Speaking and Listening Across the Curriculum

Speaking and Listening Across the Curriculum

Speaking and listening mediates learning across all curriculum areas. It has been long recognised that literacy is not a generic skill that is applied in the same way across all disciplines. Rather, literacy is subject specific and dynamic (Wyatt-Smith and Cumming, 2003).

Speaking and listening across the curriculum involves the integration of these modes with reading, writing and viewing. Working within the different subjects involves:

  • using subject specific terminology
  • moving from the use of everyday language to the use of language which holds the grammatical and conceptual constructs of the subject
  • using language in social interactions when engaging with tasks required to develop content knowledge and skills.

Talking about the subject specific texts, used in classrooms to develop content knowledge, and talking about the writing students need to produce in areas of study, simultaneously address content knowledge and literacy.

In the classroom learning context, there are two main types of interaction involving spoken language. The first is the teacher/student interactional context, in which the teacher as the more knowledgeable other (Vygotsky, 1978) models the language of the field and inducts students into the language practices of the subject discipline.

The second context is student/student(s) interactions, in which students reason together, collaborate and build their understandings (Alexander, 2006; Alexander, 2008; Mercer, Dawes, Wegerif, and Sams, 2004).

The type of talk used in collaborative peer situations is described as exploratory talk (Barnes, 2008). Exploratory talk helps the speaker sort out thoughts and trial ideas. It is useful for students to engage in exploratory talk when making meaning from the texts encountered across the curriculum. Exploratory talk can be extended to include elements addressing social or ethical issues, thus moving into critical thinking.

Ways to include talk as a pedagogical tool across the curriculum:    

  • Use reciprocal teaching to explore texts
  • Complete pre- and post- learning charts. I used to think…Now I think
  • Use the What if teaching strategy to explore content. For example: What if Burke and Wills survived?  What if we don’t recycle?
  • Use jigsaw strategy
  • Present groups of students with an artefact from the topic of study and give them a set time to talk. For example: an ANZAC medal. One member of the group keeps check to ensure the group remains focused
  • Student create open-ended questions for groups to discuss
  • Floor storming: Use images or phrases from the area of study and layout on floor or tables. Students work in groups to make links across two or more images/phrases
  • Role play/drama
  • Listening triangle. In groups of three, students take turns to speak on a given topic. The first speaker speaks for one minute, the second speaker speaks for 30 seconds and the third 15 seconds. Each speaker adds to the cumulative discussion.
  • “Even better if…” discussions

Oral language plays an important role in helping students understand curriculum content, as it is a vital link to writing. Teachers need to assist students to bridge from talk to writing, and from writing to talk. One way of doing this is to make explicit the link between thought, talk and writing, and to examine how language changes as we change the mode of communication (Hammond and Miller, 2015).

  • Talk to yourself (think about the concepts and ideas you wish to communicate)
  • Talk with others ( think about what you say, how you say it and what others contribute to the discussion)
  • Put it in writing (think about how you will express your ideas through writing)

Links to the Victorian curriculum – English

  • Listen and respond to communication of others in classroom situations and routines (VCELY139)
  • Make short presentations, speaking clearly and using appropriate voice and pace, and using some introduced text structures and language (VCELY211)
  • Understand differences between the language of opinion and feeling and the language of factual reporting or recording (VCELA305)
  • Understand the use of vocabulary about familiar and new topics and experiment with and begin to make conscious choices of vocabulary to suit audience and purpose (VCELA237)
  • Learn extended and technical vocabulary and ways of expressing opinion including modal verbs and adverbs (VCELA273)
  • Participate in and contribute to discussions, clarifying and interrogating ideas, developing and supporting arguments, sharing and evaluating information, experiences and opinions, and use interaction skills, varying conventions of spoken interactions according to group size, formality of interaction and needs and expertise of the audience (VCELY366)