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First Year Experience Seminar Online Textbook

This is the main textbook for FYE Seminar to be used beginning Summer 2017

3.3.1 Listening Skills


Listening Skills

Larry King, the famous host of the TV series Larry King Live, once said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything.  So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”  When engaged in a conversation with another person, most of us think we’re listening when in fact we are waiting for our turn to speak, hearing the words of the person flash by us but not paying attention to them or absorbing their meaning.   There is a difference between hearing and paying attention.  In an era when interactions with the Internet and IPhones absorb so much of our time, we notice that attention and focus are much harder to sustain. Since attention is essential to listening and learning, students must develop the skill of listening just as they develop ways to take notes and study for exams. Also, strong listening skills help us develop better speaking skills by learning to control the flow of communication between two people and among a group of people.

3.3.2 Why Are Listening Skills Important to Me?

Watch this TED Talks video to understand why learning ways to improve listening skills is important to all of us.  

If the video doesn’t play, you may have to update your Flash Player.  If you can’t, or are accessing on a device that doesn’t have Flash Player, click this link to view:

Comprehension Check: Test your ability to recall important information from the listening skills video by answering these questions.  If you can’t remember the answers, watch the video and look for the correct answers.

  1. What explanation does Julian Treasure give for our decrease in ability to listen actively?
  2. What are 3 techniques we use to extract meaning from sound?
  3. What does each letter stand for in the acronym RASA?
  4. Explain 5 things you can do to improve listening skills.
  5. Can you find the misspelled word in the presentation just for fun?

3.3.3 Preparation for Listening to Lectures

Person listening to a speaker

Sitting through a two-hour lecture might be the greatest test of a student’s attention span, especially if the lecturer doesn’t use visual aids, humor, or interesting stories as examples in the presentation.  There are ways to strengthen listening skills by becoming an active listener—a skill that will help us pay attention even to the dullest speaker. 

To prepare to listen actively, spend the time waiting for class to begin by rereading notes from the previous session.  Often in courses such as history and philosophy, a new lecture starts where the previously lecture ended, and unless the lecturer spends some time in review, students will feel lost without a mental focus upon which to anchor the new information. Rereading previous notes not only provides an anchor but also narrows our focus, reeling in the brain from such distractions as our own inner thoughts or commotion in the classroom.

Another preparation technique is to perform a quick meditation.  The one-minute meditation is a skill that can be mastered with a little practice, and its uses are limitless.  Not only does it help us focus in the present moment but meditation strengthens attention span by teaching us to ignore distractions. Meditation is easy if we focus on our breath and use counting to creating that focus: inhale on a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 7, exhale slowly on a count of 8, and repeat these steps three times.  

Meditation Exercise


If the video doesn’t play, you may have to update your Flash Player.  If you can’t, or are accessing on a device that doesn’t have Flash Player, click this link to view:

Self-Regulation Check: After watching this video, take a minute and jot down a few ways you could use the one-moment meditation during times of stress in your life.  Now commit to using this practice on a daily basis this week.   Make a note in your day planner on Friday or Saturday to count the number of times you used the one-moment meditation or the breath-counting exercise during the week.  If you didn’t use it at all, make a point to do it at least three times in the next 24 hours.

3.3.4 Tips for Listening During a Lecture

  • Sit close to the front of class and make eye contact with the speaker. Since our brains are constantly sifting through sensory input by using selective attention, we can decrease the number of distractions in a room by placing ourselves closer to the source of the desired input—the lecturer.  Making eye contact with the speaker helps control visual distractions while incorporating the visual senses to support our auditory senses.  Our ability to read lips is much stronger than we realize, so watching someone speaking helps us hear more effectively, too.  The more senses we use during a learning experience, the more pathways our brain uses to process the information, thus encoding the new knowledge more deeply in long-term memory.
  • Write down key points of the lecture and try to organize it in an outline as you take notes. Taking notes is one of the best ways to improve listening skills because it forces us to pay attention. This step is especially important for students who like to learn using kinesthetic processes, or movement. The movement of the hand during note taking will satisfy the body’s desire to move, and the student will find it easier to pay attention.
  • Apply principles discussed during the lecture to personal experiences. Studies confirm that new knowledge is more likely to be remembered if we attach it to prior learning and make it relevant to our own lives.  Finding the personal connections to new concepts becomes one of our best tools for remembering and understanding.
  • Jot down questions periodically that you can ask the lecturer during breaks in the lecture. Curiosity might have killed the cat, as the old wives’ tale warns, but it creates a positive learning environment by increasing brain activity. When we experience curiosity, pathways to problem solving are triggered in our brains, helping us pay attention to the speaker to find the answers we seek.
  • Squeeze a soft ball with your hand to stay in the present moment during a video or slide presentation when notes are already provided.  This simple movement triggers tactile senses that enhance learning and remembering.
  • Doodle in the margins of your notes. Although doodling has received a bad rap in contemporary culture, making squiggly marks or drawings in the margins of notes actually enhances listening skills. 

