Developing Oracy – Developing literacy In ESL Learners

Source: Developing Oracy – Developing literacy In ESL Learners

Kirkland and Patterson suggests that “The development of oral language is crucial to a child’s literacy development, encompassing listening, speaking, reading and writing.” (Kirkland & Patterson, 2005)

It is apparent that there are more opportunities for output in the target languages “natural” environment where the language ‘must’ be used in almost all opportunities for ‘oral development’ to take place. When this takes place, speakers in conversation are able to negotiate and derive meaning from varying contexts. (Kirkland & Patterson, 2005)

In the case of conversations between ESL learners and native speakers, negotiation thus leads to the provision of either direct or indirect forms of feedback, checking comprehension including correction, clarification, topical changes and repetition. This feedback allows learner’s attention to be brought towards mistakes between the input and the learner’s output, solidifying means of revision to occur. (Leow, 1998)

Many students especially ESL learners learn from the system of trial and error, the habitual and instinctual utterances therefore becomes a learner’s automatic inclination toward becoming fluid in the learning of the target language. Thus the more mistakes and the more practice a student engages in, the better they become at being their own self moderators. This in itself emphasizes the importance of creating every opportunity there can be in the literacy classroom for oracy to emerge.

Another important factor to consider to which may influence learning outcomes in various settings, is the type and amount of exposure to the second language (L2) and the degree to which it is used inside and outside of the classroom. It is important to note that this may vary significantly depending on the students situation. (Martinsen, Baker, Bowan, & Johnson, 2011)

Learners who are subjected to multiple exposures of both teacher-centered and learner-centered based learning are able to perform in many facets of language production thus proving to have positive effects on the learners. This indicates that’s a combination of these has a positive effect on the of learning pronunciation and grammatical structures in the long term. (Leow, 1998) Thus a mixture of both teacher-centered formal classroom instruction and an informal conversational setting which is more learner centered, are paramount in not just L2 development but also supporting literacy development in all learners.

Moreover, Kirkland and Patterrsons research maintains that oral language occurs because children are able to construct language through implicit and explicit instruction. Furthermore language development transpires when caregivers and teachers act as facilitators guiding them and helping them mediate their worlds thus allowing learners to construct meaning. With that said it is also important to also note that social interaction is the basis to all language and literacy development. (Kirkland & Patterson, 2005)

As Vygotsky maintains, a learner’s background acts as the fundamental tool or rather a prerequisite, in order to make sense of their world. Vygotsky also confirms that they develop tools in correspondence to their specific cultural contexts, such as reasoning, speech and writing thus leading to further internalisation of literacy concepts. (Vygotsky, 1978)

What becomes apparent is that there is a close relationship between interpersonal/interactional activities and ESL learners’ motivation to self regulate and revise under the guidance and help of those who are more proficient. Co-operative learning and collaborative learning situations play an important role in understanding and thus maximise the learning processes. It is through involvement in social situations, that students are expected to engage in the meaningful discussion while supporting and helping each other.

Reasons for teaching speaking

–          Practice practice practice – Rehearsal opportunities are imperative
–          Facilitating students in using all and any language they know
–          The promotion of oracy in the classroom provides not only observational data but also produces rich forms of assessment                 and feedback for teachers and students
–          Literacy domino effect – Oracy develops listening, reading and writing skills
–          Oracy can either highlight or hide the gaps in a student’s literacy proficiency
–          The more student’s actively take part in speaking activities, the more automatic their use of language becomes.
–          By implementing “active speaking” strategies students in turn foster better speaking skills

Active speaking strategies

–          Respond quickly
–          Be aware of tone of voice
–          Speak clearly and concisely
–          Ask questions
–          Allow for and provide feedback
–          Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Learning to recognise the nuances of ESL learners.

Language features of an ESL speaker
Use of connected speech
–          Sounds modified, omitted, added, weakened

Use of expressive devices demonstrated by an ESL speaker
–          Change the pitch, stress, paralinguistic in nature

Recognising these features allows teachers to design activities specifically to cater for the adaptation and relevance to the student.  They are therefore aware of the culturally significant differences and changes in the way expressive devices, connected speech, lexicons and grammar are used in the English language.

We also need to recognise that ESL learners mental and social processing is typically culturally influence and can sometimes be perceived as “slow”. The retrieval of words, and phrases from memory & putting them together into appropriate sequences can be encouraged and improved with numerous activities centred around interaction with others. It is within these social situations students learn to listen and empathise, take turns and read verbal and non-verbal cues.

Suggested classroom speaking activities that can promote successful oracy:

–          Acting from a script (production and learning)
–          Communication games such as; information gap, Pictionary, finding similarities, 20 questions.
–          Discussion activities such as buzz groups – use of predictions, decision-making tasks, instant comments tasks, unprepared               conversation on a topic of interest.
–          Prepared talks – writing a script including discourse used when speaking
–          Prepared questionnaires
–          Simulation and role-play of real life scenarios or a simulated environment can provide very valuable in the classroom as l                   long as it is relevant to the students personal experiences. Dramatic play is particularly successful in younger learners. They               are also engaging and allows the student’s to explore their own ideas, opinions and perceptions.

Recommended websites for dramatic play ideas:

Further suggested classroom speaking activities that can promote successful oracy:

–          Information gap activities
–          Two speakers have different bits of information
–          Describe and draw
–          Find the differences
–          Example website:
–          Describe and draw – 3 people face the window and draw a picture following instructions….start please
–          Telling stories – Once upon a time (when? Where? Who? What happened? Moral of the story is…..)
–          Information-gap again: parts of the story in groups

–          Re-telling/Re-count stories – Own stories: family, friends, holidays…
–          Favourite objects
–          Meeting and greeting: formal role-play
–          Surveys
–          Students’ presentations

What do teachers do during speaking activity?

–          Participation is okay – but don’t take over!
–          Intervene if students are stuck
–          Keep an eye on the fluidity of an activity
–          Don’t answer your own questions
–          Don’t over-explain
–          Let the students do what they must!!
–          Correcting speaking
–          Teacher listens and makes note
–          Gentle correction/reformulation
–          Correct when you decide: treat it is ‘our mistake’
–          Or make it private and individual

Recommended Books for further reading and ideas…

Communication Games – Jill Hadfield
                 Elementary, Intermediate & Advanced levels.

Discussions that work – Penny Ur
Excellent & stimulating suggestions for task based fluency activities

Keep talking – Friederike Klippel
Lots of good ideas for warmers, discussions, stories etc

Once Upon a time – John Morgan & Mario Rinvolucri
Excellent book for using stories in the classroom.

The Q Book – John Morgan & Mario Rinvolucri
Very interesting. Goes back to the importance of using questions for students

Challenge to think – Frank, Rinvolucri & Berer
Some good ideas

Non Stop Discussion Workbook – George Rooks
A whole book of ranking activities based around discussion and debating ideas.

The Standby Book – Seth Lindstomberg
Lots of good ideas for speaking & the other skills too.


Kirkland, L. D., & Patterson, J. (2005). Developing Oral Language in Primary Classrooms. Early Childhood Education Journal, 32(6), 391-395.

Leow, R. P. (1998). The Effects of Amount and Types of Exposure on Adult Learners L2 Development in SLA. The Modern Language Journal, 82, 49-68.

Martinsen, R. A., Baker, W., Bowan, J., & Johnson, C. (2011). The Benefits of Living in Foreign Language Housing: The Effect of Language Use and Second-Language Type on Oral Proficiency Gains. The modern Language Journal, 95, 274.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Havard University Press.