Education resources › Blog › The important role of Oracy in facilitating deep learning

The role of Oracy in facilitating deep learning

The important role of Oracy in facilitating deep learning

5 min read
  • Oracy
  • Questioning, Cold-Calling & Wait Times

Engagement in classroom dialogue is a critical element of effective Teaching & Learning. If leveraged carefully, Oracy (which, pivotally, incorporates both speaking and listening) can be a powerful tool to facilitate deep thinking among students.

This is what the latest Teacher CPD Academy topic area, Oracy for Learning, written and hosted by Nikki Sullivan and Kelly Heaton, is all about. To celebrate its launch, we teamed up with Nikki for a free flash webinar, where she went through some of the key aspects of the topic.

So, keep reading for a rundown of Nikki Sullivan’s key points, including:

  • The core foundations of Oracy as a thread through Teaching & Learning
  • How Oracy enables hard thinking
  • How Think, Pair, Share fits within Oracy

What are the core foundations of Oracy?

To implement Oracy effectively in the classroom, Nikki suggests the following strategies:

  • Setting clear ground rules for discussions – For example, consider carefully and communicate clearly the cue that you will give students to get their attention when discussions should finish.
  • Making sure there is no ‘empty talk’ – Ensure students have a sufficient foundation of knowledge to think with – either because they have retrieved it from long-term memory, or because it has been secured through teacher exposition.
  • Ensuring all students are participating – Tips to get all students to participate include nurturing their positive self-perception, encouraging active participation and creating a cognitively engaging learning environment. We have to structure talk carefully, and sample students’ thinking to build participation.
  • Ensuring answers have depth – This involves asking many great questions. Although asking many questions can strengthen attention, we need to ask a range of questions as we look to support students in making meaning.
  • Being aware that talk is transient – As we only remember a very limited amount of what we say, ensure that students have opportunities to write down notes from what they have learnt through discussions.

The role of Oracy in enabling hard thinking

Oracy can help develop the crucial cognitive process of “hard thinking” – a rigorous analysis and synthesis of information. It requires students not only to absorb facts and figures, but to engage with the concepts at a deeper level, questioning, reasoning and forming judgements.

Nikki explored how both aspects of Oracy (listening and speaking) help to facilitate hard thinking…

1. Active listening

We can strengthen student listening through the quantity and quality of the questions we ask. Nikki advises that our questions should be “warmly accountable and students know that our exposition will be interspersed with questions which all students respond to and within our lessons we ask questions which require students to rehearse and… probe understanding.

Nikki shared some points to help us evaluate how well students actively listen:

  • Are students comparing what they hear with what they think?
  • Are students actively listening to both the teacher and fellow students?
  • Is students’ attention cued, secured and sustained?

2. Speaking and shaping

As Nikki puts it, “as students share their thinking, they are shaping their thinking”. Practically, to help students speak in a way which enables hard thinking:

  • Give them opportunities for exploratory talk, to help students thrash out their ideas
  • Ensure all students are participating
  • Encourage your students to share their final thoughts through more presentational speaking
High-impact CPD made easy. Develop evidence-informed CPD at your school, using our exclusive online collection of courses and resources.

How does Think, Pair, Share fit within Oracy strategies?

One popular technique in education that requires students to communicate and listen well is Think, Pair, Share. Nikki gave us some great practical examples to help students to listen and speak to enable hard thinking, particularly when it comes to Think, Pair, Share.

To help students to compare what they hear with what they think

Encourage students to jot down their initial thoughts on mini whiteboards prior to discussions. This helps them to formulate their own ideas independently. This externalisation of thought means that they are not worried about trying to keep their own ideas in their minds whilst listening to their partners. This can lead to much better engagement during discussions.

To implement exploratory talk in the classroom

Do not restrict pauses or utterances during exploratory discussions and allow for authentic engagement with learning content. This kind of talk can often be tentative, as students develop the clarity of their thinking whilst engaging in the discussion.

To encourage presentational speaking

Share with your students a model of a great answer and give them tips on what to include – such as key words, for example. We can be explicit about how talking through ideas with a partner, and talk which may be used as preparation for a more formal, written response differs.

To promote full participation

You may wish to decide which student in the pair starts the conversation, for example by asking the partner sitting closest to the window to begin. Balancing contributions is important to ensure that no one student dominates, promoting inclusivity.

Oracy and making meaning

Effective Oracy practices in the classroom can activate relevant prior knowledge. By articulating thoughts, learners can clarify ideas, identify similarities and differences, and explore relationships between concepts, fostering deeper understanding.

Visual scaffolds and verbal explanation in Oracy

Whether it’s through diagrams, charts, or images, visuals help solidify and scaffold understanding. By verbally explaining these visuals, students can experience the generative effect of explanation. Also, consider your desired outcomes when deciding how much detail you wish to include in your visual. Lots of detail can promote rehearsal, whereas less detail promotes more generative thinking.

Final thoughts

Implementing effective Oracy strategies within the classroom is not an overnight transformation, or a one-size-fits-all strategy. It demands dedication, patience and continuous reflection from teachers. In addition, Oracy is not a silver bullet – strategies which lean upon student speaking and listening need to be utilised for the right reasons at the right times, considering their affordances.

However, the rewards are substantial – it equips your students with the skills to think critically, listen to peers and communicate their insights effectively. Observe your students’ interactions, reflect upon their progress, and continue to iterate on these strategies to suit the dynamics of your classroom. By embodying the principles outlined in Nikki Sullivan’s webinar, teachers can significantly enhance the depth and quality of their students’ learning experiences.

Once again, a huge thank you to Nikki Sullivan for her time and effort on this webinar, the interactive course on the Teacher CPD Academy, and the upcoming Oracy book on our Teacher CPD Academy series. Please make sure to follow her on Twitter and to register your interest here to be the first to know when the book comes out.

Are you in charge of your school’s professional development and interested in accessing the full Oracy for Learning content on the Teacher CPD Academy for free? Get in touch with our team today.


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Follow on XConnect on LinkedIn