Listening Dyads

Constructivist Listening Dyads, Appreciative Listening

Listening Dyads is a communication strategy in which each student in a paired partnership takes an uninterrupted turn to verbally respond to a discussion prompt while the other student actively listens. Before beginning Listening Dyads, students sit facing each other (i.e. knees to knees) and designate who will speak first. Then, the teacher poses a student-centered question and allows for independent think time (approx. 30 seconds). Once students are ready, the teacher sets a timer (i.e. anywhere between 2 to 30 minutes) and instructs the first speaker of each pair to begin sharing. The speaker may share as much or as little as they wish, and may choose to sit in silence for some or all of their allotted time. Listeners are expected to be fully attentive (e.g. maintain eye contact, give non-verbal cues that indicate listening), but cannot interrupt the speaker (or the silence) for any reason, including to ask clarification questions or provide feedback/advice. At the end of the speaker's time, the timer is reset and the students switch roles. Confidentiality norms can build emotional safety, such as, what is shared in a Dyad is not repeated nor asked about after the Dyad is complete.

Ready-to-Use Resources

Classroom Management Tool

Listening Dyads: Visual Group Agreements

Instructions for how to select and establish norms through a student-centered approach for Listening Dyads. Includes suggested group agreements appropriate for elementary students as well as a customizable resources to support student-generated ideas.

Grade K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 · Listening, Speaking, Behavior & SEL · 2 pages

Classroom Managament Tool

Listening Dyads: Written Group Agreements

Instructions for how to select and establish norms through a student-centered approach for Listening Dyads. Includes suggested group agreements appropriate for upper-grade students as well as a customizable resource to support student-generated ideas.

Grade 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 · Listening, Speaking, Behavior & SEL · 2 pages

Implementation Tips

Establish Group Norms
Create group norms with the students, not for them. Group norms are the expectations for how students should treat one another, and thus, should be established based on the unique values of the students in each classroom. Have students determine what expectations would best support this strategy. Write them on an anchor chart, and review them before each Listening Dyads activity. *This differs from the Listening Dyads protocol, which are the specific, systematic steps of implementation that do not vary across classrooms.*
Attentive Listening Behaviors
Explain to students that "good listeners" in Listening Dyads should only give limited non-verbal cues of attention and cannot speak during their partner's time. This may be different than their experiences with other discussion protocols that require students to ask follow up and clarifying questions. Check out [[|this anchor chart]] for examples of "good listening" behaviors (e.g. "Maintain Eye Contact", "Quiet Mouth", "Lean In").
Limited Non-Verbal Communication
Limit the types of non-verbal communication used during Listening Dyads to ensure the speaker is being heard without perceived judgment. Demonstrate examples (e.g. slight nod, making eye contact) and non-examples (e.g., smiling, frowning, crossing arms) of objective non-verbal communication, then have students practice before beginning Dyads.
Double Confidentiality
Review the definition and importance of "confidentiality". In "double confidentiality", students do not repeat or inquire about anything that was shared during Listening Dyads. Explicitly reviewing confidentiality will create a safe space for students to authentically share during this activity.
Start with "Safe" Questions
Give students an opportunity to practice the protocol with safer, but still meaningful questions. At the beginning of every Listening Dyads activity, "warm up" by having students share information they would typically be comfortable sharing in a large group (e.g. "How did you get your name?", "What's your favorite food and why?")
Deepen Students' Understanding of Each Other
Increase the riskiness of the questions over time--both within a single Listening Dyads activity and over the course of a school year. When students are generally able to fill their entire speaking time with meaningful insights is a good indicator that students are ready for more challenging questions.
The "Right" Amount of Speaking Time
Establish time that is developmentally appropriate for students. Younger students may only be able to actively engage in Listening Dyads for no more than 30 seconds while older students may be able speak and listen for up to 30 minutes. Slowly increase the time based on observations of how students fill their time. Try using an online timer such as [[|]] or [[|]].
Respect the Silence
Have students practice sitting in silence for the length of a Dyad to gain comfortability with the possibility of a less expressive partner. Tell students, "It's okay if you run out of things to say before your time is up." When circulating the room, give students a reinforcing, non-verbal cue (e.g. thumbs up, a smile, a nod) when they are demonstrating "good" listening behaviors when their partners are not speaking.
Odd Numbered Groups
Be available to serve as a Listening Dyads partner if there are an odd number of students in the class. Alternatively, students can be placed into groups of three, where two students engage as listeners to one speaker.
Establish DIfferent Partnerships
Decide partnerships beforehand to ensure students are paired with different partners each time. When first introducing the strategy, it may decrease the discomfort by allowing students to choose their own partners.
Set aside time after each Listening Dyads activity to reflect on the process. Ask questions such as, "What came up for you reflecting on the prompt?", "What worked for you?", "What was challenging?" Students should share about their own learnings but reminded that they cannot bring up anything shared by their partner.


Reflecting on a Novel
After reading about character who endures a challenging experience, the teacher has students get into Listening Dyad pairs. The students rearrange their seats to be face to face with their partners. The teacher has students connect their personal experiences to that of the main character through deep reflection (e.g. "Share about a time when someone hurt your feelings.", "Describe a time when you felt unseen or misunderstood.") After giving students one minute of independent think time, the teacher sets the timer for three minutes and cues the first speaker to begin sharing. Students begin speaking openly while their partners attentively listening by leaning in, maintaining eye contact, and nodding. Once the timer rings, students switch roles with the speaker now serving as the listener. After partners have shared, the teacher gives the students a reflection prompt, "What is one thing you learned about yourself while sharing?" and students respond by writing a one-paragraph reflection in their notebooks.
Community Building
As part of a daily community building exercise, the teacher has students stand in parallel lines one arms-length apart from each other with half the students facing the other half, labeling one line of students as Row A, and the other Row B. The teacher then projects a low-risk question on the board, "What is one positive thing that happened today?" and cues Row A students to begin sharing for 30 seconds. After the timer rings, Row A students switch roles and serve as listeners as Row B students speak. Then, the teacher projects a slight more personal question on the board, "What is one area in which you struggled with in school today?", this time cueing Row B students to speak first for a length of 1-minute. After switching roles, the teacher projects a third, more personal question on the board, "What is one goal you will make for yourself for tomorrow? Why did you select this goal? What steps will you take to achieve it?" The teacher sets the timer for 2 minutes and repeats the protocol. After completing the entire activity, students are asked to share their experiences in a whole class discussion about the protocol with prompts such as, "How did it feel to share about the first question versus the second question?", "What was the most challenging question for you to share about?"
Deeper Personal Reflections
A teacher recognizes a current issue that is deeply affecting the classroom, school, or community (e.g. bullying, community events, socio-political issues). Given the deeply personal nature of the topic, the teacher decides to have students process through Listening Dyads. Before beginning, the class reviews the importance of double confidentiality and the need for objective non-verbal communication. To do so, the teacher asks students to share about a time when confidentiality was broken, and the consequences. Then, the students are prompted to identify strategies to help maintain confidentiality (e.g. journaling, self-coaching). Students then complete three rounds of speaking and listening using the Listening Dyads protocol. Afterwards, the teacher asks students to share how they were feeling before and after the activity and the impact of Listening Dyads on their emotions.

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