Tips to Address Listening and Speaking Skills in Remote Learning Environments

By Linda Gross

May 1, 2020

As an educational consultant for the Landmark Outreach Program, I have the privilege of working with special education teachers, general education teachers, teaching assistants, speech-language pathologists (SLPs), reading specialists, and administrators. I get to see first-hand the ways these professionals weave strategies into lessons across all grades and subjects to support all students. Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how to apply “lessons learned” from my professional experiences to the current situation facing educators across the country. In these uncertain times, most educators have moved from traditional in-person classrooms to remote learning environments. What remains the same, regardless of the setting, is the presence of language in instruction and learning. Language is everywhere! 

Language is complex! 

Language is how we communicate through listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Each of these language domains can be further broken down into five parameters: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics/discourse. Research informs us that spoken language skills (listening and speaking) develop innately, while written language (reading and writing) must be taught. Likewise, listening and speaking play a critical role in developing reading and writing skills.

What are the spoken language demands in your class?

Spoken language is an integral part of the academic curriculum as evidenced by the Common Core speaking and listening standards. For example, a language arts class may require students to discuss character traits or a book’s theme. A social studies class may have students complete an oral presentation comparing and contrasting historical events. A science class may have students pair up (turn and talk) to explain the results of an experiment. And a math class may ask students to explain the process they used to solve a problem.

Students are required to use their listening and speaking skills to:

  • follow verbal instructions
  • respond to teacher and classmate questions/comments
  • explain their thinking
  • state ideas in a clear, concise manner
  • use content specific vocabulary 
  • ask questions for clarification

These demands occur in class discussions, small group collaborations, lecture note-taking, oral presentations, and oral assessments. For students with language-based learning disabilities (LBLD), such tasks can be quite challenging! It may be difficult for them to pay attention, auditorily process information, access background knowledge, engage working memory (recall and retrieval), and use executive function skills —all of which are necessary skills for academic success.

Students with LBLD require direct, explicit instruction

Educators must continue to support their students’ development of listening and speaking skills, regardless of the learning environment. I encourage educators to take a step back and think about all of the great ways they accomplish this in a traditional classroom. Use or tweak those same approaches! Landmark’s Teaching Principles and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines offer practical strategies that can certainly be applied in remote classroom settings. 


5 Remote Instruction Tips to Support Students’ Listening and Speaking  Skills Across All Grades and Subjects

I love being able to exchange ideas with teachers and SLPs! I miss being in the schools, but have found new ways to collaborate with these professionals, just as you have found new ways to connect with your students. With that in mind, I’ve put together five tips to address listening and speaking skills wherever and however instruction is happening. 

  1. Define Speaker and Listener Roles. Before jumping into meetings and discussions, it is important to review speaker and listener roles, active listening strategies, and discussion guidelines that were established in your traditional classroom setting. If these were posted on an anchor chart, try to replicate that chart and post in your virtual classroom. You could also create a “mini” version for students to print out and post in their workspace. If you don’t have access to your anchor charts, here are some examples. Also, I like the active listening strategies outlined in this Edutopia article.
  2. Use Prerecorded Video Instructions, Messages, or Lessons from the Teacher (asynchronous). Keep your intro short and sweet, then get down to business.☺ Remember, it may be difficult for students to pay attention for a sustained period of time. You don’t want to lose them before you have even begun the lesson! I also suggest telling students at the beginning of a prerecorded video that they can pause or rewind if they need something repeated. This may seem obvious, but don’t assume! You could provide a screenshot to illustrate what that looks like (pause ; play ).  As you create videos, it is important to monitor your pace, provide clear and concise verbal instructions,  explicitly prepare students to listen for key ideas and concepts (e.g., provide a two-column note template or show them how to create one using a piece of lined paper), and enable closed captioning (think UDL). If you are looking for structured listening activities, checkout the Listenwise website; they offer ways to explicitly teach, practice, and assess listening comprehension using podcasts.
  3. Participate in Remote Class Discussions with a Group of Students (synchronous). Create an environment that allows all students to respond to questions and share ideas.  With that in mind, it is important to allow extra time for some students to process the information and formulate their thoughts. I also suggest that teachers plan discussion questions ahead.  Bloom’s Taxonomy sentence starters are a great tool to help teachers generate questions aimed at students’ different abilities. Further, I can’t emphasize enough the need to conduct frequent comprehension checks. Avoid asking “any questions?” or “all set?” Rather, call on a student to restate the information/instructions and do this often!
  4. Create Assignments for Students to  Audio-or Video Record Themselves. Students should have clearly defined goals and understand the specific purpose of the assignment. Provide a rubric or checklist that outlines and breaks down the expectations. For example,  students could record themselves stating their opinion or making a persuasive argument about an assigned topic. They should use a graphic organizer, template, or visual to brainstorm and organize their thoughts prior to speaking. If students are not able to print these, you could show them how to create one on their own. You can also provide resources, such as a vocabulary word bank or opinion phrases, for students to reference. Are you looking for creative ways for students to practice their speaking skills? Story Corps is a website that uses an interview format to practice conversational skills.
  5. Collect Data and Monitor Progress. Just as ELA teachers use portfolios to monitor progress of students’ writing, teachers can also create portfolios for analysis of specific spoken language skills or content knowledge. Data can be collected and used to calculate grades and measure progress towards IEP objectives. Using audio- or video-recordings, students could simply record themselves on their phone or laptop to send to the teacher or they can use an app such as Flip Grid and Seesaw. It is best to focus the data collection on one or two skills at a time (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, or discourse). For example, you can focus on the use of content specific vocabulary during an oral presentation or the use of compound sentences when explaining the plot of a story.


References and Additional Resources

Linda is a certified speech-language pathologist who has been practicing since 1988. Throughout her career, she has worked in clinical and public school settings evaluating and treating individuals with a variety of communication disorders. Linda joined Landmark High School as the expressive language program director in 1994, transitioning into a consultation role in this program in 2003. Linda has also been a Landmark Outreach Program faculty member since 1996, consulting to public schools, as well as teaching face-to-face and online graduate-level courses. Her expertise is in child and adolescent expressive language disorders with a particular focus on social communication skills.

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