Developing Oracy Skills: Speaking and Listening within the Classroom

Developing Oracy Skills: Speaking and Listening within the Classroom

Setting Ground Rules:
Confidence in speaking and listening for purpose is vitally important in the development of these life skills. Setting ground rules that ensure the physical and emotional security of each student, where the students are consulted in the devising of these rules, will go a long way in establishing an environment of productive engagement in speaking and listening for purpose.In order to support the development of group ground rules, the students and teacher might consider the following prompts:What is a good listener? What does good listening look and sound like?What is a good speaker? What does good speaking look and sound like?What makes a partnership work best?How do I work best within a group?How should we share our information, so that everyone benefits?What are the roles within the group (chairperson, mentor, recorder, observer, time-keeper, questioner, etc.)? Who will undertake each role? How will these roles be rotated?
Personal ground rules might include:
Speak clearly (aim for the furthest point in the room)Interact with and involve your audienceUse gesture but do not fidgetTry to ensure that everyone can see youEmphasise the most important points you wish to convey, vocally, physically, etc.Listen to others with respectAsk a question if you do not understand
Why Warm Ups?
Team-building activities can help to develop a sense of classroom unity and communityNew members can integrate with the classWarm up activities can decrease stress and build confidence in listening and speaking, through game-playingAll learning styles / abilities can be utilised in warm up activities – visual, aural, kinaestheticWarm up activities can energize and focus a groupHigher level thinking and critical skills may be stimulated through game and metaphor

Ice Breakers / Quick Warm Ups

Review Questions post-activity:
What worked well? What did not work well?How did it feel to be in the role assigned?What important skills were needed for everyone to carry out the task successfully? (listening, sharing of ideas, planning, asking and answering questions, negotiation, justification, taking turns, use of specific language, logical / critical / lateral thinking, clarification, etc.)What are the important learning points to take forward?
  1. Group Memory

Purpose: To test communication, organisation, establish clear roles

  1. Divide the class into teams consisting of three or more students. Each team has access to an area of the room, where resource materials (paper, markers, etc.) have been provided
  2. Attach a picture, photograph, map, graph, poem, etc. to a flipchart. (If using a piece of text, try to use a text with a pattern or sequence which will make it easier for students to remember)
  3. The whole class looks at the object for one minute
  4. The flipchart is then turned away from the class and the students are told to recreate a perfect copy
  5. Each team member may only make three visits to view the object, each visit lasting no more than 25 seconds. No drawing / recording instruments may be taken to the viewing area
  6. When the time is up, the activity is reviewed and the skills required to carry it out successfully are discussed.
  1. Chinese Whispers

Purpose: To listen and speak carefully, to convey clearly stated messages

  1. Get at least five people, preferable 10 plus people. The more people involved, the better, because the message being passed around is likely to become distorted and even funnier.
  2. Write a few messages down on paper that consist of at least ten words. The message can be serious or downright silly. Be sure it is legible.
  3. Sit the players down on the floor in a circle or a line. This can be played in teams or as a whole group.
  4. Give the first player the message note. Have that person whisper the message into the ear of the next person. They cannot pass on or show the message; that must go back to the organiser / monitor. The message must be repeated quickly from person to person. No one else must hear.
  5. The last person reveals aloud what he / she heard to the group.
  6. The activity is reviewed with the group.

  1. Birthdays / Oldest, Middle, Youngest / Tall to Small

Purpose: to see how quickly students can process data and arrange themselves in a particular order

  1. Ask the students to line up according to birth date (year or month or day in the month) / position in the family / height (e.g. shorter people at the front of the line and taller people at the back).
  2. Students are allowed to ask each other questions in order to establish their position in the line.
  3. Review the activity with the group.

  1. Warm Up Charts

Purpose: To assist students in getting to know more about the members of their group and foster individual / group identity and unity

  1. Divide the class into groups of three
  2. Ask the group to record information about themselves on the chart (the suggestions below are not prescriptive) 

SelfTeam MemberTeam Member
Place where you were born

Country you would like to visit

Favourite holiday spot

Favourite ice cream flavour

Best school memory

Favourite time of the day

Favourite recreational activity

Your hero/heroine

A special friend

Favourite food

How are you all alike?
  1. Scavenger Hunt (Jill Spencer)

Purpose: To access student prior knowledge, introduce new concepts / vocabulary

  1. Each student receives an index card. On one side is the piece of information specific to themselves.
  2. Teacher calls out the instruction: ‘Find someone who…’

…can explain the difference between…

…can tell you…

…can name…

…can show you…

…can share….

