Engaging High School Students


Photo of Ms. Reyes talks with a student at her desk

Ms. Reyes, a high school English teacher, knows that listening is an integral part of her curriculum. The skills of understanding intonation patterns, identifying relevant points and inferring information lay the foundation for all other aspects of language and learning. As teenagers tend to do, her students do a lot of talking, but they don’t necessarily listen well! She’s noticed that the students take everything quite literally and often miss the subtleties of language. This often leads to misunderstandings during classroom discourse and on assignments. Sometimes, just following three-part directions can be a challenge for her students. Ms. Reyes’ dilemma is how to engage her high school students in the listening process and meet the district’s listening standards.


Ms. Reyes has been teaching for seven years. She teaches in a large urban high school in Pennsylvania. She is one of 20 teachers in the school's English department. The department’s focus is literacy and the curriculum is aligned with the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. Her third period class is a heterogeneous mix of 30 students ranging from low achieving to high achieving students. The composition of the class is:

  • 30 students
    • 18 boys
    • 12 girls
  • 7 students are English Language Learners (ELL)
  • 3 students are identified with specific learning disabilities
  • 7 students are struggling readers


Photo of three students in Ms. Reyes’ classroom working on a computer in the back of the room

Ms. Reyes’ classroom is a typical high school classroom. Students have individual desks. There are four computers in the back of the room, a bookcase of literature books and a current events area stocked with magazines and newspapers. The computers have broadband Internet connection and are equipped with standard software for word processing, spreadsheet manipulation, software to create presentations, graphics processing, and RFB&D’s AudioPlus® playback software. Posters that illustrate types of figurative language and steps for being a good listener are on the walls in the classroom. Each student has a grammar and usage textbook.


Ms. Reyes wants her listening lessons to align with the department’s curriculum, which means that her lesson goals and objectives will be gleaned from the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening.

The standards that Ms. Reyes will be focusing on are the following:

       1.6 Speaking and Listening

    A. Listen to others 
    B. Listen to selections of literature 
    C. Speak using skills appropriate to formal speech situations 
    D. Contribute to discussions 
    E. Participate in small and large group discussions and presentations 
    F. Use media for learning purposes

1.3 Reading, Analyzing and Interpreting Literature 

   C. Analyze the effectiveness, in terms of literary quality, of the author’s use of  literary devices (sound techniques, figurative language and literary structures).

From these standards, Ms. Reyes is able to identify her goals and objectives. Note that you will be able to identify goals and objectives based on your state standards.  To find the standards for your state, visit Ed Standards.org.

A Listening Lesson

Below are links to lesson plans that engage students in listening:

Evaluate Performance

Ms. Reyes frequently uses tests and student products to evaluate students' understanding of new content. She will:

  • Evaluate the constructs measured in the published test. Determine if there is a match of the lesson evaluation procedures to the lesson standards and goals.
  • Evaluate the accessibility for all learners in the class if this measure is determined adequate for the learning goals.
  • Consider alternate means of delivery, such as providing a digitally recorded version of the test, administering an oral test, providing untimed sessions, etc.

Below are additional lesson plans that engage students in listening:

Reading Comprehension and the use of Think-Alouds

Knots on a Counting Rope   (A listening lesson plan for primary grades.)