3.3.5 Group Exercise: Practice Listening

3.3.6 Tips for Listening During Discussions & a Group Exercise

Picture of people at a meeting

  • Be prepared! Make sure you have read the material assigned for class or watched videos assigned, writing down possible questions as you read or watch a film.  If an article, story, or chapter is going to be discussed in class, be sure you have marked in the margins specific items you want to question or address in class.
  • Repeat a discussion question or another student’s comment to be sure you heard it correctly and then respond.  Sometimes during a discussion, students ineffectively express an idea or concept, but repeating it back to them can clear up any miscommunication or unclear intention.  This method of discussion also shows respect for the other person’s ideas by beginning a response with, so are you saying that . . .  .  Also, when you finish adding to a discussion, ask if everyone understands your point or ask if someone has another perspective.  Try to finish remarks with another question to keep the discussion moving. 
  • Listen to the responses of others and use these as a springboard for your own responses. Rather than shifting topics abruptly by bringing up something that doesn’t relate to the topic at hand, play off the comments of other participants to build a point you want to make.  For instance, expand a point made by providing a concrete example of it, or use a person’s comment to introduce a contrasting viewpoint. Creating smooth transitions between topics during a discussion helps develop critical thinking skills for workplace tasks as well as classroom discussions.
  • Jot down key points in the discussion. It helps to quickly note good points made by other students during a discussion to use as a basis for your own comparisons.  Recording key points will also help you remember the information for an exam or for a writing assignment.
  • Play devil’s advocate occasionally and present an opposing view on a topic even if you don’t believe in it.  Nothing creates a lively discussion faster than conflict.  If everyone in the group agrees on a point, making a counter-argument will increase interest while forcing the group to test the validity of the more popular perspective. Remember that an argument is only as strong as one’s ability to effectively present and understand the opposing viewpoints.   
  • Remain open-minded during the discussion.  Sometimes other students may present information that contradicts your values or beliefs.  Instead of interjecting your own beliefs, listen to the other person’s argument, encouraging the person to present the entire argument; then consider the other person’s viewpoint before reacting or replying. 

3.3.7 The Art of Conversation AND a Pair Exercise

The Art of Conversation

Picture of two people, one with megaphone talking and the other listening with hand to ear

Quick Write: Take two minutes and respond to these questions: Do you think people enjoy engaging in conversations with you?  Do friends initiate contact with you, call you on the phone to chat, or ask for your advice? Are you usually the one to end an interaction, or do you find people trying to escape from you while you’re still talking to them?


Becoming a good conversationalist is an art form.  It involves learning a craft, but the good news is that it can be learned if we practice the skills used by good conversationalists.  Typically, extroverts like to dominate the conversation with topics that interest them or with anecdotes about their own lives. Although these topics are stimulating to the speaker, they may be boring the audience to death.

If you want to get someone to like you, be interested not interesting. Here are tips for becoming an interested conversationalist:

  • Ask questions about the person’s life or interests.  When the person responds, play off the last comment with another question.  Try to ask questions concerning information you’d like to know about the other person.
  • Receive the information. Make mental notes of the responses someone gives you to questions as if you will have to repeat them at some point in the conversation.
  • Use comparisons to talk about yourself in the conversation. When you want to insert something about yourself in the conversation, compare the similarities and differences between your lives, interests, and family to the information already given you by the other speaker.
  • Be engaged with the other person by making eye contact. When we’re talking to someone, it’s important to be looking at the speaker, not the action that may be going on in other parts of the room—a gesture that makes us appear distracted.  Try to respond to what is being said and avoid planning what you want to insert into the conversation on a different topic.  Be fully present.
  • Be aware of nonverbal communications. If you want to put the other person at ease, notice your own body language.  For instance crossing your arms over your chest tends to send a negative message whereas making eye contact, nodding in agreement, and overlapping hands in front of you indicates that you are open and listening. 
  • Use humor. One of the best ways to put someone at ease is to make a joke about your own discomfort in a social setting.  Consider breaking the ice in a new conversation by telling a quick funny story about yourself.  I often start conversations when I’m walking my dog who is overly friendly by saying, “If my dog had a Facebook account, she’d have 150,000 friends."
pie chart. verbal is 35 percent communication, nonverbal is 65 percent

It may surprise you that nearly half of our
communication during a typcial conversation
occurs without spoken words.  Oftentimes,
actions do speak louder than words.



