by Sarah Jane Henderson

| OVERVIEW | | | THE IMPORTANCE OF ORAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS | APPROACHES TO TEACHING ORAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS | CURRENT ISSUES IN THE CLASSROOM | TEACHING IDEAS/ACTIVITIES | ASSESSMENT IDEAS | RESOURCES

OVERVIEW

Oral communication skills are essential both within the classroom and society. There are issues teachers face, but there are ways to help students explore different ways of communicating. This wiki page explores the importance of oral communication skills. I have researched two approaches to teaching oral communication for the English Language Artscurriculum, and have provided multiple activities, resources for mini-lessons, and assessment ideas for teachers to use in the classroom.

PED3177-Cluster_of_speakers.jpg

THE IMPORTANCE OF ORAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS

According to the Ontario Curriculum for Language, Grades 1-8, “Oral Communication skills are fundamental to the development of literacy and essential for thinking and learning. Through talk, students not only communicate information but also explore and come to understand ideas and concepts; identify and solve problems; organize their experience and knowledge; and express and clarify their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Listening and speaking skills are essential for social interaction at home, at school, and in the community.”[1]

There are three parts to oral communication that are important for students to learn and are crucial in the development of their skills. They are:
  • Listening – Students need to listen to their teachers, other students, and oral versions of texts. This is to allow students to find meaning in texts and vocal strategies, respond appropriately when involved in a conversation, understand and interpret the content of texts or point-of-view, and demonstrate critical thought
  • Speaking – Students need to be able to interact with others, using appropriate language, clarity, and strategies that emphasize or help express meaning and emotions
  • Reflecting – Students need to recognize their strengths and weaknesses when preparing for and participating in communication activities, and reflect on how they can improve

By teaching oral communication skills, students should learn:
  • To listen, understand and respond to students and teachers in class/group discussions about texts, concepts, and points of view
  • To develop the skills to interact and behave appropriately while communicating with others
  • To be able to communicate clearly using a wide range of vocabulary that is appropriate for the setting and to whom they are speaking to
  • To be able to identify and communicate various meanings of words through tone, speed, and pitch


APPROACHES TO TEACHING ORAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS

In the book Handbook of research on teaching the English Language Arts by James Flood, he notes that though “communication skills and functions of language can be developed within any subject matter area, it is also necessary to have an explicitly defined curriculum for teaching speaking and listening skills and to focus on that specifically at certain times each day.”[2] He says that research has shown that emphasis should be on “how to use language effectively in a variety of contexts, learning about language,” and notes an interest in the phonological structure – learning the sounds of language to distinguish words when you hear them and connect them to appropriate meanings.[3] In addition, he notes how theorists of “oracy” (the skills related to communication, or the teaching of communication) believe that “all teachers are seen as language teachers” and “that students in elementary and secondary schools should be involved in settings and circumstances across the curriculum that regularly require them to actively learn by talking.”[4]

Therefore, teachers should approach teaching oral communication skills in all their lessons. Teachers at the elementary level should prepare a lesson that focuses on the basic skills that are necessary for proper communication, so that children can build on these skills and use them throughout the rest of their educational experience and into adulthood. For students at the intermediate level, English teachers should try to incorporate some kind of communication activity while analyzing literature in which students can express their opinions and feelings about certain topics in class/group discussions, presentations, etc. This will help you monitor what skills the student has and his/her progress in using these communication skills.


Below I have included two approaches to teaching oral communication skills that are commonly used by teachers and instructors.

Task-Based Approach

According to Mojibur Rahman who wrote “Teaching Oral Communication Skills: A Task-based Approach” a task “is both a means of clinically eliciting samples of learner language for the purposes of research and device for organizing the content and methodology of language teaching.”[5] In other words, its aim is “to improve a student’s ability to use a language, rather than acquiring new linguistic skills”[6] This approach is growing increasingly more popular with educators of ESL students. It focuses on the activities and getting the students involved in participating in conversations, discussions, debates, etc. to develop their communication skills. They learn how to speak by continually practicing verbal techniques.

