How teachers can keep pupils talking during lockdown

Promoting oracy can be hard enough when you're seeing pupils every day, but its importance means teachers must continue to do so even during lockdown, writes Nina Kewin

Nina Kewin

Why every school should embrace public speaking

As an advocate of oracy – or classroom talk – I am missing the chit-chat. I am missing the unique conversations that pupils participate in.

I am missing throwing vocabulary their way and them catching new words with enthusiasm and aplomb (an excellent noun, which will absolutely be next on my "word-of-the-day" board).  

I am craving the fluidity of an ambitious conversation that no online technology can replicate. I need to somehow keep my pupils talking.

I have set "talk" homework in the past, and I have often found that pupils struggle to talk about talking. If I have encouraged my classes to broach a certain subject with an adult, they often have done, but in many cases the conversations I expected to see either didn’t develop, or pupils couldn’t explain to me that it developed. 

There are probably several reasons for this, whether it be time constraints within a household or other distractions, but it could be that pupils need more guidance not just to instigate, but to sustain a purposeful conversation.

Perhaps now could be the time for us to capitalise (with some sensitivity) on current opportunities that our pupils might have to engage in conversations with others.

Talk is rich

Could we provide our pupils with a script to use at home? One that is peppered with Tier 2 vocabulary and that guides pupils to build upon with responses they receive? 

Professionals in the workplace have them: call centres encourage their staff to use scripts to equip them to be successful in the conversations they have, especially if they get a response from a person that they don’t anticipate. TV presenters have autocues too.

As we know from research, many of the pupils we teach do not have regular access to the type of developed conversation that they will need to rely upon when they enter the workplace.

While regular use of online technology can mean that children are interacting with written discourse more than ever before, the absence of the application of skills and the neglecting of contextual features means that pupils are still not gaining the skills of articulation that they need to help them widen their choices in the future.

Context is key

As an English teacher, I probably use the word "context" more times than I use the words "please" and "thank you".

Trying to help pupils to understand why social and historical context matters often means asking them to think beyond themselves and their own priorities and existence.

They are currently living through a time that will be studied by their own children; future generations will be asked to discuss why 2020 mattered and they may encounter literature that is borne from our current crisis. 

Within our enforced "togetherness", crucial and powerful conversations could be had that might discuss history in the making, but also the events that shaped the lives of our pupils’ parents and grandparents too.

Let’s take this time, however long that may be, to keep our children talking.

Nina Kewin is a lead practitioner at St Christopher’s C of E High School in Accrington

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