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Masters in Educational Practice: Literacy


Reading early


Oracy and early reading

There is a wealth of evidence that supports the view that children should have the opportunity to develop good oracy skills in order to be 'reading ready'. Robin Alexander, who is a leading academic on researching classroom talk, states that:

Talk is essential to children's thinking and learning and to their productive engagement in classroom life, especially in the early and primary years. There can no longer be any doubt that oracy should feature prominently within any statutory National Curriculum.

Source: Primary View (external link)

This view is further supported in a report from Estyn:

When pupils have limited oral skills, this has a direct effect on their early progress in developing reading and writing skills.

Improving pupils' oracy skills must therefore be a vital component of schools' work to raise standards of reading and writing.

Best practice in the reading and writing of pupils aged five to seven years, Estyn, 2009

There is some debate about what the term oracy actually means. Some people prefer speaking and listening while others refer to language across the curriculum. The following activity might help define your thinking on this aspect of the literacy curriculum.

Activity 6.1

With reference to the quotes from Alexander and Estyn, discuss with your colleagues your understanding of the term 'oracy'. Do you have a shared understanding of what it means in your learning environment? Does it involve speaking, listening and collaborative work? Does it include spoken language across the curriculum?

Developing this shared definition and understanding will give clarity to your provision.

Types of talk (oracy)

Alexander (2006) describes five types of classroom talk, which can be summarised as follows.

  1. ROTE (teacher-class): drilling of facts and ideas through repetition.
  2. RECITATION (teacher-class or teacher-group): asking questions for recall or to cue learner answers.
  3. INSTRUCTION/EXPOSITION (teacher-class, or teacher-group or teacher-individual): giving learners information or explanations.
  4. DISCUSSION (teacher-class, or teacher-group or learner-learner): sharing ideas and information and solving problems.
  5. DIALOGUE (teacher-class, teacher-group, teacher-learner or learner-learner): building a common understanding through structured questions and purposeful discussion.

The first three of these types of talk may have value, but if learners are to take responsibility for their own learning they need to engage in formative discussion and dialogue with the teacher and with each other.

The document Exploring the principles of formative assessment (external link) goes into greater detail.

Activity 6.2

Choose one of the Foundation Phase oracy skills from the LNF. Using your own planning documentation, show how the different types of classroom talk might be included in your provision in order to address the skill.

To further support your planning, you may like to consider the points highlighted in this document, entitled Tips for developing Oracy.

Oracy and early sound discrimination

So far, you have thought about oracy in the terms of general pedagogy and developing children's thinking. However, this may or may not be particularly related to learning and teaching early reading. There are specific skills of oracy that help children succeed in reading through a phonics-led approach. These include being able to:

  • 'tune in' to speech sounds both in their own speech and imitating others
  • discriminate between sounds (loud/quiet, high/low)
  • tune in to sounds in the environment
  • repeat rhythms and rhymes
  • sing new words to familiar tunes.

The planning for phonics checklist (external link) may be useful in helping to further identify those skills that support phonics learning and teaching. Look through and highlight those that will support the acquisition of early sound discrimination.

Activity 6.3

Consider your results from the activity 'Planning for talk' in relation to the specific skills needed to support the teaching of early phonics. Are there activities which provide opportunities for:

  • Direct teaching?
  • Practising the skill?
  • Applying the skill in different contexts?
  • Assessment?


As a conclusion to this sub-topic, you may like to use the following quotes as points for discussion and reflection. The first comments on the more general skills of oracy while the second relates these skills to the teaching of early reading:

Of the barriers facing the youngest children in the providers surveyed, a common problem was some form of delay of their development in speech and language. In one nursery visited, for example, where almost all children were of White British origin, approximately 30% of the three-year-olds started nursery with a marked speech delay. Another common problem that placed children at early disadvantage was a disturbed start to their lives. In one nursery visited, most of the two-year-olds had already had some form of social care intervention by the time they joined the nursery. (p.14)

Source: Ofsted: Removing barriers to literacy (external link)

And in relation to early reading:

In the schools visited in the first year of the survey, the teaching of phonics was both less evident and less consistently effective than that seen in the second year. For example, in three of the early years settings, adults judged that their children were 'not yet ready for phonics work'. They planned for speaking and listening activities – an important precursor for work in phonics. However, the planning did not systematically identify the precise listening and oral skills that enable most young children to distinguish quickly between speech sounds and blend and segment sounds in words orally (p. 24).

Source: Ofsted: Removing barriers to literacy (external link)

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