How do we know our students are listening?

When you think about a “good listener”, what do you picture? Quiet? Sitting, facing forward? Hands on desk? Tracking the speaker?

When my kindergartners or my first graders listen to me telling a story using Story Listening supplementation, not all of them are quiet, and not all of them are sitting criss-cross apple sauce with their hands in their laps. In fact, all my first graders lay down during story time. And yet, they are listening.

How do I know they are listening? Because I have taught them that I welcome their comments and reactions as long as:

  1. they are not talking while I am narrating but they are welcome to react when I pause or draw
  2. their comments are relevant to the story
  3. they are not shouting during the story
  4. they are not preventing others from listening to the story

Their comments and reactions are INVALUABLE for me to know if they are following the story or not. I have also noticed that allowing my students to react and get comfortable means they won’t need as many brain breaks.

Asking students to “just listen and enjoy” is not always easy. Our school culture has created kids that can only pay attention when they have a piece of paper and pencil in hand, or when they are answering questions. Yet, little kids have a natural propensity to enjoy a good story. With lots of patience and modeling, and a lot of stories, some successful, some epic failures, I can really see the progress:

  1. They are quiet(er) when I narrate, and they give me feed-back when I pause to draw.
  2. The amount of “irrelevant” comments has dramatically decreased.
  3. They are listening to longer and faster-paced stories.

Yesterday, I told my kindergartners the story of “The magic pig”. The story lasted 19 minutes! I only had to redirect 2-3 students (who were grabbing friends, preventing them from listening) in 19 minutes. Watch how they are engaged, listening (but not quiet), and giving me feed-back, letting me know they are following the story.

Towards the end, they got really excited about the show that takes place in the story, and started making a lot of noise. I did a quick brain break and quickly wrapped up the story: they had given me the signal that they were done. I was shocked when I looked at the clock to see we had been with this story for 19 minutes!

MAgic Pig

Click on the image to watch the video

Dr. Mason’s Story Listening has made me rethink how I engage my young learners in listening. I would love to hear how you engage your students in listening.


  1. How great to see they’re so engaged ! They definitely understand everything that’s going on!
    I usually tell stories using puppets or actors with the small children, sometimes using elements of story listening as well. They show me they’re listening by answering light circling questions, giving responses in L1 or L2 or answering individual questions.(PQA or a question for quick processors).
    Can you give me a brief summary in English, i’d like to try it but my French isnt so good..

  2. Hi Cécile, I appreciate your insight, transparency and your generosity in sharing all of this! Would you let high school students in any level respond as well? Would you require that they do it in French only?

    • Hi Karen, this year I do Story Listening with MS and HS students (8th, 9th and 10th). French 1 and 2 is 10 min a day nearly everyday. and French 3 is once a week for the whole period. Of course, being older means that they should in theory have better self control. Still I spend time educating them on what a productive reaction looks like versus a disruptive one. With my level 3, I build in time to make predictions in French because I tell a story once a week for the whole period 45 min. So I stop 2 or 3 times during the story so they can have a break and I ask them to predict what is going to happen. My Honors class does it in French, my regular class does it in Frenglish. That’s fine by me, as long as they are showing that they are engaged.

      At the end of the story I ask them to close their eyes and show me fist to 5 what their comprehension of the story was, and 1-3 how the pace was, I also let them react to the story (In English for level 1-2) and then we take a nice brain break.

      Am I answering your question?

  3. HI! Thanks for this post! I really appreciate the read that not all teachers do magic with Storylistening! I am teaching also very young ones and there are interruptions every 30”!! it makes me crazy! (yes, I know I must work on it…) but posts like this make me aware that I must continue with storylistening and don’t give up;) Also I would like to ask you if you could also send me the script or summary in English of the story the magic pig as my french is not good;) Thanks so much!

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