3.3.8 Independent Exercise: Applying Listening Skills

INDEPENDENT EXERCISE: Applying Listening Skills

Watch this video from The Big Bang Theory.  After watching it for fun, watch it again and write down all the elements of active listening that Sheldon ignores during his conversation with Leonard.  What steps does Leonard perform to try to improve the conversation? 

If the video doesn’t play, you may have to update your Flash Player.  If you can’t, or are accessing on a device that doesn’t have Flash Player, click this link to view:

3.3.9 Note Taking

You’ve heard it for years from your high school teachers, from your parents, and now from your college professors.  They all echo that constant nagging command:  “You need to take notes during class!”  And, even after this repetitive attack on the senses, many students (and hopefully you are not one of them) still refuse to even think of putting pen or pencil to paper during the daily lecture.  Unfortunately, these same students often struggle during test time and end up with a less-than-favorable grade in the class.  Has this happened to you?  Could taking notes actually help you become more successful in college? 

   Before I bore you with yet another lecture on why note taking is important, I need to ask you a question.  Why take notes?  Why even bother purchasing a spiral for your classes?  And, while we are on this shopping spree (or lack thereof), why bother purchasing the textbook?  Why even bother with college?  I know I’ve strayed a bit here from my main point, but you can see how one may lead to another.  In order to save you from being too overwhelmed at this point (you’re welcome), we will just talk about note taking here.  I’ll save the rest of these topics for your Strategies instructor. 

    Believe it or not, we care about your academic success.  While there are still some students who feel that college instructors are simply out to play a childish game of “Gotcha!” with your grade point average, it’s just not true.  In fact, many people become professors for the sole reason of helping someone else along in their academic journey.  And, lucky you, I am here to help you with note taking.  When you take notes in class, you become an active participant in that class.  Your participation demonstrates that you are serious about your education, and your instructors will appreciate this more than you know.  Also, when you take notes, it provides a clear method of study for any pop quiz or exam.  Instead of forcing yourself to remember every single detail (which is nearly impossible in some classes), the notes do all of the “thinking” for you.

   Notes, in any form, will help you recall important information when necessary.  Sure, the textbook can provide you with some valuable material too.  But, how many of you have an instructor who does not lecture directly from the book?  How many of you have an instructor who likes to “tell stories” in class rather than present a straight lecture?  Certainly by now you have noticed that every instructor teaches in their own way.  Your job is to identify their style, figure out what information is important, and make sure that information is in your notes.  Now, while no one note taking “style” is better than another, I want to share a few tips with you here:


  • Concentration is key!  Do you arrive to class tired?  Are you hungry?  Are you thinking about the weekend rather than the task at hand?  (Do I sound like your parents?)  These are all distractions that can easily bring your grade down to an unrecoverable level.  Remember, we want you to pass the class.  But, we cannot just give you a grade; you earn it!  Try to arrive every day with a new energy and enthusiasm to learn.  I realize this may be difficult for an 8:00 a.m. class on Monday morning, but you can do this!  Focus on the class.  Focus on the instructor.  Be ready to learn!
  • Read the chapter first.  Many instructors will list the daily lecture topic in their syllabus.  So, read the assigned chapter ahead of time so you know what might be important for your notes.  Here’s a pro tip:  Do you know how your professor prepares for class?  They read the book just like you.  They prepare their lecture notes around the main points in the book just as you would.  There really is no secret here.  So, if you want to impress your instructor, read the chapter ahead of the lecture.
  • When in doubt, write it down!  Unfortunately, many students do not take notes because they bet that certain information will not be on the test.  Believe me, there is nothing worse than asking your instructor “will this be on the test?”.  This sends the message that you are only interested if there is something to gain.  This is your education.  It is an investment in your future.  Do you really want to start out by simply doing the bare minimum?  I doubt it.  So, when you suspect that something is important, write it down.  Don’t wait for the instructor to tell you.  Your professors spend hours preparing their presentations for you.  So, in a way, everything is important. 
  • Use abbreviations.  You will never be able to copy down everything your instructor says.  I know some instructors who talk so fast that Nascar should call them (hey-oh…well, I tried).  Instead of trying to capture everything, develop your own set of abbreviations to use.  Create a brief “key” on the top of your page that explains your abbreviations to you (remember you will need this later) and use these shortcuts as you take notes.  For example, if the topic for the day is the Renaissance, you might use “Ren” as an abbreviation.  Remember, these are your notes, so you can use whatever you wish here as long as it makes sense to you. 
  • Know your instructor.  As I mentioned earlier, every instructor is different.  Early in the semester, get to know how they teach.  Get to know when they repeat important points.  Get to know when their voice slows down when they say something important.  The more you can identify an instructor’s manner, you are more likely to “capture” the material needed for any quiz or exam. 

