are professionals in deaf education, whether you are teachers or speech language pathologists. As we are talking about classroom strategies, I am assuming that many of you are teachers of deaf children. As such, you bring to the table knowledge of best practices and education and also particular emphasis on teaching children with reduced auditory access, whether you are a LSLS designated by the Alexander Graham Bell Academy or not. The LSLS has an extended knowledge base that focuses on education, guidance, advocacy, family support and the rigorous application of techniques, strategies and procedures that promote optimal acquisition of spoken language through listening by children who are deaf or hard of hearing. My emphasis today is on the application of these techniques as a LSLS who would apply those techniques specifically towards spoken language development through listening.

Optimizing Effectiveness in the Classroom

Ellen Estes (2010) published an article in Volta Review laying out an organizational schema, as she called it, of all the strategies that would be required of an effective listening and spoken language professional. She noted that, in addition to the knowledge that forms the basis for LSL practice, it is the development of skills that create the means for effectively supporting children with a hearing loss in educational settings. She identified three areas of focus. The first was optimizing the effectiveness of each interaction with the child, the second organizing the setting, and the third maximizing listening and spoken language access. She then differentiated specific skills in each of the areas for a LSLS in the educational setting. I will be focusing on the first area, optimizing the effectiveness in the classroom.

Classroom content coupled with listening and spoken language strategies will take us towards optimizing effectiveness of our auditory work in the classroom. We will start by talking about specific LSL strategies. Activating a student's language through brain activity is the first strategy to work towards, as it is paramount. Present spoken information "auditory-first" or with an auditory focus as often as possible. For example, talk about activities before presenting materials or bringing supplies. Give students the spoken language before giving them visual clues as to what they will be doing or what you will be talking about. Describe concepts out loud before reading about them. Present new vocabulary in context before providing a written list that the children will look at. This is going to allow children to make experiential connections auditorily to the greatest degree possible by giving them the auditory information first and then following up with any visual or contextual information with supplies and the work that they do.

Next, sandwich old information with new information. This is the familiar teaching concept of scaffolding. This means that we provide auditory information first, then the visual cues followed again by auditory to sandwich that information so that the child get as much auditory information as possible with visual reinforcement when necessary. That is a way to get at the idea of presenting auditory information first, knowing that you will back it up with visual and contextual information as well.

Next we have promoting thinking skills. That is one way to optimize effectiveness. Make the activities that you present to your classroom as relevant and as challenging as possible. For example, use language like, "What did you think about that?" in relation to information you have just shared. Ask questions to continue the thought process. "How could we make that happen? How will we do it?" Another idea is getting comfortable with wait time. Wait time is a favorite auditory-verbal strategy and has a lot of usefulness in the classroom as a way to encourage students to think first about what they have heard before they have an opportunity to respond to the questions or prompts that you have made. I use the phrase "getting comfortable" because often as teachers and speech language pathologists, we are always ready with the next piece of information to help the child and to scaffold. But adding in a pause or a break will allow the child an opportunity to process spoken information for himself or herself. Sometimes we roll right over that as we work towards helping and building skills. But that wait time is the tool to build the skill.

We can use an expectant look to show the child that we do expect a response or thought from them. These behaviors serve as a model to children with regard to their listening peers as well. It is another way to think about that wait time. We show them how we, as listeners, would process information and put ideas together before we jump back in with a response. That comfort level with waiting is an important strategy to consider as we think about maximizing auditory skills. Another important concept is holding children responsible or accountable for what they hear. This goes in a couple of directions. First of all, they must be made responsible for what they hear from you. For example, after presenting some information you might say, "What do you think I am talking about?" Maybe you have given some clues. Instead of going straight to filling in the answer for them, you ask the children, "What do you think I am talking about? What could that be?" You can involve them in what is said from others, also. "Kayla, do you agree with what Marcus said? Do you think he is right?", or, "What do you think about that?" It is as simple as that.

Show the children that they are responsible for what they hear from both the teacher and other class members. Think ahead of time about some prompts that would help you to fit that concept in to your teaching. By the same token, using others as models is another strategy, so encouraging turn taking so the children do learn from each other. You can really use that to your advantage within a classroom setting. Use a child's appropriate language, whether it is pragmatic language or sentence structure, as a model for another child. Also, mistakes are good. They can be something that other kids can help with or feed into.

