24 September 2020

Why talk should be taught in the classroom

In our recent blogs, we have discussed what we can do to support children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) at a time when many children are returning to school for the first time after five months. Creating a classroom environment which encourages communication is one of these key measures. In fact, this is not only helpful for children with SLCN, but can benefit all pupils’ learning.  

We often assume that learning to talk is something that develops naturally for all children. However, many children start school without the language skills they need to keep up in the class: in some areas of deprivation, as many as 50% of children do not have the expected language levels for their age. Without the support to catch up, children with poor language and literacy development at age 5 are at risk of low achievement at age 7 and beyond. 

When young people reach their teens, preparation for written exams begins to dominate and it can be difficult to prioritise development of oral communication skills. However, good communication skills are rated as one of the most important skills that employers look for when hiring school or further education leavers (as summarised in our Skills for Work, Skills for Life Report, 2016).  

After months spent at home, communicating only virtually with classmates and teachers, talk in the classroom is now more important than ever. For many children, they will not have had the same opportunity to develop their vocabulary and social communication skills at home as they would do at school. Many children will also feel anxious on their return, but lack the spoken language skills they need to express and understand these difficult feelings.  

Facilitating talk in the classroom can help children learn to articulate their ideas and emotions, and develop understanding of others’ points of view. These skills are crucial for children’s futures and influence every area of life, including developing relationships, managing emotions, and entering the world of work. 

Practising speaking can also be a powerful tool for learning; research has demonstrated that having an oracy (spoken language) curriculum in schools leads to better outcomes for each child (Jay.T, Willis B, Thomas P et al, 2017). For example, children who learn through a language focused curriculum have been shown to achieve significantly better in science and maths.  

No Pens Day Wednesday is coming up on 25th November this year, and while schools and settings undoubtedly have a lot to plan for this termwe think a day of talk is worth saving a space in the calendar for. Now in its tenth year, the event gives schools and other educational settings the chance to put down their pens (and keyboards) for the day to practise speaking and listening skills.  

Our evaluation from those who took part last year shows that 83% felt that No Pens Day increased pupils’ understanding of the importance of spoken language skills. 80% also agreed that it increased staff’s understanding of the importance of teaching spoken language. 

We encourage schools not just to take part on the day, but take their learning forward and continue to develop their approach to teaching spoken language. Follow our advice here for some quick tips on teaching talk in class, or try one of our Talking Strategies box-sets (available for 4-7 years and for key stage 2) which will equip practitioners with the classroom strategies they need to support children’s speech and language development. If you’re not sure whether the speech, language and communication skills of your students are developing as expectedyou can check out our Ages and Stages guide or our Progress Checker. 

If you haven’t yet done so, sign up to take part in No Pens Day Wednesday here and don’t forget to join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #NoPensDay!   

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