Communicative Approach

This approach focuses on learning the language and teaching the proper skills for listening and speaking. Here is a video that outlines some of the key aspects of the communicative approach. This video is taken from Dr. Hubbard's lecture "What is a Language Class".






Whatever approach you take to teach oral communication skills, whether the focus is on the activities or the language, it is important to look at how the students learn to determine which approach to use. I think using both approaches is beneficial to students.


CURRENT ISSUES IN THE CLASSROOM

Language Barriers

In many classrooms, teachers are facing students who speak a different language or the language being used and/or taught is not their first language. This could bring up many challenges for teachers, students and parents as the student attempts to learn and interact within the classroom. As a teacher, you need to understand that it might take the student a longer amount of time to finish a task or to understand the concepts that are being taught. It is important, then, to be patient and provide the child with extra help wherever possible. This could include one-on-one time or extra help from a tutor.

Students with Exceptionalities

Teachers need to be aware and learn as much as they can about learning disorders, exceptionalities and gifted students and how to meet their needs. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing, mute, or have any other disorder need to have a differentiated lesson plan or individual education plan (IEP) developed for them. When assessing the student, look for delays in responding to questions/conversations, how they receive information (are they struggling to understand what was said, or did they hear what was said), and if they respond appropriately in reference to what is being discussed.

There are many different articles that can help teachers understand these exceptionalities, and that give ideas to help teach oral communication skills in the classroom. For instance, in the article “Procedures for Teaching Appropriate Gestural Communication Skills to Children with Autism” by Dawn Buffington et al, they reveal how using gestures with vocal communications is very beneficial to children with autism as they learn “to request items in a more appropriate manner and alter the orienting behaviour of others in their environment.”[7] By using gestures when speaking, children are able to express themselves with more ease and socially interact better with others. Here is a picture using some examples of gestures you could use and teach in the classroom.

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Uninterested/Unwilling Students

Another issue is that some teachers may face students who are not interested in or unwilling to learn how to communicate effectively. They may have been taught how to speak in a way that makes it harder for teachers to try and change negative habits. They are used to what they have been taught and find it easier or more comforting to continue to communicate in that way.

Other Issues in the Classroom

Douglas Brown outlines some other issues in his book Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy that teachers will face when teaching oral communication to students. These include:[8]
  • Pronunciation – This could either be because of a language barrier for ESL learners or speech impediments
  • Accuracy and fluency – Students may find it difficult to be clear, grammatically correct and use words with the right meaning, in addition to having their communication flow
  • Anxiety – Many students become nervous or frightened when having to make presentations, speeches, or any other kind of assignment that requires them to speak in front of large groups of people
  • Interaction – Not knowing what to say, how to say it, or when to speak

How to Address these Issues

To address these issues, it is important to create/use activities that will include all students, and to provide extra help where necessary. During each lesson be prepared to:
  • Give extra time for students to process information
  • Re-teach vocabulary and certain strategies for speaking
  • Rephrase what was said, or if the conversation is happening between two students, ask the student who is not having trouble to rephrase what they are trying to say
  • Give visuals to support lessons/instructions for activities
  • Get struggling students to restate facts in group or one-on-one discussions
  • Provide a dictionary, word list, and thesaurus
  • Give a student one task at a time, and increase the amount of time they have to work on it
  • Provide a student with what will be read in class the next day to familiarize themselves with it


