by Lyn Dawes
This is the second in a series of two posts:
- Why should we teach Speaking and Listening in the classroom?
- How can we teach Speaking and Listening in the classroom?
The Subject of Speaking
It’s interesting to learn about such topics as the physics of sound, the biology of the human body that allows speech, the human ear, the sociology of languages, what we know about language acquisition, the variety of languages, the ways meanings are expressed differently, the benefits of bilingualism, the relationship between speaking and writing, communication through history. And so on.
All of these sound like great topics for investigation and study in the primary classroom! Children researching such topics and taking responsibility for telling their classmates what they have discovered can raise their own awareness of the crucial importance of spoken language.
Teaching Oracy: the skills for speaking using Oracy Skills Framework
The Oracy Skills Framework specifies the speaking skills which children need to be taught. Speaking well involves employing combinations of skills in a wide range of contexts.
Teaching speaking involves singling out a particular skill, demonstrating or modelling it, clarifying what it means and why it is important, then providing targeted practice opportunities and supportive feedback.
Teaching speaking also involves integrating such direct teaching into classroom life by making sure children can and must draw on their new skills as they learn their curriculum subjects.
We can look at the Oracy Skills Framework and consider those skills which are the most important for exploratory talk, that is engaging with others in learning conversations; and those most important for presentational talk. A wide range of skills is all needed for both types of talk, but to teach things well, we need to distinguish what is important.
Teaching exploratory talk is teaching a robust, scientific and social way to think. Teaching presentational talk is teaching ways to make sure that the ideas of individuals are heard by a wide audience and are expressed with unshakeable confidence. This is excellent for involvement in dramatic arts, teaching, work in the media and social media, and so on. But like any other good thing, presentational talk can be misused, and this fact should be part of our teaching of presentational talk skills.
It’s no wonder so many of our politicians have a public-school background. Their thoughts and actions may be utterly ruinous but they can still project themselves confidently by speaking assertively and in ways that give them power over others; they have been carefully taught to do so.
I will now focus on exploratory talk, looking at its specific speaking skills.
When children are engaged with one another in small group discussion, we want to hear a specific kind of talk going on. It’s quite easy to say what we don’t want to hear; we don’t want a lack of engagement, laissez-faire agreement and general ‘nodding through’ of ideas, with some children not contributing at all.
Similarly, we don’t want gratuitous disagreement and competitive pronouncements that halt the flow of talk and undermine the confidence of individuals. What we want to hear when children are engaged in talking about their ideas is a fluid and open exchange of what may be hypothetical or provisional thoughts, with the group seeking reasons and explanations, and together following interesting or useful lines of thinking.
The group and its individuals do best if everyone is asked or required to speak, attend and reflect. There needs to be a mutual understanding that the purpose of the group talk is to get somewhere educationally; to reach consensus, to gain joint understanding, or take a decision based on common understanding. Such educationally effective talk is known as Exploratory talk. Resources for the direct teaching of the skills for exploratory talk can be found here.
How to increase the amount of Exploratory Talk
In the Oracy Skills Framework, there are eight specific speaking skills for exploratory talk; that is, the skills that we need to teach for children to engage with one another in effective group work, without adult supervision
- Listening actively and responding appropriately
- Maintaining focus on task
- Giving reasons to support views
- Critically examining ideas and views expressed
- Guiding or managing, interactions; turn-taking
- Building on the views of others
- Seeking information and clarification through questions
Here is a short cycle teachers can use in order to learn each of the skills in the Oracy Skills Framework:
- Talk about the skill. Explain terminology. Share examples and check for understanding. Model the skill in use. Ask for suggestions of how and when this skill might support learning with classmates.
- Create a specific learning intention eg. ‘We are going to listen actively’ with success criteria, ‘We can show we have listened actively’. In curriculum lessons, integrate the learning intention and provide opportunities for the skill in practice. Collect examples of children demonstrating the target skill.
- Use your examples in a plenary session to provide positive feedback. Ask for examples of problems, as well as examples of when the skill was helpful.
- Ensure that the skill is valued and foregrounded by the teacher and the class. Report home and ask parents to support this work.
Each of the skills listed could take a day, a week or a term to teach and learn; you will know what is required for your class or for each child. Each of the skills is invaluable. There is no hierarchy of what is most important, and each is key to building up the child’s capacity to join in with a good discussion.
For example, you might start by teaching why and how to give and ask for reasons. Reasoning is always going to be a valuable capacity for a child – as is listening, questioning, drawing on previous experiences, and so on. In such sessions with you the children are acquiring each skill separately as an element of the capacity to hold Exploratory talk.
Eventually there arises a tipping point in which individuals and groups, talking together about their class work, experience using the skills which constitute Exploratory talk. They can discuss ideas to learn from and with one another. Isn’t that important? It sounds so ordinary and unexciting, but it is just the opposite; it’s rare, and absolutely gripping!
