The renewed Primary Framework places an enhances emphasis on speaking and listening. With this in mind, Rebecca Jenkin offers some ideas on how to promote these core skills at key stage 2.

Language is an integral part of learning, and plays a key role in classroom teaching and learning – children’s confidence and proficiency as talkers and listeners are paramount. Yet in schools, speaking and listening is the Cinderella of English, fighting for the recognition and limelight that her two big sisters, reading and writing, have had for some time.

Often, speaking and listening is merely used as a tool to support and guide reading and writing, and is unlikely to be actually taught and assessed. Moreover, discussion can often be dominated by the teacher and children have limited opportunities for productive speaking and listening. The renewed Primary Framework for Literacy goes some way to address the fact that there is an interdependency between speaking and listening, reading and writing and moreover, that they are mutually enhancing. The objectives for speaking and listening complement the objectives for reading and writing in that they reinforce and extend children’s developing reading and writing skills.

National Curriculum

There are four aspects of speaking and listening in the National Curriculum program of study for English:

1. Speaking: to speak competently and creatively to explore, develop and sustain ideas through talk.

2. Listening and responding: to understand, recall and respond to speakers’ implicit and explicit meanings; to explain and comment on speakers’ use of language, including vocabulary, grammar and non verbal features.

3. Group discussion and interaction: to take different roles in groups to develop thinking and complete tasks; participate in conversations, making appropriate contributions building on others’ suggestions and responses.

4. Drama: Using dramatic techniques, including work in role to explore ideas and texts; create, share and evaluate ideas and understanding through drama.

Speaking

In developing their speaking skills, children need to learn to adapt their talk to the listeners; use a range of ways to express themselves; use talk to clarify their ideas and sustain their talk to develop thinking and reasoning. Speaking should include putting thoughts into words and sharing in groups; taking opportunities to speak at some length to explain ideas in different situations; giving a talk or presentation using gestures, aids and rhetorical devices.

It is essential that children are provided with planned opportunities for speaking in a range of contexts, including: to different audiences, such as class, the teacher and other adults; with different levels of formality such as with peers, to another class, a whole-school assembly and for different purposes, such as recounting events and telling stories, explaining, describing, justifying views and persuading others. Furthermore, children need to be taught how to make more extended contributions, such as expanding ideas using connectives; making connections between reasoning and predicting; using language to organize and sequence ideas.

Listening

As teachers, we should encourage active, responsive listening skills. To facilitate this, teachers should present material clearly with prompts to support listening – use of voice; emphasis on key words and sometimes speaking quietly. Teachers are the best models of language in use and should model gesture, volume and tone. When we model speaking and listening we should demonstrate and discuss the process. To do this effectively model and encourage the children to make eye contact with the listener; speak clearly and audibly; use facial expressions and gestures; use precise words to convey meaning and hold the attention of the audience and respond to others’ contributions by adding or elaborating on them or by expressing an alternative point of view. Children need to be provided with models of appropriate use of English across the whole curriculum.

Speaking and Listening in the Classroom

Establish a set of rules for speaking and listening – these could include some of the following:

RULES FOR TALKING RULES FOR LISTENING
Respect each other’s opinion Respect each other’s opinions
One voice at a time Don’t interrupt
Say what you think Listen carefully
Say why you think it Be open to new ideas
Build on what others say Think about what others say
Support and include each other
Ask when you don’t understand
Try and reach agreement
Be noise aware

Use talk partners

Put children into pairs and allocate time for each to talk to the other at specific points in a teaching sequence, eg share experiences, generate ideas and reflect on learning. Retain pairs for a half term so that they establish routines, gain confidence and develop more extended turns.

Mixed groups and group work

Ability groups are useful if work is pitched at the appropriate level of challenge whereas structured mixed ability groups ensure a range of views and are suitable for tasks which require diversity. Same language groups can be advantageous to children learning English as an additional language if appropriate to the task. Try using single sex groups – these are often more comfortable for some children. Use friendship groups which are secure and unthreatening to help children build confidence.

Appoint roles to group members – a leader/chair can organize the group and encourage participation; a scribe can be used to note the key points; a reporter can sum up and present ideas to an audience; a mentor can be used to help group members to complete a task, offering support and clarification; an observer could be used to make notes on how the group works and note contributions. The observations should be shared with the group to help make improvements in future performances.

Stimuli, Games, and Puppets

Use varied stimuli during the first five minutes of each lesson. For example a poem, photograph, a painting or a piece of music encourage children to talk about the stimulus. Give children a topic and ask them to speak without hesitation or repetition for one minute. Turn it into a game where others can challenge when the rules are broken and if the challenge is successful the challenger continues the topic to the end of the minute unless challenged. Use puppets to encourage talk. They can be used to support talk in a variety of genres, for example to recount, explain, instruct and inform. Use a tape recorder so that children can reflect on their use of language and voices.

Other ideas

  • Provide children with a listening frame suitable to the task. If listening to a news broadcast help them to focus on what they hear by giving key headings to help them listen systematically; if they are listening to a recount ask them to picture the scene in their heads as they listen.
  • Extend children’s understanding of drama by using the convention of teacher in role. This involves taking on some aspects of a character in the situation being explored. Teachers should demonstrate voice change, gesture and facial expression.
  • Remember to set goals with clear criteria for success and praise responses. Make it clear what is expected of them in the activity by explaining the criteria for judging achievement and improvement and helping them to review their own progress. A useful way to support this process is through the use of a ‘talk log’ – this is where children reflect on their contribution to speaking and listening activities by making notes on their contribution, areas of strength and aspects to improve on.

EAL Children

When teaching EAL children, we need to ensure that children have time to think before they respond to questions and that, in particular, and that children have rehearsal time and try to encourage more than one word answers. It might be useful to spend time with children learning key words and helping them understand concepts needed for the topic or theme being talked about. At times it can be useful to encourage children to use their home language, for example when organizing initial ideas.

In conclusion

Although the requirement to teach speaking and listening is found in the program of study for English, surely the best practice embeds this teaching in all subjects across the curriculum. Embedding speaking and listening across the curriculum builds on strengths and challenges children in areas where they are lacking. All areas of the curriculum offer distinct opportunities to enhance the topic being taught through talk.

Useful resources

  • Towards Dialogic Teaching, 3rd Edition, R J Alexander, 2006, Dialogos.
  • National Literacy Strategy: Using assess and review lessons: focuses on questioning and dialogue to explore levels of understanding. (DfES 0632/2001).
  • New Perspectives on spoken English in the Classroom: Discussion papers, QCA 2003 (QCA/03/1071).
  • Literacy and Learning Through Talk, R Corden, 2000, OUP.
  • Spoken and Written Language, M A K Halliday, 1989, OUP.
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