Teaching Oracy: Using video to develop speaking skills in the classroom

Oracy skills are not just essential for educational progress; they are critical for successful careers, interpersonal relationships and self-belief. If pupils can learn to speak with fluency and authority, this will help to give them a positive head start in life. One common theme in the most successful people is their capacity to speak in public with absolute confidence – this makes others believe in them and their abilities. The foundation of this success would have been based on the opportunity to learn speaking skills from a young age. But over the years, the importance of oracy has been downplayed in the curriculum and is in danger of being overlooked. This article looks at why teaching oracy is so important and examines how video can be used to develop speaking skills to great effect.

Why oracy skills are critical for future success

Learning to speak with confidence is at the heart of effective communication. Oracy skills help students to articulate their ideas in a clear and logical way; in turn, this helps pupils to make sense of their own thought processes. Developing speaking skills is also invaluable in building vocabulary and improving accuracy in grammar. Students that can express themselves clearly will have increased self-esteem in their ability to communicate, and as a result will find it easier to manage university interviews, work meetings or challenging debates.

As students strengthen their oracy skills through classroom discussions, they are also being taught how to reason. The more adept they become in reasoning through speech, the more likely they are to engage with other subjects that have their foundations in logical reasoning, such as science and maths.

One of the traits that employers look for most of all is the ability to communicate with people of all levels. Students who have mastered high quality speaking skills will always be at an advantage; confidence inspires confidence, and this can go a long way at a job interview.

Using video to encourage oracy in the classroom

Video is an invaluable tool when teaching oracy skills. Students can watch videos of powerful world leaders or the most successful business entrepreneurs to see first-hand how confident public speaking can make all the difference. By studying each public figure as they present their ideas, students can look out for vocabulary, phrasing and body language and can talk about why this was so effective. In the same way, showing videos of good quality debates or discussions will give students vital tools that will strengthen their own speaking skills.

Another excellent way to use video to enhance speaking skills is to choose one which covers a particularly controversial subject or period in history. Once the video is over, ask students a question about the content and they can decide which side they are on. Their job is then to take turns debating each side of the argument, putting their case forward verbally. Before the actual debate begins, it’s always worth taking time to decide shared ground rules with your students to ensure that everyone agrees. As well as cementing students’ understanding of the issues outlined in the video, they will learn essential skills about how best to verbally express their opinions.

Finally, once students are ready to practise public speaking or debating, recording them and then playing the video back is very important. Pupils can assess their own verbal skills and decide for themselves if their speaking pace, volume or body language may need to change. Embedding this sort of teaching for students at a young age will make public speaking, debating and watching themselves on video feel completely normal. 

Top techniques to develop speaking skills

The beauty of teaching oracy in the classroom is that it’s linked into every aspect of student learning. A discussion about geography, literature or even students’ summer holidays can expand speaking skills. A pupil who wants to explain an idea about their favourite book and finish with a conclusion is not only answering a question, they are fine-tuning both their oracy and literacy skills. Oracy activities for children don’t need to be complex; they can simply make the most of existing classroom discussions designed to strengthen verbal communication.

Some of the most popular techniques to encourage oracy are giving pupils a chosen topic and just two minutes to talk about it, including one or two key bullet points. This helps students to cut down on hesitations and keep their speaking concise and to the point. The University of Cambridge has designed an excellent oracy assessment toolkit which is an invaluable resource for teachers to use in the classroom.

Schools can still prioritise oracy skills by taking every opportunity to promote discussions within lessons and by using video to inspire debate and further learning. Students that can fine-tune their verbal communication will feel empowered to express themselves in any situation; crucial tools for future success.

BBC Active Video for Learning provides a wide range of high quality educational videos designed to bring any topic to life. These teaching resources will enhance your next class or lecture and are available in DVD format.