  1. Students move around the room, on the instructions of the teacher, questioning and informing each other until everyone has built on the information they know and filled in the gaps, using the information on each other’s index cards. 

Four Corners / Take a Stand (Spencer Kagan (

Purpose: It can be used as a pre-assessment, a discussion starter, to deepen understanding of a topic, or discover mis-conceptions, a formative assessment.  

  1. Students are asked to move to a corner of the room whose label best matches their opinion, their knowledge level, their skill level, or represents something they like. (Corners may be labelled in relation to learning outcomes).
  2. Once there, each corner group is given a specific task, and must work together to accomplish it. (e.g. ‘I understand and can utilise volcanic terminology’ – group task is to create a visual display of key terms relating to volcanoes). Alternatively, each corner group must could work together to justify their position in that corner of the room. 
  3. Each corner group presents the results of their specific task / justifications to the rest of the class.
  4. Review process will consider all four corners of the room, so that students will be able to discuss and identify areas that may require further investigation.

I see, I think, I wonder…

Purpose: to stimulate and share creative ideas and opinions around visual aids, asking and answering of questions, listening to others, hear and use specific descriptive language.

  1. In pairs / groups, students study an illustration (painting, photograph, cartoon, diagram, map, etc.) or object, without speaking, for one minute.
  2. Each member of the team makes three statements about the visual aid, describing what they see, what their opinion of it is, and one question they would like to ask about it. 
  3. These statements are shared with, and discussed with, the rest of the team / partnership, and recorded on paper.
  4. The team / partnership decide on a group statement about what they see, think and wonder about the visual aid. This is shared with the rest of the class. 
  5. The activity is reviewed and all recorded work is collected and noted.


Purpose: To gather ideas, share prior knowledge, formulate a plan, develop teamwork strategies, listening and speaking skills.

  1. In teams, students will think about the requirements and goals of the task and record all their ideas (wish list). Mind maps may be a useful tool here.
  2. Students will then think about the task from a number of key perspectives, which may generate further ideas.
  3. Students may categorise their ideas into three main areas: easy ideas, tough ideas, and crazy ideas.
  4. These ideas will be evaluated and refined, in the light of roadblocks – i.e. resources, capabilities, the limitations of the task, etc. 
  5. The team will continue to ask questions around the task, exploring every avenue. 
  6. The team will review, and decide on, the key features of the task, as a result of the brainstorming process.

Just Like Me

Purpose: To develop group unity, listening and speaking skills, share ideas, distinguish areas of strength and areas that might need more input

  1. Arrange the whole class in a circle, if possible.
  2. Teacher models the activity by saying…’Just like me, who…finish the sentence with a statement such as ‘likes to kayak’ or ‘loves rugby’ or ‘hates chocolate’?
  3. Everyone who fits that category stands up. 
  4. Encourage others to start the prompt.
  5. As students become more familiar with the activity, they can incorporate content ideas / topics for discussion into the activity, e.g. ‘Just like me, who needs to read more about volcanoes…is good at clay modelling…still doesn’t understand the theory of plate tectonics?’
  6. Class review after the activity can help to identify key areas that may need more work.

True / False Statements (similar to myths and realities activity done in Literacy Link Seminars)


Purpose: To support team problem-solving, while keeping in mind that alternatives are possible; sharing of, and listening to, other ideas, group discussion, negotiation, activating prior knowledge

T – Talk about the problem

H – How might the problem be solved?

I – Identify a strategy that might work in solving the problem

N – Note how the strategy is working / issues that may arise

K – Keep thinking? What might we be doing wrong? Might there be a better way of doing this? 

Read and Explain Pairs 

Purpose: To support students in active reading, comprehension, reflection and explanation, where students work as cooperative partners.

  1. Divide material into sections/paragraphs suited to class-group.
  2. Students form pairs A and B, and both read a section of the material.
  3. Students assign roles: A is SUMMARISER, whose job is to turn page down and summarise the contents of the paragraph in one’s own words. B is CHECKER, whose job is to listen carefully and correct any mis-statements and add in anything omitted. 
  4. Both read next section.
  5. Reverse roles.
  6. Continue until all the material is read and the general meaning agreed and understood by the pair.
  7. The teacher ensures individual accountability by randomly asking students to summarise what they have read so far. The teacher reminds students that there is intergroup cooperation (whenever it is helpful they may check procedures, answers, and strategies with another group or compare answers with those of another group if they finish early).


Purpose: To develop an understanding of context, situation, social interaction, body language and facial expression as a method of, and an aid to, communication.

