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June 6, 2024

Sharpen Listening Skills with “Notice and Wonder”

It’s 10:00 am, and you’ve just finished explaining the enormous Mesopotamia project, including research and peer collaboration, worth a ton of points that will absolutely impact each student’s grade. You ask your students if they have any questions, do the count of 10 “wait time,” and no one responds. You begin transitioning to the next thing, when a student raises their hand:

“Uh, what are we supposed to do again?”

We all tune out once in a while, which makes sense, as we live in a world saturated with stimuli, making it easy to get caught up in distractions. Nevertheless, active listening is a critical skill your students need to learn, for school and beyond.

One powerful tool to encourage active listening is the “Notice and Wonder” Note Catcher, a simple but effective tool for practicing both listening and observation skills:

  • Notice: Space for recording factual observations. What do you hear or see?
  • Wonder: Column for questions, thoughts, and inferences drawn from your observations.

Here’s one idea for using the “Notice and Wonder” Note Catcher to practice active listening:

  1. Choose a situation: This could be a conversation, a presentation, a lecture, or even listening to a piece of music. TED talks are great for this purpose!
  2. Prepare your note catcher: Use our template, or create your own.
  3. As you listen, focus on the key points the speaker is making. Note them down in the “Notice” section. Avoid interpretation at this stage – stay as factual as possible.
  4. After, shift to the “Wonder” section.
    • What is the speaker suggesting or implying?
    • What other perspectives might there be?
    • What questions does this raise?
    • What further information would you like to explore?

Here’s an example:

Imagine listening to a friend describe a frustrating work experience.

  • Notice (direct quotes or statements from your friend): “My boss changed the deadline.” “He didn’t explain why.” “My team is overwhelmed.”
  • Wonder (your own thoughts and questions based on what your friend said): Is the boss under pressure? What is the impact on project morale? Could my friend offer to help with communication to the team?

The Power of Inquiry

By separating noticing from wondering, we train ourselves to be less judgmental and more curious. This deeper questioning leads to better understanding and more thoughtful reactions. The “Notice and Wonder” Note Catcher can be used in so many ways – try it out, and watch you and your students’  listening skills improve!

Looking for more strategies to help your students sharpen their listening skills? Check out course 5307: The Art and Skill of Listening to Understand! Packed with resources, tips, and tricks, this course empowers you to teach, reinforce, and ultimately improve student listening skills, setting them up for success in communication and interpersonal connections.

About the Author

Betsy Butler (she/her) is a Professional Learning Specialist at Teaching Channel. She holds a B.A. in English, a Master’s in Education, and has been teaching since 1992. Betsy uses her three decades of teaching experience to write and revise our courses while selecting the perfect accompanying texts. Her specialty areas include ELA, special education topics, behavior management, and mental health.

Fun Fact: Betsy’s daily conquest is solving the New York Times crossword puzzle!


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