In my last blog I compared the simplistic definitions of oracy found in popular dictionaries – mainly being alternative ways of saying ‘speaking and listening’ – with the impressive analysis of The English-Speaking Union, founded in 1918 by Sir Evelyn Wrench. My summary of these findings, in the first blog, was that these are the skills of research, communication of findings, debate and presentation. THIS is oracy, the ability to not only speak, but to adapt speech, selecting and refining – and ultimately to write if that is the goal – for audience and purpose.

Currently, I am working with a school very close to my heart on the development of oracy. The two newly appointed lead leachers are excited and enthusiastic about the proposed programme for embedding oracy across the school in everything they do. They know that the children’s learning will be so much better, richer and more comprehensible with an oracy driven approach – reflecting authentic ‘talking to learn’ – and that children’s learning will also be more accurately assessable through speech – but they also know that the children’s oracy will itself improve and become the school’s own style of speech, ‘school suave speak’ in constant use throughout every lesson, and this is a school where the majority of the children have a strong Yorkshire accent or dialect, like myself. We are already celebrating that accent in this school, and pupils are having fun code switching between their Standard English, school suave speak and their informal, Yorkshire daily speaking voice. Talk:Write is not about judgement and disparagement, it is about adaptability – having appropriate speech forms for purpose.

In this school, pupils are already using oracy techniques to embed up to three new suave words a week, deploying them successfully in communication both through speech and writing. Further, they are creating short, fun dialogues between characters speaking in different speech forms and are also embedding suave sentence structures for use in presentations – both oral and written. The most recent addition to their portfolio of oracy activities will involve 30 minutes being devoted to each child in the class forming a suave sentence to explain which aspect of learning – in any subject – they found most interesting or exciting each week. They will open the sentence with their own chosen suave opener and include one suave word of their choice from the many suave words they have already embedded in classrooms throughout the school. They will practise their oral delivery with friends and then each will, in turn, deliver their sentence to the class. If anyone wishes to respond, they may raise one finger and then will be invited to do so with an appropriate response, such as: ‘Jonah, I see you wish to comment?’ Tables will usually be arranged in an open horseshoe to facilitate this introduction to the future skills of debate, to be focused on next year.

To this end, each class is being provided with a list of oracy openers for display, to start the process rolling. These include statements like:

  • ‘For me, the moment of greatest area of interest this week was…’
  • ‘Undoubtedly, the most exciting moment for me this week was….’
  • ‘Overall, I feel the most fascinating learning of the week has been…’
  • ‘As I think about my learning across this week…’
  • ‘I have enjoyed so much of my learning this week, however, I feel that …’
  • ‘Despite enjoying almost all my learning this week, one item especially…’
  • ‘Although I have thoroughly enjoyed my learning this week, of particular enjoyment was…’
  • ‘An outstanding aspect of learning for me this week was…’
  • ‘With great difficulty, I have identified learning about XXXXX as the most fascinating…. ‘

And so forth.

Throughout the term, children will be encouraged to experiment with these forms as they produce their weekly comment, restructuring and mixing and matching from the start, in order to personalise them and to widen the range heard and used. In the last week of each term or half term, each child across the school will then select the one they performed that they enjoyed most that term, writing a short paragraph on that learning. They will share this with friends, building in suave features of language, being creative with structures and rehearsing oral presentation through constant re-reading and rehearsal, with some – hopefully – learning from memory. Then each class or year will have a presentation session where every child presents their speech and the one or two voted best to represent their class will go forward to a whole-school performance in assembly.

The following are exemplar steps in the process for Jonah, aged 10:

  1. His curriculum statement in his class’s contribution to weekly assembly:
    ‘An outstanding aspect of learning for me this week was our research into the impact of global warming on weather throughout this winter, 2023/24.’
  2. Jonah then worked with Daisy and Leon to turn this contribution, and each of theirs, into suave speak paragraphs. The following is Jonah’s, but Leon contributed the word ‘engrossing’ for Jonah and Daisy checked the range of suave openers used by Jonah, concluding he had used a good range without overdoing things. The following is Jonah’s finished paragraph:
    ‘An outstanding aspect of learning for me this week was our research into the impact of global warming on weather throughout this winter, 2023/24. This project commenced with our collecting data on weather patterns throughout the past decade in Yorkshire in winter, using information from The Yorkshire Post and the BBC, besides the local internet weather site. Ultimately, this led to comparisons with data from recording the weather throughout December, January and February, using daily temperature and climactic measures and the internet. All in all, this proved an engrossing piece of research that led us to conclude that our weather had been both far warmer and wetter than the usual winters experienced in my lifetime.’
  3. At the March year assembly, Jonah performed his paragraph as one of three representatives for his class. He had rehearsed it a total of eight times with his friends and at home with his family, practising his inflection, projection, pronunciation and pace – his class’s agreed targets for school suave speak.
  4. Although Jonah did not know all his speech by heart at the Easter assembly, he used a modified form for his summer term presentation on the subject of research into the origins of the Yorkshire dialect, his chosen learning from that term, which he performed in late June entirely from memory with no script.

We hope you have enjoyed this snapshot of real-life oracy teaching. I hope to keep a record tracking progress in two very different schools over the coming calendar year, sharing outcomes and ideas as we proceed.

There are now resource sheets on oracy openers which will be available on the website from April.


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