In the push to teach students reading and writing, it’s easy to forget about speaking! This lesson gives you ideas for teaching speaking skills, including explaining how spoken language works and what you can do to support it.
Why Teach Speaking Skills?
In today’s teaching climate, it’s easy to forget the importance of oral language, or speaking and listening skills. With all the focus on reading and writing, sometimes teachers neglect this more basic aspect of language! Yet students need to learn speaking skills and have opportunities to practice making their voices heard in a safe and constructive environment. Speaking skills are important because:
- Skilled speakers can effectively present their own points of view.
- Skilled speakers are often better readers and writers.
- Skilled speakers are more confident participants in a variety of contexts – both in and out of school.
- Skilled speakers are able to advocate for themselves and get their academic and emotional needs met.
Which Skills Matter?
One of the reasons teachers might feel hesitant about teaching speaking skills is that it can feel overwhelming. Oral language is complex, and in order to teach it properly, we need to deconstruct it into separate skills. The following skills are important to consider when working on speech with students:Mechanical SkillsStudents need to learn how to project, or speak at the right volume for their audience to hear them. They need to learn how to use intonation to express mood and how to pronounce words properly.
They must also learn how to pace their spoken language so that they are neither too fast nor too slow to be understood.Organizational SkillsJust as students must learn to organize their writing, they must learn how to organize, or structure in a meaningful way, their oral language. This means talking in logical sequence, stating thoughts in an order that makes sense, and making sure the spoken word is relevant to the topic of conversation.Expressive SkillsOne of the most important aspects of speaking is expression, or the ability to effectively communicate ideas and feelings. Students must learn how to say what is on their mind or make oral arguments that get their points across.Pragmatic SkillsFinally, students who are learning speaking skills must gain experience with pragmatics, or the aspect of language that has to do with social norms and the rules of conversations.
Students need practice taking turns in conversation, making eye contact while speaking, and responding appropriately during dialogues.
Collaboration and Conversation
Now that you know about some of the skills in speaking that are important, you are probably wondering how to help students learn these skills. One strategy is collaboration and conversation. By putting students in small groups or partnerships and giving them pre-selected topics to discuss, scripts to practice together, or questions to work on answering, you give them a chance to listen to one another and put their oral language skills to use.
Being an effective conversation partner involves all of the skills of language, but students might need help getting started, keeping a conversation going, and reflecting on what did or did not go well in a spoken conversation. Conversation is especially useful for students who need to practice their expressive and pragmatic skills.
Presentation and Performance
Another strategy to help students develop their language skills is presentation and performance.
More preparation usually goes into presentations and performances than into collaboration and conversation, so this is a good strategy for students who need to practice organizational skills. You will want to give students explicit guidelines in terms of
- What their presentations should be about
- How long they should be
- Who they should anticipate in the audience
After students present their work orally, be sure you provide feedback that addresses the spoken language of their presentation as well as the content they were working with.
Finally, an important strategy for language skills is metacognition, or the awareness of how your own mind works. Teach students about the different skills involved in speaking and help them understand their own strengths and weaknesses. The more that you can help students become aware of their own language skills, the better equipped they will be to practice even without your help.
As teachers, it is really important for us to help students develop their speaking skills.
By understanding all of the different aspects of oral language, we can pinpoint what our students are good at and what areas might require help. Important speaking skills may fall into one of the following categories:
- Mechanical skills
- Organizational skills
- Expressive skills
- Pragmatic skills
Once these skills have been mastered, students should be able to:
- Project (speak at the right volume for their audience to hear them)
- Organize (structure in a meaningful way) their oral language
- Express themselves (demonstrating the ability to effectively communicate ideas and feelings)
- Keep pragmatics (the aspect of language that has to do with social norms and the rules of conversations) in mind
Giving students opportunities to converse and collaborate orally, to present or perform using spoken language, and to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses are all good strategies for teaching speaking skills to students.