TEACHING IDEAS/ACTIVITIES

  • Listen to a recording of a novel, poem or other piece of literature. After a section, stop the tape and ask the students to reflect on the strategies the speaker used to evoke meaning and how they recognized how the speaker was feeling (pitch, tone, speed)
  • Hand out a poem to the entire class. Give each student a partner and ask both students to read the poem aloud using different tones, speed and pitch. Go around to each set of partners and give each a turn to read the poem in front of you. After each turn, the student can reflect on the type of emotion they were trying to portray, and how the tone, speed and pitch gave different meanings to the words
  • Give students an activity sheet that has a variety of sentences on it. With this activity, teachers will ask students to read out the sentence pausing where they think it is necessary, and then discuss if it is correct or not with the rest of the class
  • Students can read a piece of writing aloud. Then they can discuss and reflect on the content of what was read with the rest of the class
  • Bring in a newspaper article (focus is on the title), magazine ad, or picture. Divide students into groups so that they can discuss certain themes, concepts, ideas that they believe are important to its meaning. This gives students group interaction, allowing them to develop interactive, listening and speaking strategies
  • Watch a monologue from a film or take the students to see a play. After the students have watched the film or play, allow the students to reflect on the presentation strategies the actor used. They will describe and evaluate the strategies the actor used
  • Have the students read a selection of text into a tape-recorder, and get them to play it back to listen for effective delivery, and then critique themselves


PED3177-Think_Literacy.png“Think Literacy” has developed a cross-curricular approach to teach oral communication in the classroom for grades 7-12. They provide activities for pair-work, group discussions, class discussion, and independent presentations to use for lessons. They talk about how teachers can talk about proper “discussion etiquette”, and distinguishing group roles that will allow students to slowly get used to using their oral communication skills and participating in discussions/conversations. Within each section, your are provided with a chart that outlines the responsibilities and tasks that the teacher and student are required to do before, during and after the lesson, and then provides you with an understanding of what the child should have learned while doing the activity/task.


Here is the link to this fantastic resource!
http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/studentsuccess/thinkliteracy/files/Oral.pdf


The following link is for a video from "Think Literacy" that is also important in emphasizing the role of literacy and oral communication in the classroom, in addition to how all literacy skills intertwine. Strategies to focus on are Four Corners which gets students to talk in groups, and the Frayer Model which allows students to understand new vocabulary in order to use it when communicating. Also notice some of the ideas in the literacy toolkit, which can help students with exceptionalities communicate their ideas and problems.

http://curriculum.na5.acrobat.com/thinkliteracy/


ASSESSMENT IDEASPED3177-Child_sharing_in_group.jpg

Assessing oral communication skills in the English Language Arts classroom can be difficult for teachers who do not know what to look for. In chapter 7 of Developing Verbal Talent: Ideas and Strategies for Teachers of Elementary and Middle School Students, Joyce VanTassel-Baska et al provide a criteria checklist of what to look for during a student's presentation, speech, and other assessment activities. This checklist includes things like "gained interest of the audience; main points were clear, organized, and well supported; had effective transitions; language choice was appropriate; used voice effectively: volume, pitch, tone, rate; gestures and facial expressions were appropriate."[9] With all assessment activities that you give students, it's important that you clearly outline the criteria you are looking for.

In addition to the activities above, here are some ideas that will help you assess the student’s oral communication skills (included are the specific expectations that are met when using these activities):
  • Debates – Students will be able to think on their feet, change their tone and volume when supporting their point-of-view, and develop a clear and concise argument (speaking to communicate – interactive strategies, clarity and coherence, appropriate language; listening to understand– comprehension strategies, active listening strategies, demonstrating understanding)
  • Speeches – Allow students to pick a topic that interests them. They will be able to research the topic and reflect on what they found, or write on something that is personal to them. Either way, this is a chance to bring out their creativity (speaking to communicate – visual aids, non-verbal cues, vocal skills and strategies, clarity and coherence, appropriate language; reflecting on oral communication skills and strategies - metacognition)
  • Interviews – Students can pick partners in order to film or perform an interview of each other on a topic of their choice. They can then show it in class and describe the different techniques and strategies they used (listening to understand– comprehension strategies, active listening strategies, demonstrating understanding; speaking to communicate – interactive strategies, clarity and coherence, appropriate language)
  • Role-play/Drama – Students are given assigned roles and are asked to act out specific scenes to texts (novels, poems, plays). Students can even write their own script and either film it or perform it in front of the class (speaking to communicate – vocal skills and strategies, visual aids)
  • Reading dialogue and texts in class (listening to understand – using active listening strategies, listening comprehension strategies, demonstrating understanding of content; speaking to communicate – vocal skills and strategies)
  • Presentations – Students present a report on a topic of choice. They should be persuasive and show critical thought and analysis. Students should be encouraged to include visual aids and class participation to make the presentation more effective. You can decide to include peer evaluations in which students choose three of their classmates to provide feedback and suggestions for the presenter focusing on specific aspects of the presentation that they liked or did not like, and the interest and engagement it had on them (listening to understand – using active listening strategies, demonstrating understanding of content, understanding presentation strategies; speaking to communicate – vocal skills and strategies, clarity and coherence, diction and devices, non-verbal cues, visual aids)
  • Give a lesson - Divide students into groups of 4 and assign a novel to each group for them to read. Have students prepare a 20 mintue lesson to teach the rest of the class about the novel they read. Get them to concentrate on themes, symbols, meanings, etc. within the novel. Students can create activities, videos, posters, or models in relation to the text. Get them to be creative! (listening to understand – demonstrating understanding of content; speaking to communicate – vocal skills and strategies, clarity and coherence, diction and devices, non-verbal cues, visual aids; reflecting on oral communication skills and strategies - metacognition)


