Magazine article NATE Classroom

Speaking and Listening: Never a Better Time

Magazine article NATE Classroom

Speaking and Listening: Never a Better Time

Article excerpt


Opportunities to develop speaking and listening in the classroom have never been better. The Rose Review's welcome endorsement of a 'language-rich' curriculum recognises the status and value of spoken language. The renewed Primary National Strategy firmly reinstates talk as a learning medium, with the first four strands of objectives relating to speaking and listening. Oracy is no longer a poor relation to literacy but recognised as the bedrock of children's learning.

Oracy: why it's important

In his book Thought and Language, psychologist Lev Vygotsky described how thought and language go hand-in-hand. Talk not only shapes thinking but is also a window into the child's mind. When we talk through ideas with each other we move our thinking forward. The National Curriculum places emphasis on the importance of thinking skills--'knowing how'--and it is talk that powers these. Reasoning, enquiry and creative thinking will all flourish in classrooms that value and promote spoken language.

Talk can also promote inclusion, reflecting children's diverse language communities and experiences. A language-rich curriculum respects and draws upon Standard English, dialects, and languages other than English so that children are enabled to make choices about how, where and when to use language.

Experienced teachers are well-versed in strategies for using talk effectively in the classroom but some basic principles are always worth repeating, considering and developing. What follows is a reminder of some techniques and their rationale, as well as a few specific examples of useful approaches.

Types of talk

As teachers, we know that children can be talkative and classrooms

can be chatty places but sometimes we may have concerns about how productive or focussed the children's talk is.

Particular types of talk promote learning. In Thinking Voices--the work of the National Oracy Project (1992) Douglas Barnes suggested two broad categories of talk for learning which teachers have found useful: presentational and exploratory.

Presentational talk is the product, whilst exploratory talk reflects processes of learning. Children use presentational talk when they report back to peers, teachers or the whole school in assemblies; this is a valuable skill. Exploratory talk occurs when children are problem-solving, investigating, developing ideas, drafting. In contrast to presentational talk, exploratory talk is more tentative, less complete and often involves dialogue. Both have their place and teachers can plan for opportunities for each; both offer rich contexts for assessing children's understanding.

These talk types are well illustrated in the familiar 'jigsaw' technique which can be used in any curriculum area. In the following example, Year 5 pupils have been reading Philip Pullman's short novel The Firework Maker's Daughter; they have been set a group task of creating a poster introducing the main characters which they will present to a Year 4 class who are about to begin reading the book.

Initially, the children are placed in 'home' groups of four and each is allocated a character: Lila, Chulak, Lalchand and Rambashi. These groups are then disbanded in favour of 'expert' groups, each of which will look at one character. Using prompt sheets provided by the teacher, the children discuss and make notes in readiness for reporting back to their home group. So, the group focusing on Lila are asked to decide on three adjectives which best describe her. One child's suggestion of 'wilful' is hotly disputed by the others in the group and they finally settle upon 'determined', 'brave' and 'clever'. This exploratory talk gives way to more formal presentational talk when the experts report back to the home group and when the final presentations are made to the Year 4 class.

Teaching talk: getting started Create 'Ground Rules'

If you feel a bit unsure about how to begin creating a speaking and listening classroom, it is useful to establish 'ground rules' for talk with the children. …

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