Alternate Activity 4: Empathetic Listening
Activity time: 10 minutes
Materials for Activity
- A bell or other noise maker
- Newsprint, markers, and tape
- A piece of paper with these three questions written on it:
Preparation for Activity
- Decide how to form pairs. Alternate Activity 3: My Partner's Shoes offers a method that reinforces this session's theme and is likely to pair children with others whom they do not know well.
- If you pair children using Alternate Activity 3, the child who lost their shoe will be the first one to tell a story and the child who found the shoe will listen first. If you form pairs another way, decide how you will select the first story-teller in the pairs.
- Prepare to have the pairs of children spread out in the meeting space so partners can hear one another with minimal distraction.
- On newsprint, write "Good Listening" and under that, the short versions of these four tips for empathetic listening: Eye contact (Look in the eyes of the person who is talking to you.) / Nod (Nod as if to say, "Tell me more," or "That's interesting." / Do not interrupt (Do not interrupt or tell your story until the other person is done) / Ask questions (Ask the person some questions that relate to something they have told you.)
- On another sheet of newsprint, write "Questions to Ask" and under that, write: How old were you? What happened? How did you feel?
- Post the sheets of newsprint where children can see them during this activity.
Description of Activity
Arrange the group so each child is seated, facing their partner. Tell them you will give the group a question for one partner to answer by telling a short story to the other partner. Say, in your own words:
The partner who listens to the story also has a lot to do. When you listen to your partner, try to listen with empathy. That means you will listen in a way that shows your partner you can imagine being them in the situation they are describing. Listen in a way that shows you understand how they might have felt.
Now indicate the newsprint you have posted. You can say:
I am sure you already know how to listen carefully to another person. Here are some things you can do to make really sure the other person knows how carefully and caringly you are listening to their story.
Tell children the tips for empathetic listening. Indicate the short reminder phrases that you have posted. Tell the group you will sound the bell (or other noise maker) to signal when it is time to switch partners, and when it is time to return to the circle.
With your co-leader or a child volunteer, demonstrate the difference between eye contact and looking away, listening carefully and interrupting, nodding in response and yawning or looking blank as if bored.
Now invite partners to look at one another. Make sure each pair knows who will tell a story first. Remind the listeners to listen carefully and empathetically, and not to interrupt to talk about their own experiences.
Use one of these questions, or one of your own:
- Can you tell me about something that once happened to you with an animal or insect?
- Can you tell me about a time when you got into trouble at home or at school?
- Can you tell me about a favorite present that you got or wish you had gotten?
- Can you tell me about a time when you hurt yourself?
- Can you tell me about a time when you made a new friend?
- Can you tell me about a time when you were really scared? (... surprised?) (... happy?)
Roam the room and listen in on some pairs to help children follow the instructions. After a minute or so, sound the bell. Once all pairs have stopped, invite the listeners to tell the story back to their partners, including any details such as how old the person was, what happened, and how they felt. The story-teller can correct them if necessary.
Sound the bell again and ask the partners to switch roles. Restate some of the tips for empathetic listening or the rules of the activity if you feel it is necessary. Choose another question, and repeat the activity.
The goal of this activity is to teach the children how to listen empathetically to someone else and to get to know their peers by learning more about them and showing caring and respect. If there is time at the end of this exercise, ask for volunteer pairs to each retell their partners' story to the group. Remind the whole group to demonstrate the same empathetic listening skills.
Including All Participants
If the number of children is uneven, have one group of three. If there is a child who is non-verbal or for whom this exercise would be too difficult, include them in a threesome as a listener.