The following chart from the article “Speaking and Listening: Instructional Philosophy and Teaching Suggestions” suggests ways of identifying how to determine where a child stands in the communication process and provides you with an understanding of what the child needs to improve on.

Developmental Stages of Speaking: From Dependence to Independence[10]
Stage 1
Novice Speaker
(unskilled, needs encouragement)
  • uses a limited vocabulary
  • encounters difficulties with pronunciation (not to be confused with accent or features of dialect)
  • lacks self-esteem and seems shy
  • exhibits little interest in group interactions
  • attempts to learn by listening to the conversations of others
  • engages in brief conversations
Stage 2
Transitional Speaker
(self-involved, becoming more confident)
  • initiates conversation within a circle of trusted friends
  • volunteers responses when certain that the contribution is acceptable
  • participates in reading or speaking activities as part of a group
  • asks questions when requiring information
  • uses vocabulary adequate for informal communication
  • avoids controversy and argument
Stage 3
Willing Speaker
(peer-involved, achieving self-assurance)
  • introduces topics and ideas for conversation and discussion
  • enters into discussion about topics or ideas of personal interest
  • participates comfortably in conversation and in other oral interactions
  • extends vocabulary as required
  • demonstrates a growing sense of audience when speaking
Stage 4
Independent Speaker
(autonomous speaker, assuming leadership roles)
  • initiates conversation and discussion
  • encourages others to contribute their ideas
  • possesses an extensive vocabulary and uses it appropriately
  • requests more information, when needed, for clarification and interpretation
  • differs tactfully with ideas or attitudes deemed personally unacceptable

Things to look for when assessing oral communication skills:
  • Did the student use various vocal/non-verbal strategies to communicate meaning/importance, like body language, pitch, facial expressions?
  • Did they use eye-contact to engage the audience/receiver?
  • Did the student use visual aids to help clarify subject matter in presentations, or enhance dramatic scenes?
  • Did the student express themselves clearly with correct grammar?
  • Was appropriate language used?
  • Did the student listen to the oral text or speaker and answer appropriately, showing an understanding of what was being presented?


RESOURCES


Teaching Students with Exceptionalities
1 - “Procedures for Teaching Appropriate Gestural Communication Skills to Children with Autism” by Dawn Buffington et al <http://journals1.scholarsportal.info.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/tmp/3200877065792799008.pdf>
2 - "Teaching Children with Autism Better Verbal Communication Skills" by Rachel Evans <http://ezinearticles.com/?Teaching-Children-With-Autism-Better-Verbal-Communication-Skills&id=1246207>
3 - "The Importance of Teaching Communication Skills", Chapter 1 from Teaching Communication Skills to Students with Severe Disabilities by June E. Downing