3.3.10 Two Videos on Note Taking

For you “visual learners,” here is a quick video from WellCast and another from Long Beach Community College that each provide more tips for effective note-taking:


If the video doesn’t play, you may have to update your Flash Player.  If you can’t, or are accessing on a device that doesn’t have Flash Player, click these links to view: How to take Great Notes: LBCC - Taking better Lecture Notes:

3.3.11 A Common Note Taking Method: Cornell

Now that you have a few tips for better note taking, I have another question for you.  How do you take notes?  In other words, what style do you follow?  Whenever I ask this question, I usually receive blank stares and surprised gasps at the very notion of different note taking styles.  But, believe me, there are plenty from which to choose.  One of the more popular methods is called “Cornell Notes.”  This method forces you to stay organized during class lecture, and it provides an excellent way to study.  Below is a helpful handout, and then two videos about Cornell Notes:

If the video doesn’t play, you may have to update your Flash Player.  If you can’t, or are accessing on a device that doesn’t have Flash Player, click these links to view: Cornell Note-Taking Mr. Hixson Does Cornell Notes:

3.3.12 Other Note Taking Methods

If the Cornell Method doesn’t resonate with you, there are some other options to consider.  

  • The Outlining Method:  Yes, it’s just as it sounds.  You create an outline, complete with capital letters and roman numerals, to keep your notes organized.  You would start with the main idea as your “topic” line, then make all of your notes beneath it.  It’s very similar to the Cornell Method, but there tends to be a bit more formal structure here.  If you are a well-organized person, this method might work for you.
  • The Mapping Method:  This method goes along with the “visual notetaking” section below.  Like outlining, you start with your main idea.  But, the Mapping Method looks more like a flow chart than a formal outline.  So, for those of you who like formulas and other visual elements akin to a math or science class, this method may be a good one.
  • The Charting Method:  This one is probably the most complicated to explain here, so it might be best for you to review the PDF.  But, to live up to my promise of summary, here goes.  You create columns for all the important information (names, dates, locations, etc.) and then fill in these columns with appropriate information.  Like I said, a bit hard to explain. 
  • The Sentence Method:  Just the facts, ma’am.  (Do you get that reference? )  Anyway, you simply create a new, complete sentence for every new idea addressed during the lecture.  This method is very writing intensive, but it does provide you with a logical, grammatically correct sequence of notes to follow.  And, this could be helpful come test time.

3.3.13 Visual Note Taking

Okay, you have just read several paragraphs about taking better notes in the classroom.  And, after all this, you are still not convinced that any of these methods will actually work for you.  Fair enough.  Let me ask you another question.  Do you like to draw?  I’m not taking about Picasso-level material here.  Do you let your mind just go blank and start drawing random stick figures on the page while your instructor goes on and on about the daily topic?  What about doodling?  You know, that practice that was so rudely squashed in high school when your teachers thought you weren’t paying any attention to them.  Well…maybe you weren’t.  But, there is a way that you can still draw or doodle during class and make it a productive exercise.  This is called “visual notetaking,” and it involves everything from small doodles in the margin to large “mind maps” that fill the page.  Maybe if taking notes the old-fashioned way doesn’t work for you, you might try this method. 

 Here are some helpful websites and resources that discuss “visual notetaking” a bit more:

3.3.14 Exercise: Practice Note Taking

Important:  Watch the video FIRST then review the questions provided.  Try not to read the questions first.


Using either the Cornell method or another suggested route, take a moment to watch the following TED Talk by Jane McGonigal.  In the talk, she will provide some information about video games and why she feels they are important. 

It will be your job to “capture” (what you consider to be) the most important information.  After the video ends, use your notes to answer the questions, which can be accessed by clicking on the link above.

“Gaming Can Make A Better World” (Jane McGonigal, TED 2010)

If the video doesn’t play, you may have to update your Flash Player.  If you can’t, or are accessing on a device that doesn’t have Flash Player, click this link to view:

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