Use a listening game to improve discussion and debating skills

Listening skills

After watching sound engineer, and all round sound expert, Julian Treasure’s TED Talk entitled “5 ways to listen better” I came across a game called Sound Ball that he featured in a post on his blog (August 2011). The post included a description of 5 games, sent to Julian by musician and music teacher Huw Lloyd, who primarily uses the games to improve the listening skills of his music students.

Sound Ball is a simple game that could be an effective way to improve the listening skills that Psychology students need to engage meaningfully in discussion and debate. The game also has the potential to increase the likelihood a student will make a verbal contribution in a lesson.

Sound Ball

To play the game, I would recommend that you join your students and sit in a circle facing each other. One student starts with an imaginary ball and makes a sound with their voice. They then throw the “ball” to another student of their choice. This second student mimes catching the ball then has to copy the sound they heard. They then make a new sound before miming throwing the ball to another student. This continues until the game has run its course.

Benefits of the game for Psychology students

This game is a classic ice breaker and should leave students feeling less self-conscious with each other (and you). Verbal contributions are vital in a Psychology lessons and enabling students to feel more willing to speak out in class will improve the quality of discussion. The task also has the potential to improve group dynamics and cohesion.

The game is designed to improve listening which is vital in class discussion that is student-led. If most of your dialogue with students involves teacher-student-teacher exchange, getting your students used to talking to each other (at a whole class level) can in turn increase the chance of exchanges more of the teacher-student-student.. variety. Students who are listening to each other are more likely to have something to say in response to verbal contributions made by their peers, which all too often are left hanging or only followed by teacher praise.

After the game, ask students to reflect on how much concentration was required for the game to ensure they didn’t miss a throw or a sound. Being hyper-vigilant (helped by the imaginary nature of the ball) involves active listening and hearing what the other person has said (not what you think they said, or in this case possibly squawked). Ask students to reflect on whether they feel this same sort of satisfied fatigue after a class discussion or debate and if not, ask them to consider what can they do differently. The link between the game and the benefits to students as learners must be made explicit for this game to be worthwhile and the skills to be transferable.

When and how to use this game

You could use this game as a lesson starter, or prior to a discussion, debate or seminar style activity. I like to set up a debate in Early Social Development (Attachments) to round off study of the impact of day care on social development and also for exploring the differing viewpoints regarding the ethics of social influence research (e.g. the ends justify the means: discuss) in AS Psychology (AQA A). This game would make a suitable starter to a lesson where the main body of the lesson featured the debate itself (debate preparation having been done outside the lesson or in a previous lesson). As a plenary I usually ask students to collectively reflect on the main points of the argument and make a record of the most persuasive and innovative points made by the other side. If students have been using their listening skills effectively this task should be simple, this therefore allows assessment of both the skills and knowledge objectives of this type of lesson.


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