Sabotage is another LSL strategy. Saying one thing and doing another is a simple description of sabotage. If I said to a child, "Here is your homework," while handing them a book, we would look for the child to correct us and say, "That's not my homework. It's a book." The hope is that the child will reconcile the difference between what they hear and what they see. Sabotage is the idea of using that in a purposeful way to make those moments happen.

When preparing your classroom, you will want to plan for purposeful language strategies that will facilitate the acquisition of goals. Plan for the different skill levels of the students in the classroom. For experienced teachers, it is not necessarily a matter of changing your lesson plans but instead searching for new places within your existing plan where you can add emphasis on listening and spoken language. You do not have to throw out an entire lesson; look at your lesson activities and think how you can enhance it to provide more emphasis on listening and language development for children with hearing loss.

Examples from Classroom Observations

These examples come from some classroom observations that I have made. Here we can break them down and look at what is going on in the situation and how we might enhance those activities to bring in more opportunities for listening to spoken language. Our first example is with finger painting. This was in a classroom grouping of children with hearing loss ages three to five with hearing loss. The children had limited language skills either because of late identification of hearing loss or recent cochlear implants. The core concepts the teacher was working on in this activity were vocabulary related to the painting activity. First was the concept that mixing red and white colors makes pink. This was around Valentine's Day. Other concepts were printing, (e.g., using a stamp), messy, wash it, Valentine and heart. The teacher brought out the materials and had everything on the table and said, "Okay, it is time to paint now. We're going to use red and white to make pink." She had planned auditory targets in her lesson. She limited calling the children's names only for certain instances. Again, this group was limited in their language skills, so one of the goals was that the children had to respond to their name auditorily, and, in this case, she was going to do that as she offered the smocks and the paper for each child to get a squirt of paint on their table. That was really the only auditory-based target within the activity. It was a very language-rich activity, but after analyzing the activity, we saw many other places where the teacher could focus on using auditory-first and an auditory focus to bring listening into focus and provide even greater language opportunities. The opportunity to make connections was the key here. Some of the potential spoken language opportunities would be describing the materials before they were presented at all. If we think about the scaffolding or sandwiching concept, it would be on the order of keeping all the materials hidden and saying, "Okay, it is time to paint. Let's get out the smocks." Be comfortable with wait time. Wait and see if there are any responses. There might not be. The idea is that the children can use that auditory information and process it before the actual materials were brought out to take away from that opportunity.

Another opportunity would be telling the children that pink paint is needed and then having them realize that no pink paint is available and, therefore, it has to be mixed. If you compare presentations, the first instructed the children that they were going to use red and white to make pink paint versus turning it into a thinking activity: telling them they are going to use pink paint, but "Uh-oh, there is no pink paint!". We have to mix it up. That changes the presentation into more of a thinking activity. This also provides another opportunity of thinking through what colors you could use to make pink.

The following is a possible script you can you use to talk about the key words that we talk about in the vocabulary. You might acoustically highlight the words.

"It is time to paint! Let's get our smocks."

"Yep, it's time to paint. Here's your smock...Juan. Here's your smock...Bella."

That was the teacher's way to call the children auditorily, so they only respond to their own name. The vocabulary paint and smock had already been used, but we have pulled it out auditorily for the child.

"I want to use pink paint today." [get out a box of paint bottles] "Uh oh. There is no pink. Maybe we can mix red [get out the red] and white [get out the white]. "Here is some red. [drip the paint on the table] Here is some white. Let's mix it!" [hold up your finger and start to mix the paint] "Hooray, now it is pink!"

That is a step by step script on how we can bring in the vocabulary and concepts auditory-first and give the child a chance to think about those things before doing the activity or visually reinforcing the connection. With the mixing, for example, talk about mixing it before showing that you will do that with your finger or a spoon.

Another classroom example for children at a higher level would be to write personal narratives. I was in a classroom with children at about the third-grade level. It was a mixed-age class for children that were deaf and hard-of-hearing. They were writing personal narratives. The concept the teacher was targeting with the activity was learning to write about themselves. Integrated into that were writing concepts like paragraph structure, punctuation requirements, text requirements and grammar. The teacher was at the front of the table with chart paper, and she modeled writing her own narrative for the students before she asked them to tackle their own topics. The students did have reference cards in front of them with specific objectives for narrative writing. The teacher jumped in with writing her own narrative, first giving it a title, then starting in with the narrative. She wrote each word and said it at the same time. Then, she had some discussion afterwards with the students about the different elements that she had included.

