What is oracy and how can it help us to close the language gap? 

Author: Teachit's editorial team
Published: 27/01/2022

Oracy skills

Speaking and listening - the fundamentals of oracy - are like bread and butter for English teachers. The spirited class discussions, lively debates, group presentations and impromptu drama and role-play activities are a huge part of why we love teaching our subject so much.

There's increasing evidence to show how fundamentally important these oracy skills are to students' progress, life opportunities and their attainment, particularly at GCSE level. Voice 21, England's leading oracy charity, suggests that spoken language skills are 'one of the strongest predictors of a child’s future life chances'. 

For children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the language gap starts before primary school and widens throughout their learning journey at secondary school, to GCSEs and beyond. The impact of the Covid pandemic and school closures on the attainment gap and Pupil Premium students is still being researched, but the oracy all-party parliamentary group have acknowledge the scale of the impact on disadvantaged pupils compared with more advantaged peers. Their 2021 report, Speak for Change, recognised the need to raise the status and priority of oracy in education. It sets out shared expectations for oracy teaching in primary and secondary schools, focusing on the positive impact of oral language interventions.

By focusing on these crucial oracy skills, we can narrow the gap and improve all students' academic outcomes and communication skills, as well as increasing their self-confidence and wellbeing.  

Accelerating vocabulary at secondary school, published in collaboration with Oxford University Press, is a toolkit of teaching ideas to support your professional development, as well as games and classroom strategies to raise students' word consciousness, increase classroom talk and develop students' oracy. 

School leaders, headteachers and classroom teachers might also find the ideas for vocabulary and oral language interventions in Closing the word gap: activities for the classroom helpful. It includes a whole-school approach to language development.  

Classroom resources to develop students' oral language skills 

You'll also find a selection of our favourite KS3 and GCSE English speaking and listening resources and lesson ideas below: 

If you are planning for year 7s, Dragon's quest - lateral thinking discussion tasks, is perfect for transition and younger KS3 students, and helps to develop students' vocabulary and oracy skills over a series of lessons, with a lovely range of imaginative quest activities. Alternatively, try Chat cards for a talkative first lesson or ice-breaker activity which works well with young people.

While more classroom talk is important, students also need help to become effective listeners, so scaffolded resources like Speaking and listening assessment cards can help. This resource takes students step by step through the process of becoming attentive listeners and giving constructive feedback to peers following a presentation, while Make a better speech helps students to develop their own speaking skills.  

When developing debating and persuasive language skills, it's great to have a topic that will really engage students. Pair Controversial topics with Debate flashcards for a lively but respectful exchange of ideas.

This article was first published as an Editor's pick newsletter in June 2021.

Teachit's editorial team

Teachit's editorial team