Talk Towers

This idea will help children focus on the type of discussion they have had. It will give them a physical way of seeing the quality of their discussion.

What do you do?

Each group will have a set of Lego bricks to represent each child’s contribution to the discussion. When a child has spoken they will add a brick to the group’s tower. Each child will add a brick to the tower after they have spoken provided the contribution built on what was said previously. If the contribution did not build on what was previously said then a new tower is started.

This is quite a powerful exercise as it will demonstrate how successful a group has been and the quality of the discussion. If you have a number of very small towers then you will clearly see that the group were not particularly good at building on others’ ideas. They would then perhaps need to focus on what others’ have said in order to develop one line of inquiry rather than too many.

Fish Bowl

Not the sort with fish in it!

The idea of this is to set up two circles – an inner circle and an outer circle. The inner circle have a discussion while the outer circle listen to the discussion. The outer circle give feedback about the discussion after having observed it.

The focus for the outer circle is observation and listening skills. You can ask them to focus on specific things such as summarize what they have heard or perhaps ask them to have a focus linked to the Oracy Framework.

Filming discussions

A great way to give the children awareness of their discussions is to film them. It can be very enlightening to review a discussion by watching it back. I did this with a class to demonstrate to them that when they all talk at once nothing is achieved. They were quite taken aback at how this looked and how ineffective this was. From watching this film we were able to discuss what we should be doing and put things in place to learn from this and move forward. We used tokens for the children who dominated the talk and when we filmed the children a second time the discussion flowed much better enabling more children to have a turn talking.

Talk detectives

So lets think a little more about talking about talk and how we can teach the children the skills for doing this. Once children have become aware of a skill that you have taught you can then further develop this skill by encouraging the children to see the skill in conversations and discussions for themselves. This will deepen their understanding of the skill.

One such way to do this is to use talk detectives. The idea of this is to send a couple of children around the class with a clipboard and a few areas from the Oracy Framework to focus on. They will be encouraged to sneak around the class and listen in to discussions noting down when they see good examples of the things on their clipboard.

Take a look at the example of a talk detectives sheet below.

This can be used as a powerful tool to understand what makes effective discussion.

Praise for Oracy

All children like to be praised for things they are doing well. This can be a really good tool to employ to encourage children to use the skills you would like to develop. The children will feel motivated to use the skills you are praising others for.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of only praising things we can see easily such as ‘looking at the person who is talking’. Use the Oracy Framework to plan for oracy-specific praise. Check out the ideas below:

Physical – * Amazing, you were speaking at just the right volume for a trio. * Your body language showed me you were very open to others’ ideas.

Linguistic – * Great use of specialist vocabulary; you sounded like an expert! * All of the words you chose reinforced a sense of …

Cognitive – * It really helped me to understand your thinking when you used first, then, finally. * The example you gave was particularly powerful because …

Social and emotional – * Well done for inviting someone into the discussion. * I know you are listening really well because your body language and eye contact are showing me that.

(Transform Teaching and Learning Through Talk; Gaunt & Stott 2019)

Talk about talk

It is important to teach children about talk and what ‘good’ talk is. The only way to do this is to have regular conversations where you talk about talk. Evaluating what you have done is a vital part of the journey.

When I taught a class I encouraged the children to talk about the talk after each activity. It was really interesting to hear what the children had to say about their talk. I would scaffold the discussion by providing questions to consider such as:

  • Who took turns to talk well?
  • Who was a good listener? Why?
  • Who was a good speaker? Why?
  • Which role do you think was the most important in that conversation? Why?
  • How do you think we could improve that discussion?
  • What went well?
  • How did you know Child A was listening?
  • How did you reach a shared agreement?

Remember the four strands of Oracy in the Oracy Framework? Use these to help you talk about talk. Identify an area you want to work on and then use this to unpick what was good and what needed improvement in the conversation. Use the parts that have been identified as areas for improvement as a focus for a future discussion.

How can I help quieter children become better speakers?

There are a number of ways in which we can help the quieter, more anxious child to talk in group situations. Oracy can really support them and encourage them to speak without the level of anxiety they may have come to expect surrounding talking in group or class situations.

Sentence stems – These can be really helpful if a child does not know quite how to start what they want to say. It takes the pressure off and gives them to point at which to start.

Roles – these can be quite empowering for the quieter child. For example if you give the quieter child the role of the silent summarizer they will have the chance to listen quietly to the conversation taking place and then summarize what was said at the end. This will give a purpose for the talk and a chance for the child to consider what they will say in response to the conversation that took place.

Groupings – Once upon a time I would have grouped quieter children with slightly more talkative children to encourage them to talk or to take the pressure off them feeling like they had to talk. This approach does not wholly work as you can end up with the more dominant talkers taking over and doing all the talking. Why not try grouping all the quieter children together? This will take the pressure off in terms of feeling like they have to find a space to ‘butt’ into the conversation and instead of feeling the need to compete they may find they surprise themselves with the number of contributions they are actually able to make.

Talk tokens – Another way of providing equal opportunities for talk is to give each child in the group a set number of tokens. For the quieter child they have to use all their tokens which means they know they have to speak a set number of times. For the louder, more confident talker this can have the opposite effect in that it will limit the number of times they can talk. They will need to really think about when is the right time to contribute making the talk more meaningful.

Social and Emotional element of the Oracy framework

Consider the impact the listener has on the speaker. If you are bored and disinterested the speaker will loose confidence. Remember the role play I talked about in the post about the physical skills? This element goes hand in hand with that.

Some things to consider when listening are smiling, nodding and offering words of encouragement.