6 Tips For Improving Oracy

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Helen Sharpe

Helen works at The Radclyffe School in Oldham as English AST and Lead Teacher for Literacy. She has worked tirelessly to build a culture of reading through regular assemblies and whole-school initiatives while trialling and sharing best practice in pedagogy. Helen is passionate about curriculum...
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How do we make our classrooms hubs of high-quality talk?

It was Aldous Huxley who said, “Language has made possible man’s progress from animality to civilization” and reminds us all of the importance and centrality of language in human lives.

So why is student speak important?

Voice21 think that oracy should have the same status as numeracy and literacy in the curriculum.

Vygotsky suggests that talk represents our thoughts therefore the higher the quality of our students’ speech, the higher quality of their thinking.

Professor John Hattie also found that teaching strategies with high-quality student talk prioritised produced the biggest effect sizes. So clearly student talk is important and making it high-quality is transformational for students but how do we make our classrooms hubs of high-quality talk? Here are my top tips for promoting effective oracy”

1. Rules for Talk

Try setting out your expectations from the start. What does high-quality talk look, feel and sound like?

A display or hand out like the one below might help, reinforced through teacher modelling and constant reminders. You could even appoint student ‘talk police’ to ensure the expectations are met each lesson.

Image: Helen Sharpe

2. Sophisticated Synonyms

I have found this one of the biggest game-changers in my classroom: displaying academic verbs in my subject area and a list of synonyms.

All I have to do is point during a discussion to encourage students to vary their vocabulary. It also opens up a dialogue about which verb is most appropriate thereby teasing out the subtle nuances between meanings.

3. Paraphrasing

Students have only listened and comprehended successfully if they can paraphrase their peers’ ideas – no daydreaming allowed!

4. Thought Stems

An idea stolen from David Didau’s work around speaking like an academic or professional in the given subject area.

By encouraging students to think and speak using sophisticated phrasing, they are more likely to internalize it and use it confidently in their writing.

It goes without saying that the more you can model this kind of talk, the better!



Image: Helen Sharpe

5. Relentless Redrafting

By asking students to replace a word with a more specific or sophisticated synonym; add a subordinate clause or use one of the keywords from the lesson in their answer, you are constantly raising the standard of their thinking and speaking.

Again, by modelling this process first, students are able to see, hear and understand the thinking behind the redrafting process. It is worth remembering that if students answer using complex sentences, their thinking becomes more complex too.

In a world where silent classrooms are often associated with great behaviour/learning, it’s easy to forget that it’s good to talk!


See a previous Teacher Toolkit blog – Talk Turkey – about oracy which discusses the LKMco report ‘Oracy: The State of Speaking in Our Schools’, and links to Concept Cartoons as a dynamic context for developing pupil talk and promoting rich dialogue.

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