The Other Way to Listen

Author: Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall
Plot Summary: This book is about a boy who wants to learn to listen like the old man who can hear the corn field sing, or the way a rock feels about a lizard. He can hear things that most people do not take the time to listen to. When the boy asks him to teach him how to listen to such things, the old man explains that he wishes he could, but it is something one has to learn from the hills, and ants, and lizards, etc. The boy seems to only be able to hear the things normal people hear, until one day when he is walking alone and he hears the hills.
Posted In: Ethics

Discussion Questions
  • What does it mean to hear something?
  • Is hearing the same as listening?
  • The book tell us that the old man “always asked himself hard questions that take a while to answer.” Who decides how long we have to answer a question?
  • Why do some questions take longer to answer than other ones?
  • Are there advantages of taking more time before answering a question?
  • Can we learn from the following things? Why or why not?
    • Hills
    • Ants
    • Trees
    • The stars
    • Weeds
  • Does a teacher always need to be a human? An adult?  Why or why not?
  • What else can be a teacher? Why?
  • Do you agree or disagree that sometimes it is important we spend time alone? Why?
  • The old man describes how, “You have to respect that tree,” if you want to hear it and that “if you think you’re better than that thing, you’ll never hear its voice.” What does he mean?
  • What is silence? Can there be noise and it still be silent?
  • Can we learn anything from silence?

Follow Up Activity: Solo Sit Spot

This activity is best done if teachers have access to an outdoor space, a large yard, field, forest, or playground.  However, it could be accommodated to a classroom where each student finds a quiet spot to sit with distance between themselves and other students.

Each student will practice sitting alone and just listening for anywhere form 5-20 minutes depending on the age and time constraints.  This activity is nicely paired with a sound map, where student can try to draw the sound they hear around them.

Contributed by Morgan Lindberg