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Speaking up to show progress

Updated: May 22

Making the case for oracy

One of the most important skills we can give our students is the ability to communicate and express their thoughts. This is key to the process of learning but also a vital part of their lives in the wider community. According to Mercer & Littleton (2007) and echoed by many others, talk can have a significant impact on a student's ability to reason, think logically and organise thier ideas. It is therefore suprising to come across research that suggests most students say nothing, or give very short one word or one sentence answers.

In this article, I am making a case for the use of oracy activities as a way to assess and observe student progress. Oracy is the ability to express thoughts and ideas verbally. Essentially, any activities that involves 'talk' is an oracy activity. This could be any subject and any age group. Talk is oracy and oracy is literacy.

Why use oracy activities as well as silent written tasks? Sometimes it can be much easier to sit students in silence, writing the answers to a range of questions. From a distance, this may seem great- it seems like everybody is engaged. However, on a closer look, you may find that some students seem marginalised. Those students that may not posess the traditionally academic writing skills to thrive in this environment. Increasing the oracy opportunities for students can enable marginalised students to get more involved, they may find thier confidence through their voice (Sutherland, 2015). Oracy activities are linked to significant academic improvements in 'English as an Additional Language' (EAL) students. While it is difficult to make this a direct link, it is logical to think that talk is a key learning process.

I am not trying to sell the idea that oracy is going to dramatically boost grades. However, I am convinced that it is our professional responsibility to not overlook this. We should strive to give students the opportunity to develop their communication skills through talk as we are all aware of the important role it plays in the life of an adult in society.

Why oracy to show progress?

I have found that the best and easiest way to build oracy into my lesson planning is to adapt practices that are already taking place. In my classroom, I use several assessment activities and plenaries to check students knowledge. Many of these activities such as exit tickets, exam questions or quizzes can be adapted to provide oracy opportunities. Just replace the written element with talk. Here's some of my top tips.

  • Students can record voicenotes at the end of the lesson to explain or describe concepts that they have learnt.

  • Students could be asked to verbalise their answer to an exam question. This could sometimes highlight issues in their explanations or understanding of content.

  • Use verbal Q&A sessions as an exciting ending to a lesson.

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