Developing students' oracy skills: effective speaking and listening

Author: Kate Lee
Published: 27/01/2022

Oracy skills: essential for students' development as learners

While speaking and listening activities have long been part of the National Curriculum for English teachers, the term 'oracy', first coined by academic Andrew Wilkinson (1965), is now an increasingly important focus as one of the cornerstones of literacy. 

We know that classroom talk is essential to students' learning, progress and enjoyment, and can have a positive impact on the clarity and quality of their writing skills too. By focusing on oracy skills, we can also help to develop students' self-confidence and self-esteem.

Choosing topics that will really capture students' interest is key if you want fluent, uninhibited classroom talk and confidently articulated ideas. Here are some engaging lesson ideas and teaching resources to do just that:

Discussion tasks 

Small group or whole class discussion, debate and role-play activities can provide a fun framework for developing students' collaborative learning skills alongside their oracy skills.

If you are looking for inspiration for lively (and potentially explosive!) group discussion tasks which English students will really enjoy, try Controversial statements or Controversial topics. These ideas will not only develop high-quality critical thinking skills, but also students' understanding of the importance of active listening and turn-taking.

For a scaffolded and thoughtful approach to a discussion task on any text or topic, Socratic discussion helps learners to really engage with the pedagogy of Bloom's taxonomy and the process of active listening and observing in group discussions.

For a fun group work activity, Going, going ... gone! encourages students to work collaboratively in an engaging mock-auction activity which inspires lots of spirited classroom discussion.  

Presentations or speeches

For high-quality outcomes, How to write and deliver a speech really delivers. It's a thoughtful resource which helps student to consider some of the important subtleties of delivering an effective speech, such as eye contact, breathing and diction. 

Asking questions after a presentation/speech helps students to develop their listening skills and form effective, open questions, while engaging more empathetically with others.

Channel 4 needs you! encourages students to work together on a group pitch for a new reality show, while Vote us for! is a scaffolded small group task to write a manifesto for a new fringe political party.

Presenting your inheritance tracks is a lovely idea for an individual presentation that KS4 English students will particularly enjoy, and offers guidance for students on how to consider their body language.  

English debates

Hold a debate provides students with a step by step guide to running a more formal, public speaking style debate, and School uniform: to wear or not to wear offers an accessible version of De Bono's thinking hats to get students started. Both are perfect for GCSE.

Save me from certain death sets up a classic balloon debate dilemma which young people always love, while Save my dog offers a topical dog-themed version. 

Role-play activities 

For a dramatic courtroom role-play activity, try Titantic stimulus for an extended oracy and drama project, focusing on the sinking of the ship. Climate change also encourages students to role-play. 

Educating ...?  and Design your ideal school both use a familiar context to get students thoroughly engaged in on-topic talk.

And if you are looking for even more resources to develop good oracy and spoken language skills, our Spoken English library should have something to suit your learners' needs and interests, and includes a range of fun and engaging lesson ideas to develop students' oracy and communication skills. 

Vocabulary development 

If you are looking for CPD advice on how to embed vocabulary development into a whole-school literacy or oracy curriculum, you'll find a range of classroom resources and evidence-based initiatives and interventions to suit any school context. 

Wider literacy skills

Try our Writing skills collection for more GCSE and literacy resources. 

This article was originally published as an Editor's pick newsletter in November 2021.

Kate Lee

Senior Content Lead at Teachit and former head of English and e-learning.