How do you encourage the development of students’ oracy skills? Edward de Chazal shares 7 ideas to maximize oral communication in the classroom.
As secondary school teachers we hear a lot about literacy. It might be our government talking about raising national literacy standards. It could be the heavily writing-oriented requirements of our students GCSE and A level exams. Or it may simply parental pressure to improve their children’s – our pupils’ – levels of literacy. As a result, we are left in no doubt that working on literacy is a major area of endeavour.
But, vital though it is, literacy is not the only game in town. Equally important is oracy.
What exactly is oracy?
You might be wondering what oracy actually is. Well, oracy is the other side of the communication coin. Flip reading and writing and you have oracy – which is all about listening and speaking skills. Being literate in oracy means having effective listening and processing skills – plus clear, fluent and accurate speaking skills in rehearsed settings like presentations as well as less prepared settings such as discussions and informal interaction.
Why should we focus on oracy?
The wider world, particularly the world of work, recognizes the value of oracy. Beyond our school boundaries, efforts are underway to address the need. For instance, the UK-based organization Enabling Enterprise aims to enhance secondary school students’ enterprise skills. They work with both schools and key businesses, and they have identified eight core skills.
- Problem solving
- Aiming high
- Working in a team
- Being creative
- Staying positive
- Listening and understanding
As you can see, these forward-looking skills are heavily oriented towards oracy. Crucially, many of these skills fall partly outside the restricted national curriculum and examination assessment objectives.
In a similar vein, the English Speaking Union (ESU), based in London, prioritize oracy. They work in schools around the world, encouraging debates, public speaking and oral communication skills. In fact, the ESU have been cultivating students’ oracy skills for one hundred years – since 1918!
Whose job is it to improve oracy?
In short, it’s up to all of us. Certainly, it is the job of English teachers (such as myself) to raise our students’ oracy skills; yet it is also vital for teachers of other subjects to do so too. Our students need to be able to argue and present in science subjects just as much as humanities and the arts.
How can we develop our students’ oracy skills?
I’ve been working with seven ideas to maximize oral communication in the classroom – and these work for any subject.
Here they are:
- Insist on student-to-student communication whenever practical – set up pair work and group work for problem-solving and cognitive tasks.
- Start and end lessons with oral communication – use starters and plenaries for tasks where students have to communicate orally.
- Use the Think – Pair – Share model – give a clearly-defined task or question, allow one or two minutes for students to think silently and note down their individual responses, which they then exchange with their partner; finally nominate one or two students to share their responses with the whole class.
- Do mini presentations – for each two-week cycle, plan for every student in your class to give their presentation relating to the topic. Give clear guidelines and show models first. Remember that a presentation can be very short – one-minute presentations are fantastic!
- Align oral output to the assessment objectives – for example, students have to express their interpretations / evaluations orally first, prior to writing.
- Reward good oracy skills – use your students’ favourite reward system (e.g. house points, privileges) to motivate good oral responses.
- Collaborate with teachers from other subjects on higher-profile oracy activities – a school debate, for instance, is an opportunity for students to showcase their wonderful oracy skills in a more public setting!
Aim to build in a feedback stage for each idea – nominate individual students to tell the whole class what they learnt, discussed or concluded. Doing this maximizes our students’ oracy skills.
In short, as teachers of any subject we can turn our attention to developing our students’ oracy skills. And this will really build their confidence and improve their life skills.
About Edward de Chazal
Edward de Chazal is a teacher, author, and conference speaker. He teaches English in secondary and university settings. He specializes in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and has published resources for the global English-medium international school and university sector.