Oracy in the classroom – Why teaching oracy is crucial for successful outcomes
The ability to use speech clearly and with confidence is crucial for successful outcomes – in literacy and in life, says Sue Drury…
- by Sue Drury
Coined in the 1960s by British researcher and educator Andrew Wilkinson, ‘oracy’ describes the ability to express yourself fluently in speech.
Over the decades, its role in education has become better understood and more highly valued. After all, what better way could there be to demonstrate understanding than the ability to convey an idea clearly to someone else?
This holds true in everything, from explaining your reasoning in maths to responding appropriately to an alternative perspective on life in RE or PSHE.
That said, it is the skilful manipulation of words that forms the bedrock of oracy, and literacy is, therefore, the area in which it is most appropriately taught.
Being able to write standard English well begins with being able to speak it fluently. That’s why it is so important for young writers in particular to rehearse sentences verbally before putting pencil to paper.
Oracy covers many different aspects. These range from basic features such as the volume, clarity, pace and tone of the delivery, to broader considerations such as respecting the audience, listening and taking turns.
Then of course there’s choice of words, rhetoric and content, not to mention the ability to organise and explain your ideas verbally.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to practise all these skills within your lessons without devouring huge chunks of your teaching time.
First, you need to set some rules and expectations.
For a start, insist on standard English whenever your pupils are talking within a class context and don’t be afraid to correct them if necessary: “It’s those pencils, not them pencils,” and so on.
That means, of course, that you need to set a good example, so work hard to eradicate any bad habits that you might have developed over the years.
Questions and answers
Make time for short word games, perhaps as a warm-up activity.
There are plenty to choose from, but ones that involve questioning and responding are particularly good for developing oracy skills.
For example, younger pupils love ‘20 questions’ (in which only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers are allowed) while older ones might enjoy some version of ‘Just a Minute’, the long-running radio game.
A broad vocabulary is an essential part of improving pupils’ life chances.
Use oracy activities to help children expand their personal lexicons, perhaps by getting them to explain or define less common words, or even challenging them to include these words in everyday conversation.
More interesting speakers make good use of rhetorical devices, such as humour or figurative language.
Anyone who has heard a badly-pitched wedding speech will know that using humour effectively is not as easy as it might seem, so school could provide a safe space for practising that.
Much the same is true of rhetorical flourishes, so encourage pupils to use techniques such as similes, metaphors and personification when they are speaking.
Of all the oracy skills, the ability to debate effectively must be one of the most useful, because it encompasses so many important aspects, from marshalling ideas and information to ‘reading’ the audience.
You could include oral debates as part of the planning and preparation for a persuasion or balanced argument writing unit, or why not make time for a weekly debate based on current affairs?
Ultimately, by introducing oracy activities to your timetable, probably on a ‘little and often’ basis, you could have a massive impact on your pupils’ ability to express themselves clearly – and that will be good news for both their academic achievement and their life chances.
4 Plazoom resources to support oracy in the classroom
- Topical Tuesdays: weekly debates on current affairs
- Bug Banquet: could your pupils persuade you to eat insects?
- Tier 2 Vocab Cards: encourage ambitious language choices
- Classroom Display: figurative language posters to inspire writing
Sue Drury is literacy lead at Plazoom, the expert literacy resources website.