So again, we were able to break it down after-the-fact and talk about some of the places in which to integrate auditory strategies, auditory-first and auditory focus for a more enriched listening activity. Again, describe the task before presenting any materials. In this case, remember that the students had already started their personal narratives. Try to work on the personal narratives before bringing out the chart paper even. It is that much more of an opportunity for children to process auditorily what is going to happen and what they will be working on. Once the chart paper is up, describe the other steps before handing out the reference cards or indicating that the children should bring those up.

With this age group, use of meta language as part of the teacher-modeled paragraph would be an excellent way to integrate opportunities in for auditory learning. For example, if the teacher added in statements like, "I want to write about the time I went fishing. I need to make sure that I start with that and then write about the exciting things that happened." Talking through how the teacher going to devise the personal narrative is another way to provide language context to what the students know from the other times that they have addressed this activity. Then we talked about how, in this particular example, the teacher wrote each word on paper as she spoke it. Saying a whole phrase or sentence before writing would be a better approach of maximizing auditory learning in this particular situation. Saying the whole sentence and then writing it down gives the child a chance to process that language information. If appropriate and based on the children's stage of learning, the teacher could say, "Here is my first sentence. I like to go fishing with my friends. What do you think? Is that a good opening line?" If one student says, "Yeah I think that works out." Then the next student is asked, "Do you agree?" That is a way to make sure that students are listening to each other and also listening to the teacher. This is all said before writing it down to give the children a chance to listen as part of this writing exercise. Afterwards or along the way, ask for students to comment on each other's comments. This could be a way of checking on their comprehension, both of the overall activity and their attention to the class discourse.

Another example for that same age range would be tangrams for a math activity. Many of these strategies and skills that we talk about are things that teachers do not have a concern integrating into their reading or language arts time, but they are not sure how to work them into science and math activities. Of course it is all based on the same strategies: using auditory-first, individualizing language that you use with different students, and asking them to comment on each other. All of those things fit right into a math activity as they would with any other activity. The core concepts were shapes, and that they can be manipulated to fit together into larger shapes; basically it was early geometry. Shape names were targeted as vocabulary, as well as directional terms and adjectives such as next to, beside and around. Descriptive words were the language overlay that went into this exercise. This was one thing that could be a particular focus as you think about math. The following were "yellow flag" statements or language activity I heard from the teacher: "Let me show you how to do that"; "You could turn this big triangle this way"; "Put that one over there"'; "Use one of these." Even without the context, we know this is great teaching to guide a student through the use of the tangrams by illustrating and demonstrating how he or she might use the shapes together. You see good teaching language there to lead a child through the activity, but they are all very visual or indefinite terms that could be more language rich.

So let me describe to you what you might try instead: "What if you turned the bigger triangle to the right and then slid it next to the square?"; "What if you put it on the left side of the square?"; "Put the smaller rectangle on top of the biggest triangle." The language in that statement is not more difficult than other vocabulary that is being used in that activity, but there are more words. Looking at the actual language that is used showed some good places to add in auditory focus and language focus versus the original language wthat was very visually descriptive. The teacher was relying a lot on visual focus during this activity. To enhance that and make it more of an auditory activity within the actual teaching plan, the teacher could have children verbally describe or plan how they might approach the task and then poll the group: "What do you think?", "Do you think that will work?" Then try the plan. That is a way to turn this into even more of a thinking activity than it already is. The tangram activity is definitely a thinking activity by itself. There is a lot of thinking that has to occur when they are trying to manipulate shapes into larger objects. List things that will help them gain some of that meta language. Add thinking vocabulary like plan, evaluate and decide.

When working as a group, there are always opportunities for social language overlay as well, especially as it relates to solving a problem. For example, "Success!", "You hit a road block.", "You nailed it.", or "That was confusing." These are just some ways to fit in some vocabulary that has nothing to do with the activity but has everything to do with social framework and successful language.