An analogy might be to think about setting the group the task of making a model out of newspaper. Exploratory talk is the finished Eiffel Tower. One child might know how to cut out; another might have seen paper rolled in a way that makes stronger structures; others might know how to plait, tie knots, use glue or tape, design arches or triangles, evaluate progress and see a few steps ahead. Some might even know what the Eiffel Tower looks like.
Separately, they have crucial skills, but alone, each has little hope of solving the problem. Openly combining their expertise is what will help. Along the way, sharing of the key skills should go on. It’s definitely best if everyone knows how to cut out, plait and glue. Similarly, it’s best if everyone knows how to reason, listen and explain. The possibility of using powerful oracy skills increases as they become more generally used, as individuals catch on to understanding what they are hearing and what and how they are achieving through talk.
That is, the more Exploratory talk happens, the more it is enabled to happen.
Children in the classroom are ‘mixed ability’ for speaking skills, and it may not be immediately apparent who can do what with words. It is beneficial for every child to carry on developing their speaking skills in the ideal context of the classroom, with others to talk to who are on the same journey and whose concerns are highly similar.
Teaching the capacity to engage in Exploratory talk is one of the most important aspects of development that you can ever offer the children in your class.
Teaching exploratory talk in practice
The table below includes some suggestions for the direct teaching of speaking skills, with children of any age, based on the National Curriculum statutory requirements. The idea is to help children gain independence in speaking and listening effectively when talking to one another without an adult in support. This is a key educational task.
Children can benefit from direct tuition of sentence stems which will carry their speaking forward, and do the job they want their words to do; and lots of practice and experiences which will allow them to develop proficiency. Children are ‘mixed ability’ for such skills but it benefits all children to keep joining in with such speaking activities, however articulate they may be.
There is always something to be gained from educational conversations with their peers. Distinguish such conversations from ‘ordinary’ talk. Point out that we are not trying to make friends or have a chat; we are making sure that we can gain the most from our education and help our classmates to do the same.
Curriculum topics will provide a range of contexts for teaching speaking skills. This is a double gain since the topic will be better understood if children talk about it together.
Teaching the oracy skills of speaking for learning; starter suggestions
|Children should be taught to:||Sentence stems to teach children:||Activities and experience:|
|listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers||Please tell me…
Can you say that again please…
I think that…
checking for understanding
|ask relevant questions to extend their understanding and knowledge||Can you explain
What do you mean by..
What do we know about..
|Whole class enquiry
joint researchscience investigation
|use relevant strategies to build their vocabulary||What was that word?
What does – mean?
Can you tell me about…
asking about words
group talk with chances to use new words together
|articulate and justify answers, arguments and opinions||I would like to say that..
I think… because…My opinion is…
|give well-structured descriptions, explanations and narratives for different purposes, including for expressing feelings||I believe…
My feeling is…
I have found out that…
|maintain attention and participate actively in collaborative conversations, staying on topic and initiating and responding to comments||Let’s talk about this…
Can we discuss this…
|Joint construction of understanding of a text, resource, idea|
|use spoken language to develop understanding through speculating, hypothesising, imagining and exploring ideas||It’s possible that…
Do you think that…I have an idea…
I may be wrong, but…
|Creative composition or planning
Scientific or historical enquiry
|speak audibly and fluently with an increasing command of Standard English||I would like to say that…
Please can I tell you about…
|General classroom talk|
|participate in discussions, presentations, debates||What do you think?
Why do you think that?
Let’s consider this
|gain, maintain and monitor the interest of the listener(s)||Would you like to know about…
What is your question about…
|consider and evaluate different viewpoints, attending to and building on the contributions of others||If this, then… if that, then…
Have we thought about everything…Let’s check we considered…
Productive and engaging talk with classmates can be an immensely enjoyable experience for children who have been taught how to speak and how to listen. There are highly beneficial social side effects to such active conversations and discussions.
Children need to know that they have control of their involvement with others, that they can represent themselves clearly, and that their voice has value. Teaching speaking skills provides every child with the confidence that they have such capacities, and everyday involvement in Exploratory talk helps children to develop their crucial understanding of how and why we use talk for learning.
The National Curriculum for Spoken Language – years 1 to 6
Statutory requirements. Pupils should be taught to:
- listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers
- ask relevant questions to extend their understanding and knowledge
- use relevant strategies to build their vocabulary
- articulate and justify answers, arguments and opinions
- give well-structured descriptions, explanations and narratives for different purposes, including for expressing feelings
- maintain attention and participate actively in collaborative conversations, staying on topic and initiating and responding to comments
- use spoken language to develop understanding through speculating, hypothesising, imagining and exploring ideas
- speak audibly and fluently with an increasing command of Standard English
- participate in discussions, presentations, performances, role play, improvisations and debates
- gain, maintain and monitor the interest of the listener(s)
- consider and evaluate different viewpoints, attending to and building on the contributions of others
- select and use appropriate registers for effective communication.