10 ways to develop speaking and listening skills

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By Sue Palmer independent literacy specialist

Don’t bog yourself down in training materials, go with your instincts – Sue Palmer shares her top tips for making speaking and listening fun, cross-curricular and manageable!

Speaking and listening

Two years ago a ‘Speaking and Listening Box’ arrived in schools, courtesy of QCA and the National Literacy Strategy – but I must admit I haven’t seen many people using it. It’s not as if teachers don’t realise the importance of children’s language development and listening skills – as one said during an INSET on writing, ‘Children can’t write until they can talk, and they can’t talk until they can listen… and they can’t listen!’ Indeed, most teachers are worried stiff about poor speaking and listening skills.

I reckon one reason the Box hasn’t helped much is that it’s so daunting. Inundated with training material in recent years, many teachers found this a box too far – especially when they opened it and discovered 67 new objectives! Personally, I think these objectives gave the wrong message. Speaking and listening aren’t something you address in a particular lesson, once or twice a week – they should underpin everything that happens in a primary classroom, every hour of every day.

Another problem is that the Box is very aspirational, assuming levels of attentiveness and linguistic ability way beyond many classes. It doesn’t answer teachers’ two great questions:

“Speaking and listening aren’t something you address in a particular lesson”

  • How do you gain and maintain the attention of children reared on fast-moving, noisy TV programmes?
  • How do you develop language in children who seem to have little experience outside school beyond staring at a screen?
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