What do we mean by oracy?
Oracy is to speaking, what numeracy is to mathematics, or literacy is to reading and writing.
Essentially, it’s about being able to express yourself fluently and communicate effectively with other people.
“The things we say and how we say them can inform, influence, inspire and motivate others and express our empathy, understanding and creativity. It is our ability to communicate that enables us to build positive relationships, collaborate for common purpose, deliberate and share our ideas as citizens.” Beccy Earnshaw (Director, Voice 21) & Peter Hyman (Executive Headteacher, School 21).
Why does oracy matter?
Through oracy, children …
Children with well-developed oracy skills are able to express their thoughts and opinions and interact with others successfully. This allows them to access the curriculum and engage with its content.
Communicating effectively allows children to express themselves when they don’t understand something and need more support. With good oracy skills, they can reach out and explain what they’re thinking and where they need help.
Strong oracy skills don’t just matter in curriculum areas we typically associate with language. They’re equally as important in seemingly unrelated subjects such as maths or science. When children can explain their thinking, they deepen their own understanding.
Beyond academic learning, oracy skills help children develop successful, healthy friendships. Being able to express frustrations and talk about what’s upsetting them is a key element to children’s emotional well-being.
How can we help children develop their powers of oracy?
Read aloud with children
Reading exposes children to so much language. The more children read, the more they will have this language to draw from in their own conversational exchanges.
Take turns reading aloud so children can develop their spoken skills and listening skills at the same time. We can then model vocal intonation and expression.
Along the way, stop and discuss the content and ask questions to promote thinking
What do you think made that character behave in this way?
What could be about to happen?
How do you think this story is going to end?
and all the time using the magic question What makes you say that?
The key here is to really get children thinking and giving them the chance to voice their ideas and opinions.
Make time for conversations
We need to make time to talk with children, giving them opportunities to think and express themselves.
When we involve children in real conversations from a young age, we are helping them develop their oracy skills.
We should model good oracy skills by making eye contact, using facial expressions and gestures.
We should take turns in talking, actively listen and ask questions as a response to what children tell us, to show we are interested.
We should use grammatically correct language and interesting vocabulary. We shouldn’t over-simplify our choice of language for children. They need to hear how complex structures are used and have a go themselves.
We should initiate good questions to help create better conversations. How was school? Usually draws a mono-syllabic answer and What did you do at school today? often just elicits I don’t remember.
Question starters about school at the end of a day could include:
Who did you play with today?
What games did you play?
What book is the teacher reading to the class right now?
What was your assembly about?
Who most impressed you in your class today?
What’s the best thing about your learning partner?
What was the hardest thing you had to do today?
What was the most fun thing you did today?
What was the funniest thing that happened today?
What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?
In some classes, we have started to initiate Talk Homework – the teachers find a topic related to something children have been doing at school and provide some question prompts for you to use as a family at home to get stuck into an interesting discussion. As a school, we have also been sharing a fortnightly ‘Big Question’ on weighty topics, to promote deeper thinking
Other interesting topics of discussion could be:
What superpower would you choose to have? Why?
What’s your favourite film or book? Why?
If you could have one dream come true, what would it be? Why?
If you had wings where would you fly to? Why?
What is your favourite season? Why?
What animal would you choose to be? Why?
Everyone in the family can express their views and opinions. They make good conversation starters for mealtimes or car journeys and filling a jar full of such topic ideas to use later, is a fun activity in itself.
The message from enormous amounts of educational research points to the same fact over and over again, that communication at home in the form of quality conversations is a huge factor in children’s acquisition of oracy skills. We should never miss opportunities for meaningful conversations with children.