Other Resources
1 - Handbook of research on teaching the English Language Arts by James Flood
2 - "Teaching Oral Communication Skills: A Task-based Approach" by M. Mojibur Rahman <http://www.esp-world.info/Articles_27/Paper.pdf>
3 - Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy by H. Douglas Brown

This link provides you with multiple books, articles and online resources that are helpful in teaching oral communication skills
http://www.wwu.edu/storytelling/pdfs/OralCommSkillsBiblio.pdf
  1. ^ The Ontario Curriculum for Language, Grades 1-8, 2006 pp. 9
  2. ^ Flood, James. Handbook of research on teaching the English Language Arts. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.: New Jersey, 2003, pp. 883. Retrieved on 22 September 2010. http://books.google.ca/books?id=HdTMG_fSh18C&pg=PA883&lpg=PA883&dq=oral+communication+skills+in+english+language+arts+education&source=bl&ots=gRhWfCAmbY&sig=_3XGtPey_abEzDiS4c0IwpUcFPI&hl=en&ei=MR-eTMDOOoLPnAfox4ioDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=oral%20communication%20skills%20in%20english%20language%20arts%20education&f=false
  3. ^ Flood, James. Handbook of research on teaching the English Language Arts. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.: New Jersey, 2003, pp. 884. Retrieved on 22 September 2010. http://books.google.ca/books?id=HdTMG_fSh18C&pg=PA883&lpg=PA883&dq=oral+communication+skills+in+english+language+arts+education&source=bl&ots=gRhWfCAmbY&sig=_3XGtPey_abEzDiS4c0IwpUcFPI&hl=en&ei=MR-eTMDOOoLPnAfox4ioDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=oral%20communication%20skills%20in%20english%20language%20arts%20education&f=false
  4. ^ Flood, James. Handbook of research on teaching the English Language Arts. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.: New Jersey, 2003, pp. 883. Retrieved on 22 September 2010. http://books.google.ca/books?id=HdTMG_fSh18C&pg=PA883&lpg=PA883&dq=oral+communication+skills+in+english+language+arts+education&source=bl&ots=gRhWfCAmbY&sig=_3XGtPey_abEzDiS4c0IwpUcFPI&hl=en&ei=MR-eTMDOOoLPnAfox4ioDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=oral%20communication%20skills%20in%20english%20language%20arts%20education&f=false
  5. ^ Rahman, M. Mojibur. “Teaching Oral Communication Skills: A Task-based Approach.” 2010. ESP World, Issue 1 (27), Volume 9, pp. 4. Retrieved on 22 September 2010. http://www.esp-world.info/Articles_27/Paper.pdf
  6. ^ Rahman, M. Mojibur. “Teaching Oral Communication Skills: A Task-based Approach.” 2010. ESP World, Issue 1 (27), Volume 9, pp. 5. Retrieved on 22 September 2010. http://www.esp-world.info/Articles_27/Paper.pdf
  7. ^ Buffington, Dawn M., Patricia J. Krantz, Lynn E. McClannahan, and Claire L. Poulson. “Procedures for Teaching Appropriate Gestural Communication Skills to Children with Autism.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 28. 6 (1998) Retrieved on 22 September 2010. http://www.sasked.gov.sk.ca/docs/mla/listen.html
  8. ^ Brown, H. Douglas. Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. Prentice Hall Regents: New Jersey, 1994, Chapter 15, pp.254-255
  9. ^ VanTassel-Baska, Joyce, Linda Neal Boyce and Dana T. Johnson. Developing Verbal Talent: Ideas and Strategies for Teachers of Elementary and Middle School Students. Allyn & Bacon: Massachussetts, 1996, Chapter 7, pp 128
  10. ^ “English Language Arts: Speaking and Listening: Instructional Philosophy and Teaching Suggestions.” 2006. Instructional Resources Unit, Curriculum and E-Learning Branch, Saskatchewan Learning. Retrieved on 22 September 2010. http://www.sasked.gov.sk.ca/docs/mla/listen.html