  1. Students work in pairs / groups to create emotional expression, using facial expression, gesture and body language.
  2. Each pair / group will take on a number of key character roles and explore the development of the character, using appropriate expression and gesture. Students will be encouraged to think beyond obvious character traits and to utilise information from textbooks about their chosen characters.
  3. In their groups, the students will improvise short social scenes, built around their chosen characters, which will reflect character development and decisions.
  4. (Use of the ‘Freeze’ technique may be useful in creating a ‘still scene’ / focus the group).
  5. Other members of the group will act as evaluators and supporters of the students ‘in character’.

Role Play / Monologue / Dialogue

Purpose: To encourage engagement in discussion and active listening about a particular issue, to share information and experiences, foster participation and develop empathy. 

  1. The scenario should be relevant and realistic, provide adequate information to give students a comfort zone when acting out their roles and build up confidence by using group simulations before they are asked to carry out individual role plays or monologues.
  2. Students can work individually to create a monologue (one-sided conversation, talk), in pairs to create dialogue, or in groups of three or more for more extended scenes.
  3. Role play allows students to invent relationships between people and to re-create events from a number of perspectives (e.g. create a café scene to develop language / mathematical skills, re-enact a scene from history, tell a story from many points of view, etc.)
  4. The students try to imagine how each person feels, walks, talks, acts and they act out what they think is happening and what might happen next. 
  5. Other class members can then question them in role.

Walking Debate

Purpose: To develop the use of persuasive and descriptive language, to give every student the opportunity to express their opinion on the issues under discussion, to actively listen to and research new ideas, to justify choices made.

  1. Place agree and disagree signs on either side of the room. Gather all students in the centre of the room.
  2. Invite students to indicate whether they agree or disagree with the following statements by standing under the  agree or disagree signs:
  3. Draw feedback from students after each statement is read. Ask why they took the position they did – note if any students changed position based on the contributions of others.

DRAPES (Jill Spencer) 

Purpose: This is a useful strategy to focus a group in the preparation / research stages of developing a presentation. It can be used as part of a speaking and listening exercise and / or in the reading, drafting and writing-up stages.

  1. In groups, students think about the purpose of, and the audience for, the presentation
  2. Using the DRAPES strategies, students will discuss their approach and focus on the key areas for researching, drafting and writing the presentation:

D – Definition / Dialogue

R – Rhetorical question

A – Analogy 

P – Personal experience

E – Examples

S – Statistics

  1. The group will decide on where to include a DRAPES strategy at each stage of the presentation. 
  2. Teachers could share the responsibilities for teaching the students what each of the DRAPES terms mean and then the other teachers could reinforce these concepts in their classrooms.

Three – Step Interview (Kagan, 1990)

Purpose: To find information from texts, ask and answer questions, seek clarification, demonstrate understanding of texts, as members of a team interview one another on a particular topic.

  1. Students decide whether they are A, B or C.
  2. The group reads the piece of text / researches the topic.
  3. A interviews B, while C records observations from the responses.
  4. The roles are then rotated after each interview to ensure that all members of the group have had an opportunity to the interviewed. 

Fishbowl Listening Activity (Adapted from: NCCA  ‘Working with Others’ toolkit)

Purpose: To listen actively to the experiences, ideas and perspectives of a specific group, to gain feedback on the group experiences, to explore challenges and issues which arise from discussion. 

  1. Divide the class up into small groups. Each group writes down their thoughts and views on the particular question or topic on a piece of flip chart paper with a marker for about 10-15 minutes. 
  2. The whole room then re-groups, moving their chairs into 2 circles: one circle is a large “fish-bowl” round the outside of the room and the other small circle is the “fish” in the middle of the room. This is a listening exercise. 
  3. The small circle contains the fish, and one person from each original group should sit in this small circle. The fish tell everyone in the room about what was discussed in their group. The fish are the only ones who can talk at this stage. One person from the fish group volunteers to write all the main ideas on a flip chart paper in the middle. 
  4. Students in the large circle are the fish-bowl and they are the listeners – they must listen very carefully to what the fish are saying, to check that this is an accurate description of the views put forward by their little groups.
  5. Any listener who disagrees with what is being said by the “spokes-fish” of their group, or wants to add something, can go up and tap them gently on the shoulder. This means that they will swap places. 

It’s a Rap 

Purpose: To engage students who feel disconnected from language use, listen to the ideas and experiences of others, introduce nuances of tone, pitch, pace, rhythm, rhyme, use descriptive language.

