Eighth graders captivated their peers with stories of an adrenaline-fueled ziplining experience, an exploratory day with a loved one at the Huntington Botanical Garden, and a triumphant overnight camping experience overcoming homesickness, just to name a few—all part of an assignment to grow their confidence in storytelling and public speaking as the students hearing the stories practiced deep, active listening.

“If we consider the story as a gift the author is willing to share with us, then our response should be to appreciate, treasure, and honor that gift,” said Middle School English Teacher Kara Ramirez. She had students intentionally practice listening, which includes giving undivided attention, achieving eye contact, listening with compassion, offering support to the storyteller, and more. At the end of the exercise, each student wrote a card offering affirmation and appreciation for a classmate whose story resonated strongly with them.