01 August, 2011

Teaching listening in schools

Following my TED talk on conscious listening and why it should be taught in schools, I've had enquiries from educators about how this can be done. Here are some practical suggestions. There are many more ideas and I would love to hear what people all over the world come up with. I plan to start a new web resource for listing in schools, probably a blog where people can post their experiences and ideas.

Help them to experience this possibly for the first time in their lives. Teach about it (take a look at my blog on silence for some ideas) and then work up from short shared silences - maybe one minute to start with - to longer ones. This will be very precious for them, but also very challenging. Ask them to write or share their experience of these silences, and what silence means in their lives.

Take them to rich aural environments (start inside the school) and have them pair and log all the sound sources they hear. If you have the resources, let them experiment with multichannel sound.

Give them a multi-day project to notice sounds and bring their three favourites in to class to share. If you have the resources (eg own a Zoom H2 digital recorder or similar) do this one small group at a time and have them record the sounds to play to all. You could do the same with sounds they dislike.

Listening positions
The most powerful of all. Pair them up and have A say what they had for breakfast while B listens from different positions (for example 1 I'm bored; 2 I want to be friends with this person; 3 I'm in a hurry; 4 what can I learn from this - please make up your own also). Have the As share their experiences at the end, then the Bs. Swap and repeat. If they get the principle that you can change reality by listening from a different place, that will be a great gift.

RASA (receive, appreciate, summarise, ask)
Practice each element by pairing up again and have listeners turn each element off and on while listening and then both people share their experience. Have them share about their general experience of being listened to at home, in school and elsewhere (especially by adults), and how it affects their own listening to others. 

Posted via email from Julian Treasure's posterous


  1. I love the "Listening Positions" exercise! This is an idea that can have rich benefits for adults as well. It can turn social interactions completely around, and enables us to get more from our time with others, even as we are giving more of ourselves to them. How empowering!!

    Your tantalizingly brief paragraph deserves expansion! :)

  2. I just watched your TED video and am inspired to begin this school year by teaching listening! I will take from your advice here. Thank you!

  3. A while ago my brother and I gave a talk to a group of kids with a genetic disorder on how to use music to manage pain. We realized that early on in the talk we had to help them recognize and differentiate between the different channels that they were experiencing – analogous to the “Mixer” stage.

    Music is great for this – we set up the room with big speakers to the left and right and then played the intro to the stereo mix of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.” This was great fun – you hear the guitar in the right channel, then Paul’s bass in the left, tambourine in the right, drums in the left, etc. Playing it over and over again and injecting plenty of enthusiasm we got the kids to clearly separate out the different instruments into the different channels.

    Clearly we were showing our age and I’m sure there are more modern tracks that set up clearly audible differences between channels – but it did the job and the kids got the concept of selective listening and focus really quickly.
    I really enjoy and appreciate your work Julian – good luck!

  4. its an activity where everyone can participate and learns alot..i personally like this activity and should be practiced in each and every school.

  5. Thanks For Sharing..........
    Nice Technical Listening Ideas and Tips Shared by you...............
    Working Capital Finance

  6. Absolutely concur. "Listening Positions" introduces an active process. Not just rote processing of the sounds that wash over us. Last year I opened up the discussion in my class about "Hearing". My students could repeat two pitches but could they hear the duration, discern the interval, discuss the timbre, express the dynamic. I digress "Listening Positions" is a more concrete place to enter these murky waters with students.

  7. Sarinne, there's a lot more about listening positions in my book Sound Business (www.soundbusiness.biz for a free chapter).

    Thanks to everyone for the encouragement. I am setting up a resource, probably a Google group, for educators interested in teaching listening. Please email me at julian.treasure@thesoundagency.com if you'd like to be involved.

  8. Listening positions are most powerful as you described here is true. It is very best exercise among all.

  9. Happy to see your work.

    I am a Pandit from India, and

    The whole philosophy of hindu mantras is based on effect of sounds on different body parts.
    [ as an example


    This is a link about healing sounds,]

    Though it is not explained in scientific terms Western people understand, but an open and rational mind can easily understand it

    If you want to experience real Indian techniques, come to Kerela and Rishikesh in India.

    Happy Listening :)


  10. Listening positions exercise is wonderful, seems that children and adults can learn so much about each other with this. I also loved the TED talk so much. Your call to arms (or ears) at the end rings strongly for me, and I will certainly refer others to this powerful, clear presentation.

    I've been developing sound games for quite a while with this exact intention of enhancing people's listening, specifically children. One game, Animal Sounds Memory Game, is available here:
    I have a whole series proposed for educational use, and it would be great to collaborate with you and other educators with this interest.

    I also published an article on a new listening model called "Sound Spheres" in The New Soundtrack, Edinburgh U. Press, (also in the upcoming 2nd edition of my book "Sound Design") that has several examples on how students can use this as an exercise to explore their listening awareness. I'd love to hear feedback from educators on this. It can be read on my site here: http://sounddesignforpros.com/davids-interviews/sound-spheres-a-psychoacoustic-model/

    All the best and keep up the good fight for good sound.


I welcome your feedback!