  1. In groups of three, students decide on a topic / experience that they wish to share with the class.
  2. As a team, they create a speaking ‘rap’, incorporating appropriate description and expressive language.
  3. The group ‘perform’ the rap as a team, or take turns to perform individual sections.
  4. The rest of class act as the critical audience and discuss the merits of each piece.

Phone Calls 

Purpose: To promote careful listening and speaking, use of appropriate expression, discussion of formal and informal language, step-by-step instruction

  1. Students divide themselves into A, B, C.
  2. A and B sit back to back.
  3. In pairs / groups of three, students have imaginary phone conversations with each other, where A is the caller, B answers the phone and C listens to, records and reports back on the conversation.
  4. Depending on the task (e.g. giving a step-by-step instruction on how to do a recipe / experiment, speaking ‘in-character’ as one character to another from history, making a complaint in another language, etc.), the students must use the appropriate tone and pace of voice, choice of vocabulary and expression. While A speaks, B listens, but may also prompt A during the conversation. B may not interrupt A.
  5. Working with C, the students review their conversation and make note of areas for improvement.

Think-Pair- Share (Square)

Purpose: to clarify and articulate the thoughts of the students on a topic, deepen understanding, practise skills of speaking, listening, agreeing, disagreeing, rephrasing and working in groups, to increase confidence, to move through the stages of individual work, paired work and group work, to provide feedback in a ‘safe’ environment.

  1. Ask students, on their own, to spend several minutes thinking and writing down own ideas, thoughts, etc. on a topic (THINK).
  2. Put students into pairs to share their individual ideas with a partner (PAIR).
  3. The pair group decide on a common agreement and share their thoughts with either the whole class (SHARE) or another group, where two pairs work together to agree on a group response (SQUARE). 

think pair share template.png


Purpose: To focus group attention on a task, to share and record individual and group ideas, to ask and answer questions, to negotiate and justify choices, to activate prior knowledge / summarise topics, to reflect on learning and provide feedback.

  1. Students are divided into small groups of 4 and gathered around a “placemat”. 
  2. The “placemat” is organised with sections for each student to record their ideas and a central section for students to summarise their individual ideas. 
  3. Each member of the group thinks about a question and writes down ideas on his/her own section of the placemat. 
  4. Ideas are shared among the group and a common answer is decided upon, which can be written in the centre of the placemat.
  5. The group answer is shared with the rest of the class.

Thinking Triads

Purpose: to promote higher order thinking, pose questions, stimulate ideas and answers to questions, take turns, actively listen, use key terminology and concepts.

  1. Students form groups of three. As a group, the students read / research the topic or problem to be solved.
  2. Each member of the group takes on a role – researcher / recorder / questioner – where the problem / content is analysed, ideas gathered, answers recorded and questions asked, to ensure individual and group understanding, share ideas, check back on information and agree on the key points / concepts.
  3. As a team, the triad explains their findings to the rest of the class. Each member of the team must be able to justify their group findings. 


 Here are some different ways to ask your students to THINK about things:

  • How are things alike? Students look for similarities between items, events or ideas. How are fractions and decimals alike?
  • How are things different? Students look for differences between items, events, or ideas.  
  • How do things look differently from inside or from the outside? Students imagine what it would be like to be an observer inside or outside an item, event, system, etc. 
  • What is your estimate or prediction? Students must make an educated guess or an inference using given information and their own general background information. 
  • Justify their stance or thinking.
  • Devil’s advocate–students respond to another’s points with views that are the opposite. Let’s look at this from an opposite point of view.
  • Ask groups to pair up with another set and have both groups share their ideas. Ask each group to choose one or two ideas to share with the entire group.  Chart and discuss.

Hot Seat / Ask the Expert

Purpose: to develop interview techniques, encourage more detailed discussion about an issue, to share information, to explore motivation and interpretation of events, to develop empathy / deepen understanding.

  1. Ask the students to generate challenging questions that they would like to ask a character from history, literature, science, etc. or an expert on a topic / event.  A discussion of the context / character / event beforehand would be helpful.
  2. Teacher will place a ‘hot seat’ facing the group and will model either being the expert in the hot seat or being the questioner.
  3. Students are allocated a particular character, or alternatively they think of a role themselves relevant to the issue in question. The role can be researched by a group or individually.
  4. The character / expert is put in the hot seat and questioned by the other students. 
  5. A mystery game could also be played out using this technique, with class members having to guess the identity of the person in the hot seat.
  6. Discussion afterwards will focus on new information gathered, new understanding of the character / topic, questions left unanswered.

