Oracy became a discussion point following Sir Keir Starmer’s speech in July 2023. But what exactly do we mean by oracy, and why is it such an important skill for our children (and indeed all of us) to develop?
Put, oracy is the ability to express yourself clearly. This means it is about speaking, listening, and engaging others. It involves expressing your ideas with clarity and understanding the points of view expressed by others.
Let’s look at the research, examples of how we teach oracy and how you can help your child at home.
What does the research say?
Oracy is important because research has shown that it supports children’s academic learning and social and emotional well-being. It develops their 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 earnings later in life. The earlier we start to develop oracy skills, the better.
How is it taught?
In our schools, oracy is part of every lesson and is included in unstructured times such as breaks and lunch. It isn’t an add-on or an extra lesson; it’s how 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, and exploratory talk.
This is where children learn through talk; they haven’t refined their thinking yet or conclusion; they explore the ideas under discussion through speaking to a partner, having a small group discussion or a whole-class discussion or debate. We also focus on oracy outside lessons with chatterbox corners set up in the playground with talk prompts and sentence stems and lunchtime staff trained in oracy, so they support children’s talk.
Oracy is for every child, so we scaffold talk carefully. We provide sentence stems for each year group so they know how to begin their contribution. We use the Tower Hamlets “Progression in Language Structures”, freely available online. We also give lots of time for thinking and rehearsal for children who need extra support.
In addition, we involve our families in our oracy provision, delivering oracy workshops to teach them about the oracy framework and how we use this in school and provide ideas for games to try at home. We have regular parent showcases hosted by the children rather than the staff.
Most of us know that often, when you ask your child, “What did you do today?” they have no recollection of doing anything! We provide a “Let’s get talking” section in our newsletter where each year group writes a question to ask at home, such as “What is the difference between evaporation and condensation?” or “Why did the wolf want to blow the house down?”.
These are linked to what they’ve done in school that week and are useful prompts to get families talking – simple ideas that elevate talk quality.
At Excelsior, we have a public speaking curriculum to assess progress in presentation talks. It begins in reception and gives opportunities for children to present to a range of audiences for different purposes, with increasing challenges and milestones as they move through the school.
In reception, they speak to their small class; in year one, they deliver an assembly to another class; in year two, they deliver an assembly to their year group; in year three, they present their ideas to the pupil parliament; in year four, they present to the senior leadership team; in year five, they present their learning to parents and carers in a flipped parents’ evening; and in year six, they take part in our speech competition “Speak Up Speak Out!”, which is open to year six pupils across the country. We do this to ensure every Excelsior child is fully prepared for all the contexts for talk they will encounter in secondary school.
What can you do at home? Here are a few ideas
Talking to your child at home is important, but the evidence shows that dialogue helps children learn language and social skills. Turn-taking in a conversation is important, so try to avoid the questions, answer, and move on the cycle of interactions. Just chatting and exchanging ideas is so important for child development and hugely enjoyable.
Read aloud to your child. Hearing you read a story with all the different voices is not only fun and a time to bond with them, but it also supports them in understanding how the 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 develop reading fluency.
Encourage them to express opinions agree and disagree with reasons. This develops reasoning skills and vocabulary and shows them that it’s OK to disagree. A great thing to encourage is changing your mind when someone has given a good reason. You can also frame questions as talking points to encourage extended responses. There are many ways to do this, and you can choose silly or serious talk activities.
How about asking these types of questions:
- If appointed to rule the world, I would do X … because …
- Spiderman is superior to … agree or disagree
- Would you rather be character A or B from this film/storybook/ TV show? Why?
- Which is better, a butterfly or a bee? Give your reasons
Playing many games, 1–20, I Spy, or describing an image while your child draws it and vice versa, are also quick games that develop listening skills. 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.
Oracy is a gift that will benefit children throughout their lives, so let’s all do our part in helping each child develop these invaluable skills.
Angela Schofield is the Oracy Lead at Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust, which supports six schools in Birmingham.