Encouraging oracy in the classroom is vital in unlocking future potential
Words: Gemma Papworth
In a webinar a few weeks ago someone said, “If a child can speak, they will be safe”, and this has remained with me ever since. While the focus of oracy in the classroom is not focused on the safeguarding of a child, it can support this because as children become more confident, they will start to talk. And talking is important.
Did you know that as teachers we do 90% of the talking in lessons which means about four children say nothing? When I heard this, it made me smile as this tends to be the one thing observers will always pick up on in my lessons – I like to talk! However, this is the starting point of my current obsession with oracy being in every school.
Oracy is not just something to be found in Drama or English lessons, it is something we should all be doing regardless of subject. Children need to be talking, and talking properly. This is especially important after the time we have all had away from school, where many will have only communicated via computer or may have not been exposed to conversations where standard English has been encouraged.
This is not to say that a dialect or any cultural language is wrong and should be changed. It is more about how children learn to speak so they are able to develop their career aspirations. An awareness of how to speak in different situations is vital, along with the confidence to use this to their advantage.
In Religious Studies, we find that oracy skills can develop quite quickly where debate and discussion are encouraged, especially around ethical issues. But you will find, regardless of subject, there are times you get them to speak aloud, and now is the time to develop this further.
I have a set of discussion guidelines that I share with the class, they are always visible at the front of the room and I always adhere to them too. One of the most crucial skills have taught, and continue to teach to my students, is active listening.
Many find this hard, but once mastered, is a powerful tool to developing their knowledge and understanding of other people and what they have to say. I practice this too as it is vital that students have us as role models as for some, we are the only reliable adult role model they may have.
During the lockdown it was hard to encourage oracy as many students in my live lessons did not want to be heard over their microphone, instead choosing to use the chat function. For this reason, I set Year 7 and 8 a project to create a podcast that explained their thoughts and feelings about the pandemic.
I got the idea of a podcast from a webinar I attended and thought it was a different way of getting students to speak. The task was differentiated for students – they were told I only wanted to hear their voices, no images or video of them, or they could write the podcast out as a blog.
Many of them chose to record their voices with some amazing results and deep insights into what we have all been through – one Year 7 student said that she had started to feel anxious being stuck in her house but then realised her house symbolised safety which made her less anxious and able to cope better in the lockdown. I found this profound and could relate to her ideas.
As we return to school, with different timetables and ways of teaching, it is a prime opportunity to start to think about how to get students talking. Students talking is not something to be afraid of, it’s how you manage it that makes it a worthwhile activity. Use oracy activities to then move on to develop extended writing.
One activity I find works is to get students into groups. I have found that groups of three work best as four students will often break into two pairs and only discuss with each other. You can put the groups together yourself or make it random, but this allows students to talk in an organised manner.
From this group work, feedback from each group can be recorded on the board and then, using sentence stems or a writing frame if needed, students can arrange this into a piece of extended writing.
In subjects like Maths, where extended writing may not be something that is required often, just getting students to work together to work out a problem and then encouraging them to feedback as class is an example of oracy. They are being given the opportunity to share their ideas with instant verbal feedback from teachers.
Oracy is so important in the world today as it leads to the development of critical thinking skills, one of the top five things employers look for. Oracy does not have to cost anything, it is about teachers investing their time in encouraging talk and discussion in lessons that is guided and useful. Give it a go, you will enjoy it!