Creating Confident Oracy Using Your Classroom
Oracy is a key component of formal education, but it’s not a term that students are necessarily familiar with as a school subject. Most students are used to answering questions in class. As they move through each grade, they may even be tasked to give a presentation to the class on a topic they researched or learned about. These presentations or speeches can supportoracy development. The term oracy means “the ability to speak well.” That is to say, students speak clearly, in a reasonably loud tone of voice, speak with confidence, and speak in a grammatically correct way — at least as correctly as associated with their developmental stage. Oracy is a core tenet of a sound education, and teachers can support their students’ speaking skills in a number of ways.
Importance of Oral Language Skills
Oracy is academically important for students, but it is also important for their social success. Kids should begin working to improve their oracy young, as well as their comfort level with public speaking. Book reports and other types of classroom presentations are important, but even seemingly minor examples of oracy such as asking the teacher directions or relaying information from one teacher to another are examples of school-related oracy.
Of course, the need for effective oracy only grows with students as they progress through their formal education. By the time they graduate high school, they will need to rely heavily on their oracy skills when interviewing as a college or job applicant, when collaborating with colleagues, or when they’re out in the world meeting other people. In fact, collaboration and communication are key components of a 21st century education. Without these skills, students will suffer academically and socially. For this reason, teachers are obligated to focus on oracy development even though it doesn’t typically appear as a course or subject line on a report card.
Oracy Activities in the Classroom
Fortunately, teachers have many different options to promote oracy. They can do it in subtle ways or more formally. For instance, when children are younger, the most important part of oracy development is simply helping them feel comfortable speaking in front of a class. This can be done subtly without even mentioning terms like “speaking activity.” For instance, after a first grade study trip, the teacher can ask each student to stand up at their desk or within a circle of students and explain what they enjoyed most about the trip. Ask questions so that the student speaks before the group for a longer period of time than they might have done without prompting.
Over a period of time with similar such activities, students may not always enjoy speaking in front of their peers, but they will get more used to it. This helps them to grow in comfort. When they’re comfortable speaking in front of the class, they’ll feel more confident in their speaking ability — and focused more on what they’re saying than about their nervousness.
Of course, there may come a point when oracy instruction takes a more formal turn. A language teacher might, in fact, tell students that they will be graded for giving a speech in front of the class after a period of instruction. For example, teachers can assign students a book to read of book of their choosing. The assignment is less about the reading and more about their ability to speak about it.
As the students read their books at home, they’ll learn about various aspects of public speaking during class time. Students will take notes and possibly even recite speeches written by famous speech writers for practice. One of the tips a teacher might give is: “When you reach the podium, wait three long seconds before speaking.” Why? This gives the audience a chance to “take you in.” Otherwise, they may not be paying full attention to the start of your speech. Then, the teacher will explain what they will be graded on. Students can be evaluated on the summary of their chosen book, speech clarity, volume, eye contact with the audience, and more.
Combining reading and speaking activities promotes a wide range of skills, including oracy. These types of activities have long been employed in the classroom and they remain a vital part of learning. In fact, today’s teachers have expanded to include technology. Students often offer presentations about the novel they read by speaking along with a PowerPoint or other virtual creation.
Tips for Helping Nervous Student Speakers
Some students at all ages are likely to feel nervous when speaking in front of the class. Even the most comfortable classroom speakers might feel these nerves when pressed to give a speech at a school assembly. Teachers can make the experience more comfortable for students by changing up the speaking activities. For instance, teachers can assign small groups. Students can also practice their speech to a few classmates rather than speaking to the class without any practice.
Teachers might try an activity where each student must create a how-to speech that’s appropriate for a kindergartener (i.e. how to plant a sunflower seed). By gearing their speech for a younger audience, the student may feel more confident about the subject matter. That could remove some of the stress they feel in speaking in front of their peers.
Classrooms can be the ideal settings for promoting oracy skills among students of all ages. It’s important to keep in mind that not all students will feel comfortable with these types of activities. Teachers can help them using the activities tips mentioned above. In many cases, however, speaking in front of a class provides learners with a safe space for practicing skills that might otherwise feel discomforting. When the classroom environment is supportive, the oracy skill building is likely to be quite successful and even enjoyable for everyone involved. Unfortunately, today’s employers are reporting that effective oracy tops their list of traits they want to see in employees, but they do not believe students are getting enough oracy education to fill that need. The message for school curriculum designers and teachers seems clear — teach more oracy.
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UNBROKEN: A VICTORY FOR HOPE
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Empathy+Resilience in the Classroom
Transform your classroom by building a culture of oracy among students. Join us for this 60-minute webinar as host Heather Fuller and special guest Luke Zamperini discuss cultivating purposeful talk based on the ultimate story of resilience, the YA version of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.
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