Speaking and listening skills are the foundation for children’s success in life, which is why we work hard in school to make them a priority. In fact, this has become more important than ever in the wake of children returning to school for face-to-face lessons after so much time learning remotely during the pandemic. Schools have a key responsibility to provide an environment that nourishes young learners’ oracy and fosters their skills of empathy.
This is because, as educators, we see that communication skills are closely linked to students’ behaviour, self-confidence and overall social & emotional wellbeing. When children can both clearly articulate themselves and listen carefully to others, they tend to learn more and build friendships easily.
There are many strategies teachers draw on to develop children’s speaking and listening skills. The best strategies give children meaningful reasons to engage in speaking and listening. One of the things I appreciate about our approach to Literacy is its emphasis on teaching through texts. When planning English lessons, we look carefully at how links can be made between the novel children are reading and relevant speaking & listening skills that can be taught.
As part of Class 3’s literacy lessons in which they have been learning about suspense writing, for example, children were reading the story, ‘A Perfect Fit’ by Nick Shadow. For this series of lessons, I enjoyed sitting in on Class 3’s hot seating activity in which they took it in turns to come to the front of the class and role play one of the main characters from the story, Justin. The rest of the children were then able to ask the child in role questions about the character’s thoughts and feelings. It is activities like this, which really help children to get inside a story, to better understand the plot as well as different characters’ perspectives and motivations.
Similarly, Class 4 children have been learning about writing balanced arguments and I have been very impressed by the quality of their written work. This, I believe, is partly thanks to the excellent class discussions that have taken place in the classroom around their class novel, ‘The One & Only Ivan’, a story based on a captive gorilla. The children engaged in debates about animal captivity, a topic that has helped them to understand the context of this novel better. At the same time, these activities have helped the children to build on their communication skills, as they have been given opportunities to articulate their own ideas whilst considering the arguments of others.
In order to further develop these fundamental skills, Class 4 students have been invited to participate in a weekly joke contest that now takes place on Friday afternoons. The children are first challenged to find or create a joke that is both appropriate and respectful. Once a joke is ready, this is shared by the student on an interactive whiteboard app called Jamboard, using a digital sticky note. The students can then share their jokes live in front of the whole of Class 4, as they would do if they were in a stand up comedy show. As with all our speaking and listening activities, the children have fun while developing their confidence speaking in front of an audience.
Although I have simply mentioned a few examples here, children do in fact have many opportunities to demonstrate their speaking and listening skills, which are embedded throughout our school curriculum. Indeed, one of the great privileges that we have as educators is to watch children’s confidence grow as they embrace these opportunities. As we approach the latter part of the academic year, we are currently looking to provide more meaningful speaking and listening activities for all children across our school to develop these core skills.