This is an issue that has come up for me a couple of times this week. I work with a couple of children who have comprehension difficulties but are making good progress and can now follow simple instructions in school as long as they are given 1:1. However, they struggle when instructions are given to the whole class and tend to either copy other children or wait until they have been asked individually.
This is a difficult thing to work on and the games in this post are certainly not the whole answer. The first thing I usually do in this situation is to watch the child in the classroom and try to work out exactly why they are struggling. Is it that there is just too much language? Do they understand the words and the sentence structures that are being used? Do they realise that words like “everyone” include them? Are they aware of what is going on around them in the classroom? Are they able to shift their attention from one thing to another? All of these things are likely to be having an impact and the vocabulary and language structures etc. will need to be worked on as well.
However, for some children it can also help to run some small group games where they have to listen for themselves rather than copying or where they have to listen to a range of other people, not just the teacher.
Here are some suggested ideas. These ideas are aimed at children whose comprehension skills at the level of a 5 year old or older:-
- Stand up if… Sit a group of children in a circle. Give “stand up if…” instructions. (e.g. “stand up if you are a boy”, “stand up if you are wearing a jumper”, “stand up if you have a brother” etc). The aim of this is that the children really have to listen and work out if each instruction applies to them.
- Fruit salad. There are various ways to play this game. At the simplest level, give each child a picture of a different fruit. Say two of the fruits and those two children have to swap places (eg “banana and orange”). If you say “Fruit Salad” everyone has to swap. You can make this game harder by taking away the pictures and seeing if the children can remember their fruit. Alternatively, swap the pictures around after a few turns so that they now have to listen for a different item.
- Listen for a word. Read a short story or passage. Before you start, tell the children that they need to listen for a particular word. Ask them to do a particular thing whenever they hear that word (e.g. stand up, clap, put their hand up). Keep this really simple to start with by keeping the same word for the whole story and emphasizing it each time you say it, with extra prompts to listen as needed! If the children become very proficient, you can ask each one to listen for a different word (again with a picture to help them to start with).
- I went shopping. Start off by saying “I went shopping and bought…” and add an item to the end. (e.g. “I went shopping and bought eggs.” The next person has to repeat what you said and add something else to the list (e.g. I went shopping and bought eggs and chocolate”. Keep going round the circle until someone can’t remember. You can also use other sentence starters such as “I went to space and I saw…” or “I went on holiday and I took…” NB This game does require good auditory memory, so be aware that if the children struggle it may not be the listening part that is tricky for them!
- Listen to each other. Ask a variety of questions and ask the children to tell their answer to a partner. Then they have to report back their friend’s answer. For a child who has difficulties listening in a group, they will almost certainly need adult support with this to begin with, and very simple questions to report back on such as “what’s your favourite colour?”
- Simon Says. I won’t describe how to play this as I think most people will be familiar with it. With children with language difficulties, I usually miss out the actual “Simon Says” part to begin with and just give instructions for them to follow. Let each child have a turn at giving the instructions so that the children have to listen to a range of different people not just the teacher.
- Hot potato. Choose a simple category (e.g. food, clothes, animals…) Pass a ball or similar object around the circle. Each person has to say an item that fits the category when they have the ball. In theory you are supposed to pass it on really quickly (hence the name hot potato) and you are not supposed to repeat anything that has gone before but this is hard for many children, especially if they have memory difficulties. Start by making sure that they don’t repeat the last one or two that were said so that they have to listen to the child before them. Gradually build up from there.
A couple of words of advice before I close. All of these games are very difficult for some children, especially those with language difficulties. Here are some suggestions about how to introduce them.
- Demonstrate. Often the description of how to play can be confusing and difficult to understand. Show them several times, and don’t expect them to get the idea straightaway.
- Give adult support. If you are targeting listening in a group for one particular child, have an adult sitting next to them to begin with. They can repeat instructions if needed, prompt them to listen and keep the child engaged. For example, in fruit salad, the adult can keep reminding them “you need to listen for banana” and pointing to the picture.
- Persevere! Many children really struggle to start with but after playing quite a few times with support, they start to get the idea. Elizabeth and I used to play many of these games in language groups in a specialist centre for children with language difficulties. The first time would often be a disaster and we would be prompting every child all the time. Gradually though many children would get the idea and be able to play independently.
- Be flexible. This may seem to contradict what I have just said, but also be aware that for some children there is just too much involved in these games and they are not ready for them yet. If they still really struggle after lots of attempts and support, try again another time. However, before you do, go back to watching the child as I suggested at the beginning and see if you can work out why they are struggling. Are there other skills that you need to work on first?
What other group listening games do you play?