Teaching Methods – Practical Guide to Oracy Across the Curriculum

Oracy can be defined as ‘listening, speaking and spoken interaction’. The term ‘oracy’ was first coined in the 1960s as part of a research study into classroom talk by Andrew Wilkinson at Birmingham University which examined how individuals learn by talk, and particularly by working in small groups.

Knowledge bank

There is growing evidence that children’s learning might be enhanced by collaborative working and by allowing them to bring their own language into the classroom, using it to formulate questions, speculate and hypothesize about the curriculum.

There’s been a shift in teaching which has allowed learners to play a more active role in the classroom. This was highlighted by the National Oracy Project of 1987-1992, set up by the School Curriculum Development Council and administered by the National Curriculum Council.

The aims of the National Oracy Project were to:

  • enhance the role of speech in the learning process at ages 5-16 by encouraging active learning
  • develop the teaching of oral communication skills
  • develop methods of assessment of and through speech, including assessment for public examinations at 16+
  • improve learners’ performance across the curriculum
  • enhance teachers’ skills and practice
  • promote recognition of the value of oral work in schools and increase its use as a means of improving learning.

This project was based on action research by teachers in their classrooms and focused attention on the previously somewhat neglected area of education concerned with opportunities for developing spoken language. It looked at the spoken interactions between learners and between staff and learners, how these were recorded and monitored and how they could be better managed to encourage the development of speaking and listening skills.

Within the Scottish age 5-14 curriculum guidelines oracy features in the English curriculum as two of the key strands, ‘Talking’ and ‘Listening’. They’re also referred to as key skills in other subjects, emphasizing that they’re integral to the rounded educational development of the learner.

Oracy shouldn’t be something which ‘just happens’ in lessons. It must be an integral and explicit part of lesson planning, with opportunities created for a variety of oral activities within the subject.

Talking should be regarded as a way of helping learners to sort out their thoughts and as the main means of social communication and interaction. Learners should be encouraged to talk with peers, teachers and other adults. Contexts for talking should be varied and there should be a range of talking opportunities across the curriculum so that ideas may be linked across artificial subject divides.

Learners should be actively encouraged to develop a growing awareness of the language appropriate to different audiences, purposes and situations. This includes learning the importance of effective talking through taking turns and listening to others; being aware of the need to be able to appraise the effectiveness of different forms of speech; and being given the opportunity to develop their own skills in speaking effectively.

Active listening needs to be encouraged across the curriculum. It is not sufficient to assume that because a person is there and someone is speaking that the first person is actually listening! Learners need to be guided to listen for information and given opportunities to learn to respond on an individual, pair or group basis. The teacher needs to model such skills continually and emphasize the basics of good listening – eye contact, body language, use of questions etc.
To ensure a wide range of opportunities the Scottish guidelines suggest the following areas to focus on when creating activities to develop ‘listening’:

  • listening for information, instruction and directions
  • listening in groups
  • listening in order to respond to texts
  • awareness of genre (type of text)
  • knowledge about language.

The teaching of oracy skills shouldn’t be regarded as something which occurs only in ‘the literacy hour’ or as part of a subject-specific strand. Communication is a key part of education and the development of oracy should be cross-curricular and inter-active.

Ask yourself

  • To what extent do you use the subject(s) you teach to develop oral skills? Do you feel oral work could play a greater role?
  • Do you offer opportunities for individual oral work, small group oral work, class oral work?
  • Who talks most in your classroom, you or your learners? Who listens most in your classroom, you or your learners?
  • What barriers exist to your development of oral work in your classroom? What barriers exist to your learners’ use of oral skills in your classroom? How might they be overcome?

To do list

  • Plan to devote more time to oracy in a specific unit of work in the future.
  • Reflect in detail about the opportunities for oracy across your school and work with like-minded colleagues to develop a collaborative approach.
  • Carry out some further CPD linked to oracy so that a specific aspect of your current teaching can be enhanced.

Author: Shawn

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