Earlier this week, the English-Speaking Union (ESU) hosted a meetup for NACE members on the topic of cultural capital – including the importance of providing opportunities for young people to explore and develop oracy skills. In this blog post, the ESU’s Amanda Moorghen shares five reasons to teach oracy skills for learners of all ages and abilities.

At the ESU we believe every child can and should be taught oracy skills. Just like literacy and numeracy, at one level oracy is a basic skill that no one can go without – whether on the stage, in the boardroom or in everyday conversation, all of us need to express ourselves and listen to others. But, as with literacy and numeracy, oracy is also so much more than this basic skill: it’s the key to incredible intellectual and emotional experiences. No one should be locked out of opportunities in life for fear of speaking in public, or inability to rise to the challenge of an interview or presentation.

1. Oracy supports learning

Many great lessons include talk. In particular, challenging open-ended tasks often have a discussion element – exploring new ideas, questioning, analysing and synthesising. Explicit oracy instruction ensures all pupils have the tools they need to access talk-based learning, stopping these lessons from being dominated by a few more confident characters. Talk can also precede writing – stronger oracy skills can help develop the creativity and critical thinking pupils need for their written work.

2. Oracy is vital for social mobility

Some children receive a lot more oracy practice and instruction than others. This impacts their learning at school, but also their ability to fulfil their potential later in life. For some, interviews, presentations or seminars present barriers to success. Explicit oracy instruction for all pupils narrows that gap, giving everyone the change to flourish. In later life, whether in higher education (lectures, seminars) or the workplace (interviews, meetings, presentations), oracy skills help people to make the best of the opportunities they have.

3. Oracy is good for social and emotional learning

Teaching oracy skills helps children who may be struggling to work or play well with others. For example, teaching rules and conventions around turn-taking in small-group discussions helps involve pupils who find free-flowing, “chaotic” discussions off-putting. Developing oracy skills can also boost children’s confidence and self-esteem. Some teachers worry that shy children will be left out of oracy activities, but at the ESU we find it is precisely explicit oracy instruction that helps them to overcome their nerves: clear expectations and guidelines help everyone to find their voice.

4. Oracy opens doors to opportunity

Extracurricular activities such as debating, youth parliament and volunteering bring a wide variety of benefits. Oracy education helps students to access these opportunities: for some, a debate in class might help them to find a passion for politics, whilst for others, formal oracy instruction gives them the confidence they need to volunteer in the community.

5. Oracy is empowering

Oracy instruction helps young people to develop the skills they need to speak out about what matters to them. At the ESU, we’ve worked with young people who are a voice for change, whether on the world stage, in their school or in their local community. The demands of democratic life require us all to speak up – teaching oracy means everyone is equipped to do so, not just those who began life with the loudest voice.

Join the conversation…

To celebrate our centenary, the English-Speaking Union is inviting you to use your voice and tell us what you’d like to speak out about and why. Find out more at 100.esu.org/speak-out, and have your say on Twitter or by posting on our Facebook page. Don’t forget to use #ESUspeakout with your post.

Representatives of the English-Speaking Union will also be available to discuss the ESU’s resources and initiatives for schools at NACE’s English for the More Able conference in York on 15 March 2018 – view the full conference programme and book your place.

For details of the next NACE member meetup and other upcoming NACE events, click here.

Amanda leads the Research and Resources team at the English-Speaking Union. Before joining the ESU, she studied philosophy at the University of Birmingham, which is also where she discovered the joys and benefits of debate, speaking, judging and coaching around the world. Having seen how transformative debate and discussion can be, Amanda joined the ESU to help support teachers in bringing oracy skills to the classroom.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018