Listening and Participating

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify effective listening and participation strategies

student reading a laptop while petting a dog

Effective Listening Strategies

Getting the most out of class time involves listening effectively, which means more than simply hearing what your instructors say. Effective listening involves engaging with the speaker and the material you hear in an active way.

To maximize the benefit you get from attending class, try to use the following active listening skills:

  • focus your full attention on the speaker
  • ask questions, either out loud or internally, in response to what is being said
  • paraphrase ideas in notes
  • listen non-judgmentally
  • show empathy for the speaker

Restating what you hear is a powerful strategy for being an active listener, but it’s obviously impractical in a roomful of other students. That’s why taking notes is so important. Think of it as a silent way to restate what you’re taking in. Focus on capturing the key ideas and on paraphrasing what you hear (rather than writing things down verbatim). Putting ideas into your own words will deepen your understanding and strengthen your ability to recall the information later.

Preparing ahead of time will also make listening more useful and engaging. Do any assigned reading before coming to class, using effective reading strategies discussed elsewhere in this course. Effective listening skills start outside of the classroom with the students coming prepared with questions and comments.

Listening as an Online Student

It can really tempting to multi-task or scroll social media while you are attending an online class. Resist this temptation and stay present. You can take notes and engage with the class if you are meeting online. The most important thing you can do is focus your attention so that you’re engaging as much as possible with the meeting. Wearing headphones may reduce your other distractions as well.

The Power of Listening

Why is listening important to learning? Listening is a skill that can and should be developed. This video addresses the importance of listening. Pay attention to areas where the speaker gives examples from other scholars and thinkers about the power of listening.

You can view the transcript for “The Power of Listening – An Ancient Practice for Our Future: Leon Berg at TEDxRedondoBeach” here (opens in new window).

Effective Participation Strategies

Like listening, participating in class will help you get more out of class. Participation may include contributing to discussions, class activities, or projects. It means being actively involved in some way. The following are some strategies for effective participation:

  • Become a team player: Although most students have classmates they prefer to work with, they should be willing to collaborate in different types of groups. Teamwork demonstrates that a student can adapt to and learn in different situations.
  • Share meaningful questions and comments: Some students speak up in class repeatedly if they know that participation is part of their grade. Although there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this practice, it’s a good practice to focus on quality versus quantity. For instance, a quieter student who raises her hand only twice during a discussion but provides thoughtful comments might be more noticeable to an instructor than a student who chimes in with everything that’s said.
  • Be prepared: As with listening, effective participation relies on coming to class prepared. Students should complete all reading assignments beforehand and also review any notes from the previous meeting. This way they can come to class ready to discuss and engage. Be sure to write down any questions or comments you have—writing is an especially good strategy for quieter students or those who need practice thinking on their feet.

The resource Class Participation: More Than Just Raising Your Hand can help you evaluate what you need to work on in order to participate in class more effectively.

Try It


effective listening: engaging with the speaker and the material you hear in an active way, perhaps by taking notes and paraphrasing the material