Cover for Blog Post 4 Strategies to Strengthen Listening Skills showing two activities.

4 Strategies to Strengthen Listening Skills

I talked in our last post, 5 Simple Ways to Help Your Child Follow Directions,  about how to modify the environment and the wording of directions to help your child be more successful in following directions. However, it is also a good idea to strengthen the underlying listening skills so you don’t have to modify directions so much.

Blog Post Cover: Four Strategies for Strengthening Listening Skills

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Seeking Professional Help for Listening Skills

Now there can be various reasons that children have trouble following directions. You may want to seek professional help in figuring out why your child may be struggling. If following directions is the main concern you have about your child, a speech-language pathologist is a good place to start. To find a speech-language pathologist in your area, check out this searchable database from the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association.

Improving Listening Skills in the Home

If you want to strengthen your child’s listening ability on your own, here are four areas you can focus on and some exercises to get you started. Keep the following in mind:

1) Set aside 15 minutes, three days a week to work on these exercises.

2) Try to always work at a level where your child has about an 80% success rate. As he improves at an activity and is achieving 90-100% success, then make the activity slightly harder. If his success rate is less than 80%, the activity is too difficult and your child will likely get frustrated with it.

A FREE printable is included below to get you started. Suggestions for working some of these exercises into your academic work are also given.

Build Vocabulary

If your child does not understand the meaning of the words used in a direction, then obviously she will have trouble following the direction! So make sure you are using words your child understands and are teaching her new words throughout each day.

There are several words that are used frequently in directions, such as on, off, first, second, third, before, and after. Spending some time focusing on one or two of these words at a time will help your child learn to follow directions that contain these words. The FREE printable below includes a list of common direction words listed in the order most children develop them. Start at the top and check off the words your child appears to understand. Then spend some time practicing directions with the words that give him difficulty.

Chart showing common vocabulary used in directions, ages the words are acquired and columns for checking off mastery and making notes.

Identify Key Words

I talked in 5 Simple Ways to Help Your Child Follow Directions,  about how some children don’t know which words in a sentence are the important words. So if you tell them, “get a swim towel and put it in your backpack”, they give the words “and” and “in” just as much importance as “swim towel” and “backpack”. Then they may become overwhelmed with the amount of words they need to remember and process.

If this sounds like your child, spend some time writing down common directions and circling the words that are the key words. In the sentence above, I would circle “swim towel”, “in” and “backpack”. After you have modeled this a few times, write down some new directions and have your child practice circling the key words. (Using colored pens or pencils can make this activity fun!) Sometimes, just building awareness of key words in your child will make it easier for her to start to follow directions.

Direction "Get your math book out of and open to Lesson 56" with the key words 'math book' and 'Lesson 56' circled.

Auditory Memory Practice

Sometimes, children have difficulty remembering the words that have been said. The memory exercises in the FREE printable have your child repeat strings of numbers, groups of related and unrelated words and sentences that you say to your children.

Again, you would want to start at a level where your child is 80% successful. If your child is having difficulty, giving him a visual cue that he can “attach” each word to can be helpful. For example, if you are working on repeating four words, draw four Xs on a piece of paper and have your child touch each one as he hears the word and then as he repeats it back to you.

four Xs with a finger pointing to the third one

One way we work auditory memory practice into our school work is with dictation using our spelling words. All About Spelling has this built into their curriculum. In the younger years, you dictate words, phrases and short sentences. In the older years, you dictate the words each week and then sentences of increasing length. This naturally builds your child’s auditory memory. You can work dictation time into a variety of subjects in your homeschool.

Practice Following Directions

Simply practicing directions in a structured setting can build your child’s listening skills. It may fit into your child’s academic work. For example, we have been using Story of The World for history and for each chapter they have map work that includes following a few directions. This is perfect for my guys!

If you want to spend some dedicated time on following directions, there is a sample following direction activity in the download below to get you started.  It will give you ideas of how you can adapt a following direction activity to your child’s level. Again, you want to be working at a level where your child experiences 80% success.

We also have following direction practice in each of our Mini Unit Studies and two volumes of  Monthly Listening Skills.  Check out our post Mystery Words: A Simple, But Powerful Following Direction Exercise.   And finally, sign-up to receive our monthly following direction activities!

Whiteboard with blanks and some letters filled in for the word 'pumpkin'.

During any following direction activity, you can help your child improve their skills by teaching them the following strategies:


Rehearsal simply means repeating what someone has said to you. This could be out loud, under one’s breath or in one’s head. So you can have your child repeat what you said before taking action. Or repeat the key words of what you said if you are working on key words. The goal is for your child to start to do this independently and in her head.


Chunking means chunking or grouping pieces of information together. Phone numbers are naturally set up in chunks so that they are easier to remember. The first three digits are chunked together and then you may remember the last four all together or you may break them up into two chunks of two. You can teach your child to do this with other pieces of information you may give them.

Download the FREE Listening Skills Packet

Direction Vocabulary Checklist, Following Direction Story with Completed Picture

The FREE Listening Packet contains the following:

Common Direction Vocabulary Checklist

This checklist contains many common words used in following directions. Use the checklist to keep track of the vocabulary your child already knows and what they might need to work on.

Auditory Memory Practice

These pages contain four different types of memory practice to help your child increase the amount of verbally presented information he or she can remember.

Following Direction Practice

Five stories are included for your children to follow directions to complete a picture.*

*Stay subscribed to our email list and you will receive a new picture with five more stories FREE each month to help your children practice their following direction skills!


I hope these exercises give you quick ways to get started helping your child build their listening skills. Feel free to ask questions in the comments!

Other Resources

Cover for blog post 5 Ways to Help Your Child Follow Directions

Check out these gift ideas for the children in your life that need to strengthen their language and listening skills.