One thing that I did want to talk about is the idea of skill building. As noted by Ellen Estes (2010), the skills and strategies discussed today are best solidified through a mentoring process. It is important for us as professionals to think about how we can solidify the information that we receive, how we can practice it and put it into skill-building action. Knowing that sabotage is a good strategy to use and actually practicing using sabotage and seeing how it works are two different things. That step is an important one for us to make as professionals. It is a challenge for us as professionals to find or become mentors. How can we do that? That kind of relationship is not necessarily built into our professional realm, but we could think of ways to do that for ourselves, and one of the best is videotaping. It is with regret that I present these scenarios to you without videotape because that would be an excellent way for us to dig in and see what happened in the first place and how could we have improved on them. But that is something we can do for ourselves in practice. Videotaping and evaluating our own teaching sessions is a great way to change habits or improve upon what we are doing. You may see that you do use a lot of visual language instead of auditory language. A mentor once told me to tape often, and I realized that I said "look" for more often than "listen to this." Realizing how often you say "look" instead of "listen" helps to know how often you are focusing on visual versus auditory cues for your students. In review, videotape and evaluate your own sessions, look at the language that you use and how often you bring materials forward rather than describing them first. It is quite often a painful process to videotape yourself, but a very useful one.

Another idea would be to arrange for what I call observation swaps as part of your internal professional development offerings. For example, I have the opportunity to meet with teachers, observe them during the day and then discuss activities. In an afternoon or evening professional development session they have independently talked about swapping videotapes of each other or trading times in each other's classroom. They take a planning time and instead go to watch another teacher. That is a learning activity both for the teacher being observed and for the teacher observing. That might be a way to build mentoring relationships into your existing professional environment if a mentor is not already there for you.

I am sure that the strategies I described today are not new strategies, but I hope you have new ways to consider their use. To bring the informational part to a close I would like to summarize. Our thoughts today were towards optimizing the effectiveness of each teaching moment, bringing together the content from the classroom and LSL strategies so each of those content moments is also a time for developing auditory skill and language skill. Embrace auditory learning as the juncture between listening, language and cognition. Follow a comprehensive model for auditory skill development, and create an environment that values and expects listening and speaking by encouraging your students to comment on each other and the things that they hear. Build auditory skills in the context of speech, language and content development.

Before we are finished, I wanted to tell you about a new recent publication of a parent resource through the HOPE program. You can access it at and is in the Parent section. This is a booklet of practical ideas on specific topics. There are a couple of booklets out. One is called Fun and Games and it includes articles on choosing toys and games. Resources at Your Fingertips is all about things that are online, but also about apps that are available for phones and tablets. There are more and more apps available every minute. Ling 6 Sounds is about apps and online offerings and materials for listening and language development. There is an article on optimizing participants in summer or after school activities, and then also an article on maximizing auditory skills and outdoor play. Again, this is geared towards parents, but for professionals it would be something that you could copy or print and distribute. Thank you all very much for joining us today.

Question & Answer

What recommendations do you have for students mainstreamed into general education in class sizes which may approach 30?

Your listening environment may be challenge and overwhelming. Content is challenging and vocabulary demands may be overwhelming. Someone who is able to make sure that technology is working, like a teacher consultant or itinerant teacher, can be helpful so that recommendations can be made for noise in the classroom if need be. Pick out vocabulary to work on individually or to have the family focus on with the student. As an LSLS auditory-verbal therapist, what I work on directly with parents can sometimes also be applied to working with professionals in mainstream classrooms. Often a student is pulled out of class for their time with the teacher consultant, but think about some of that pull-in time where you can share strategies for doing all the things that we just talked about with the teacher. There are strategies that do not take away from any of the other children where teachers can talk about things before visual information is supplied. Use vocabulary in context and mix vocabulary in different places throughout the day. Share strategies that you are familiar with as a teacher of children with hearing loss with the general education teacher.

What would you consider to be an appropriate amount of "wait time?"

It is very difficult to stop talking! I always start with at least count to three. But really, a few more beats than that would be helpful. The auditory-verbal greats might say a count of eight between presenting a question and then prompting for the answer is ideal. But this is something that is hard for all of us in the beginning, so at least start with three and then go from there. It also depends on how difficult the question is, what you are waiting for and from whom.


Estes, E. (2010). Listening, language and learning: skills of highly qualified listening and spoken language specialists in educational settings. Volta Review, 110(2), 169-178.

Nevins, M.E. (2005, October 27). CLIC IT! Creating listeners in the classroom: ideas for teaching (HOPE). AudioloyOnline, Article 4497. Direct URL: Retrieved July 18, 2012, from the Articles Archive on


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Ashley Garber, MS, CCC-SLP

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