Today’s post is written by Michael F. Opitz, professor emeritus of reading education from the University of Northern Colorado who has investigated numerous literacy topics, including listening over two decades. His substantive research on teaching listening resulted in his book, Listen Hear! 25 Effective Listening Comprehension Strategies (Heinemann, 2004). He is the author of and coauthor of numerous books, articles, and reading programs. Read his first blog here called 5 reasons why you should teach listening and second blog called 7 guidelines for teaching listening.

Several years ago, Thomas G. Devine noted that we learn more through television, radio, and movies than we do in formal schooling. Without a doubt, speakers are in a powerful position to influence listeners and teaching students how to listen is imperative for them to be able to think for themselves. This is exactly the focus of Listenwise.

Understanding how to teach listening necessitates understanding of the different types of listening that you want students to develop. Each level has corresponding skills.

Discriminative listening is foundational to the other levels. For example, being adept with discriminative listening puts students in a better position to listen for specific details (i.e., precise listening), use vocal expressions and nonverbal cues to make decisions about the speaker’s message (i.e., strategic listening), use nonverbal cues to determine a speaker’s perspective (critical listening), and use sounds to appreciate what they are listening to (i.e., appreciative listening). These are ways that foundational discriminative listening skills come into play in other listening levels.  That said, one level is not necessarily a prerequisite to the next. Students can be adept with one type of listening, yet not with another and they can develop listening skills at all levels simultaneously. These skills also cross grade levels. Sixth graders, for example, can be taught to listen precisely and critically. Much depends on the intended purpose for the listening experience and conveying that purpose to students at the start of a listening lesson.

Discriminative listening is being able to listen to pertinent sounds as well as being able to distinguish between verbal and nonverbal cues. Tongue twisters are one way to help students develop the ability to hear differences among sounds whereas showing students how to use their voices to convey various emotions to listeners is a way to teach them how to use verbal cues. Having students attend and interpret the speaker’s mannerisms (e.g., smiles, crossed arms, clenched fists) is a way to teach how nonverbal cues convey the speaker’s message.

Precise listening helps ascertain specific information. Teaching children how to recall details, how to paraphrase information, how to follow spoken directions are the types of skills that call for precise listening.

Strategic listening is basically helping students listen for understanding. Teaching students how to connect the ideas they are hearing with their prior knowledge about the topic, how to summarize information, how to compare and contrast information, and how to make inferences are skills associated with strategic listening. This level calls on listeners to concentrate on the intended meaning.

Critical listening is all about helping learners not only comprehend the spoken message, but how to evaluate it. They are able to scrutinize and analyze the message, looking for logic and statements that either support or negate the stated message, in order to be convinced that the speaker is credible. Teaching students how to recognize bias, distinguish among fact and opinion, and detecting propaganda techniques are skills that enable them to listen critically.

Appreciative listening is appreciating the overall style of the speaker and is fairly individualistic. As we listen at this level, different aspects of what we are hearing catch our attention. This is why some might enjoy listening to some types of poetry, songs, musical scores more so than others. Teaching students how to recognize the power of language, appreciate oral interpretations, and understand the power of imagination are ways to help learners become appreciative listeners.

In summary, there are five listening levels and each has associated skills. These are shown in the table below. Teaching listening skills to students is about showing them how to listen rather than telling them to listen.


Listening Level Brief Definition Associated Comprehension Skills
Discriminative Listening to pertinent sounds as well as distinguishing between verbal and nonverbal cues •Phonological awareness

•Vocal expression


Precise Listening to ascertain specific information •Finding the meaning of words from context

•Recalling details

•Following directions

Strategic Listening to gain an understanding of the intended meaning •Predicting

•Making an inference

•Identifying main ideas

Critical Analyzing and evaluating the message •Recognizing bias

•Distinguishing between fact and opinion.

•Detecting propaganda techniques

Appreciative Listening to appreciate the oral style •Recognizing the power of language

•Appreciating oral interpretations

•Understanding the power of imagination

One thought on “Teaching Levels of Listening”
  1. Almost three-quarters of my students responded that hearing Listenwise stories makes them more confident when speaking about the Social Studies topic. This is consistent with research that suggests students can “hear” 3-4 grades above their reading comprehension levels.

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