Just a Minute

Purpose: to encourage speaking aloud / sharing of ideas and experiences, to promote active listening, to use key vocabulary / phrases, to summarise a lesson or activate prior knowledge.

  1. Teacher uses a stopwatch and gives the students a topic / issue / experience to think about for one minute, or asks students to focus on the main points of the lesson, or on questions they still have about a topic.
  2. Using the stopwatch, each student has one minute to speak on their chosen topic, without hesitation, deviation or repetition.
  3. Other students can challenge the speaker if the rules are broken, or can add points missed at the end of each student’s speech. 

Question and Answer

Purpose: to gather further information about a topic, break down a topic into smaller parts, activate prior knowledge, summarise a lesson, differentiate between literal and inferential questions, develop critical thinking skills.

6 W questions – Who, What, Where, When, Why, Which

1 H question – How

  1. The teacher asks an initial comprehension question starting with How or Why. The teacher then continues with a series of connector question stems, where the question must always start with either the How or Why.
  2. Students will be encouraged to develop their own connector questions.
  3. Teacher can also stimulate further critical thinking through the use of:

Inverted questioning

Changing the question to a challenging statement.

Backward Testing 

Purpose: To ask and answer questions, use key vocabulary / terminology / concepts, justify choices, provide a safe zone in which to explore assessment, provide feedback.

  1. Teacher gives the students either the test questions in advance, or the answers to a test.
  2. In small groups, students prepare the answers to each question, or formulate the types of questions needed to generate these answers.
  3. Students will teach each other how to answer the questions. The group should take turns in the role of Explainer (explaining how to answer the question) and Accuracy Checker (verifying that the Explainer is correct and seeking help as needed). The roles can be rotated until everyone understands the material on which they will be tested.  They could also agree the marking scheme for each question. 

6 Thinking Hats (Edward de Bono)

Purpose: To examine issues from a number of important perspectives, to develop empathy and a clearer understanding of various points of view, to explore new styles of critical thinking. 

  1. Each group is given one of six coloured hats. They have to view the problem from point of view of that coloured hat.
  2. In a group setting each member thinks using the criteria given for the group’s coloured hat. The group focuses on the same thinking challenge—this is called focused parallel thinking–a tool that facilitates creativity and collaboration. It enables each person’s unique point of view to be included and considered. 

The six hats:

White hat – This is the information seeking hat. The focus is on pure facts, figures and objective information. Questions that this group should ask could include:

•   What are the facts?

•   What information is available? What is relevant?

•   When wearing the white hat we are neutral in our thinking.

Red hat – This is the emotions and feelings hat. It focusses on hunches and intuition.  Questions include: 

  • What do you feel about the suggestion?

•   What are your gut reactions?

•    What intuitions do you have?

•    Don’t think too long or too hard.

Black hat – This hat plays devil’s advocate. It focuses on logical and negative judgment – on why it won’t work. This is the caution hat. Questions include:

•   What are the errors or pit-falls?

•   What are the risks or dangers involved?

•   What difficulties and problems can be identified?

Yellow hat – This hat promotes sunshine, brightness and optimism. It is the hat of positive constructive thought. The traits of this hat are that it is positive and constructive. It is about effectiveness and getting a job done. Questions include:

  • What are the benefits, the advantages?
  • Logical reasons for decision making given

Green Hat   – This is the creative mode of thinking. This hat is creative and is open to new ideas, movement and provocation. In the green hat we look to new ideas and solutions. Questions include:

• What are the ideas and alternative solutions?

Blue Hat   – This is the control hat. It is cool and controlled. It tries to rule over other hats. It sets the focus, calls for the use of other hats. Blue is for planning.

  • Let us reflects on the thinking processes used.
  • What plan can we put in place?

Exit Pass

Purpose: To allow the teacher to assess student learning of the lesson, to develop further critical thinking skills, to encourage students to admit points of confusion/ ask for clarification, to share understanding.

  1. Towards the end of the lesson, index cards / post-its are given to the students.
  2. Students are encouraged to describe a part of the lesson which they particularly enjoyed, as well as a part of the lesson which they may have found challenging, or questions which remain unanswered for them. 
  3. The student responses are noted on the index cards / post-its and handed to the teacher as the students leave the class room. 
  4. Further feedback will be provided by the teacher during the next lesson. 


Paul Ginnis – The Teacher’s Toolkit

Education Bradford – Talk across the Curriculum

Miriam Hamilton – Co-operative Learning Strategies

Jill Spencer – Classroom Learning Strategies that Support School Improvement