Oracy is the ability to express yourself clearly and communicate with others effectively through spoken language.
‘It’s about having the vocabulary to say what you want to say, and the ability to structure your thoughts so that they make sense to others,’ (Billie Dunne, senior programme manager at the National Literacy Trust.)
A key part of oracy is for children to think carefully about the language they’re using, and tailor it to their subject, purpose and audience. For example, a Year 6 pupil should understand that they need to use simpler words and sentence structures when explaining the rules of a game to a Reception child than they would if they were with their peers.
Oracy involves embracing different speaking skills, such as:
- Discussion: exchanging ideas with others
- Instruction: telling someone what to do, or explaining facts
- Dialogue: having a conversation with someone, listening and showing an interest in what they say
Oracy isn’t, however, just about being a good talker – or talking lots. It also includes listening to others, and responding appropriately.
Example activities we use at Penponds to develop oracy include:
- Setting ground rules for speaking and listening in class, such as putting your hand up before speaking, waiting to be chosen and not interrupting each other or in group discussion taking cues on when to contribute.
- Presentations on a specified subject, or a subject of their own choosing. These could be individual presentations or in pairs or small groups, in front of their class or the whole school in assembly. For very young children this might be ‘show and tell,’ while older pupils might make a topic-based presentation or take part in the Penponds Speaks Competition.
- Discussions as a pair, small group or whole class, for example about religious beliefs, story plots, or predicting the outcomes of experiments.
- Hot seating: a drama technique where one child sits in the ‘hot seat,’ and the other children ask them questions to answer in character.
- Exploring a text through performance – not just re-enacting what actually happens in the book, but also acting out what characters might do or say in a particular situation.
- Giving oral book reviews to the rest of the class, and then taking questions.
- Structured debates, with one group of pupils for and another against a certain topic or question, such as, ‘Is it right to bully a bully?’
- Putting on class assemblies or performances attended by the rest of the school and often parents.
- Learning council meetings, where council members collect questions and concerns from other pupils and present them to their fellow councillors and teachers.
- Group work, where communication and listening to each other are essential.
- Our Y5/6 children being play leaders and buddies for younger children at breaktimes, explaining the rules of a game and making sure everyone plays correctly and fairly.
- PSHE/ class forums - a class discussion, often weekly, where everyone talks over issues affecting the class, such as too much talking during lessons, or behaviour in the playground. This encourages oracy skills like expressing opinions, turn-taking and respecting others’ views.
7 ways to promote oracy at home
Try these techniques to help your child become a more confident communicator, in school and at home.
1. Read aloud to your child
‘Reading aloud to your child, well beyond the age they can read for themselves, combines the benefits of talking, listening and storytelling within one activity that helps children build their vocabulary, learn to express their thoughts, and understand the structure of language,’ says Billie.
2. Record a video diary
Many kids aspire to being vloggers or YouTube stars, so encourage them to start a video diary, either to chart their everyday life or to record special occasions like birthdays and holidays. For safety’s sake, keep these within the family rather than broadcasting them online.
3. Play word games
Games like 20 Questions, Guess Who? and I Spy are great for helping children use descriptive language and think critically about what they’re saying.
4. Talk about their day
Ask your child, ‘What did you do today?’ and they’ll often claim they can’t remember, so find different ways to talk about what they’ve been up to. Eating your evening meal as a family is a good way to encourage conversation, while older kids are often more chatty in the car, where they feel less like they’re being interrogated. You could also try our tips for asking the right questions to elicit information.
5. Phone a friend (or relative)
Persuade your child to take a break from text and WhatsApp and develop their speaking skills by making an actual phone call. ‘Encouraging them to speak to different family members on the phone or on a video call will build confidence,’ says Billie.
6. Go on a nature walk
This is a great pre-phonics activity for young children, who can be encouraged to listen carefully to the sounds they hear – from traffic to birdsong – and describe them. They can also describe the natural sights they see, such as trees, animals and birds and the sky.
7. Sign them up for a club
Joining extracurricular clubs is a good opportunity for your child to converse with different people outside the home or school environment. Many of them also involve taking instructions (such as being coached in sporting techniques or to complete science or art projects), and introduce them to different vocabulary relating to their new hobby.
The National Literacy Trust’s Words for Life programme has lots of great tips and activity ideas to encourage speaking, reading and writing skills in children from birth to 11 years.