When Sir Keir Starmer raised the importance of oracy in a recent speech the word hit the headlines. Angela Schofield, Oracy Lead at the Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust* explains what we mean by oracy and why it is so crucial in your child’s development.
Oracy is the ability to express yourself, and it involves both speaking and listening. Essentially, it’s about gaining the skills to engage with other people’s ideas and express your own ideas so that your listeners understand them.
Research shows that oracy supports children’s academic learning and their social and emotional wellbeing. It builds confidence and gives them a sense of belonging, that their voice is welcomed and valued. It is also key to closing the disadvantage gap. Early language and communication skills are closely linked to attainment throughout schooling, and to earnings later in life. The earlier in life children start developing oracy skills, the better.
Research shows that oracy supports children’s academic learning and their social and emotional wellbeing.
In MAT schools, oracy isn’t an add-on or an extra lesson, it’s the
way we teach. We have a mantra of, ‘every voice heard every day’. We
teach presentation talk, such as presenting your work to the class,
reciting a poem or delivering a speech, as well as exploratory talk.
This is where children are learning through talk: they haven’t yet
refined their thinking or reached a conclusion, but they are exploring
ideas through speaking to a partner, small group or whole-class
discussion. We also focus on oracy outside lessons, with chatterbox
corners set up in the playground and lunchtime staff who are trained in
oracy to support children’s talk.
We also involve families, delivering oracy workshops explaining our
approach in school and suggesting ideas for promoting oracy at home.
HOW PARENTS CAN HELP AT HOME
Focus on dialogue.
Talking to your child is important, but evidence shows that it is dialogue
that helps children learn language and social skills. Turn taking in a
conversation is the important part, so try to avoid the questions,
answer, move on cycle of interactions. Just chatting and exchanging
ideas is so important for child development and hugely enjoyable. We all
have such busy lives now but setting aside a time each day just to talk
with, rather than to, children will have an enormous impact on their
learning and social and emotional learning.
Investigate vocabulary. Begin with one word and find
as many synonyms as you can, or find opposites, or find out where words
come from. Biscuit, for example, comes from the French for twice baked.
Before we had effective food storage, baking twice reduced the moisture
in the biscuits making them less likely to go off or attract weevils!
Children find these sorts of facts fascinating. There are lots of
examples online but for older children, the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins is a useful resource as is the children’s book The Dictionary of Difficult Words.
Take time to read aloud. Hearing you read a story,
with all the different voices, is not only fun and a time to bond with
them, but it also helps them to understand how tone of voice can change
the meaning of words and make it more interesting to the listener.
Hearing a fluent reader, while they look at the text, also helps
children to develop fluency in reading.
Just chatting and exchanging ideas is so important for child development and hugely enjoyable.
Encourage expression of opinions. Agree and disagree
with reasons. This develops reasoning skills and vocabulary and shows
them that it’s okay to disagree. A key skill to encourage is the ability
to change your mind when someone has given a good reason. You can also
frame questions as talking points to encourage extended responses. There
are plenty of ways to do this and you can choose serious or silly talk
activities. We live in a world with a diversity of opinions and being
able to listen, engage respectfully and come to your own conclusion is a
key life skill.
Try out questions such as:
Which would you rather be, an elephant or a horse? Why?
If I ruled the entire world, I would … because …
Play games requiring listening skills. 1-20, I
Spy, or describing an image while your child draws it and vice versa,
are all quick games, which develop listening skills too. To practise
listening specifically, read a short text and then give a list of words,
can they remember which words were from the text? Simple riddle games
are good for this too. Try this one:
Explain you’re going to tell a story and then ask some questions:
You are the bus driver. There are four people on the bus
initially. At the first stop, two people get off and a lady with a red
hat gets on. At the second stop, a man with a green coat gets off and a
boy with a big bouncy dog gets on. At the third stop, three people get
off and 4 people get on…
You can keep going for longer, and make it more complex, depending on
the age of your child. At the end, you can ask question about the
scenario, including the key question – How old is the bus driver? The
clue is, of course, in the first five words!
*Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust supports six schools in Birmingham.
The Trust is committed to ensuring the highest standards of academic
performance and places communication skills at the centre of its