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Developing oracy in a primary classroom

Written By: Matthew Shurlock
3 min read

This case study was written by Matt Shurlock, a primary school teacher.

As you read this case study, reflect on how the teacher has developed their pupils’ oracy. Take some time to think about what the teacher does, how they do it, what they might do differently and how this might influence your own practice.

This article will focus on techniques that can be used to promote focus and rigour of dialogue in KS1 classrooms. They include teachers considering their own communication, classroom activities and applications of oracy across the curriculum. By planning specific time to talk about a task, pupils are given the space to engage with new vocabulary easily, rehearse sentence and paragraph structures efficiently and share their ideas and feedback with peers.

Modeling high quality spoken language is vital for teachers to move their pupils’ learning forwards. By presenting their speech as a model, teachers can provide numerous examples of high quality oracy. Considering the 5 golden rules of communication may help adults reflect on how best to model good communication.

The 5 golden rules of communication

Those with experience of pre-school or Early Years may recognise these rules as supports for early speech and language development. However, they are also inherently useful in developing oracy in KS1. This may be to support pupils with a disparity in vocabulary development (Maguire et al. 2018) or utilised to extend and develop those who are already communicating at a competent or higher level.

  1. Eye to eye contact whilst communicating,
  2. 10 seconds to wait for a response,
  3. Offering choices, such as ‘Are humans mammals or birds?’,
  4. Adding actions alongside words to add emphasis or make links to objects or movements,
  5. Model and extend, by building on the responses of pupils and modelling high quality spoken language.

(Bolton Start Well 2020)

Using actions

Adding actions to words works well when learning a story, recalling a set of instructions or completing a procedure to solve a calculation. Actions can help pupils to rehearse their storyboard when learning or creating a story. They support pupils to recall learnt stories and independently create their own. Talk for writing has further information on this approach, (Corbett and Strong 2011).

Power words

This approach focuses on a suitable number of keywords, within a period of time, that are prominently displayed in the class. Across the school day and within a range of lessons, teachers find exciting and surprising ways to make links between learning and encourage pupils to use the power words. Whilst studying ‘The mischievous gnome’ in Autumn 2, mischievous was a power word. Then, in Spring 2, whilst introducing the plot of Supertato, the teacher asked for words to describe the evil peas.

T: These peas are being naughty. How else could we describe their behaviour?

P1: Bad.

P2: They are being naughty.

P3: They are mischievous.

T: They are. Do you know any other characters from books that are mischievous?

P2: Yes, the gnomes were being mischievous in the gnome book.

Word mapping

When learning new power words this technique builds meaning and is accessible to all learners. For example, the power word is potato. Whilst teaching the word it can be represented in multiple forms: as a written word; as a real object – as chips, boiled, hash, mash, a plant growing in the ground – in various pictures – on its own (singular spelling) or in a shopping basket with lots of others (plural spelling).

Blank’s Level Questions

In a previous article, Blank’s level questioning was explained in more detail. By familiarising themselves with this work, teachers are able to direct appropriate questions to pupils. Asking a pupil who is at Blank’s level 1 to explain why something has happened is beyond their capabilities. Knowing a pupil’s level and pitching questions at this, will allow them to access the learning that is desired by the teacher posing the questions.

  • Blank M, Rose S A, Berlin L J (1978) The language of learning: The preschool years. New York. NY: Grune & Stratton.
  • Bolton Council (2020) Bolton Start Well: The 5 golden rules of communication.
  • Corbett P and Strong J (2011) Talk for writing across the curriculum: how to teach non-fiction writing 5-12 years. New York: McGraw-Hill Education. 
  • Maguire MJ et al. (2018) Vocabulary knowledge mediates the link between socioeconomic status and word learning in grade school. Journal of experimental child psychology 166: p.679–695
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