Developing speaking and listening in literacy


Speaking and listening

During CELTA, and throughout my PGDE in ESOL, it was quite literally drummed into us that we should reduce our teacher talk time. At the time I took little notice really. It was like some alien theory and I had little experience of the implications to actually relate it to. Years on though, I’ve found myself falling into the trap. It’s easy. It’s so easy to do.

In order to make a conscious effort to address this, I have researched a little to refresh my memory, and have produced a checklist. Checklists are my way forward. Otherwise, I have a nasty habit of forgetting.

Why it’s important

  • We know language – it gives learners a chance to explore it for themselves

Reflective practice activity – from ‘Improving Speaking and Listening Skills: A practical guide of Skills for Life teachers (2007, p.84) accessed via

  • How much learner talk is there in comparison to practitioner talk?

I’d say half and half. Truthfully speaking, I think because my confidence is sometimes under my own scrutiny, I tend to talk a lot. For me, it takes a conscious effort to shift the balance and it’s quite a selfish thing I’m doing. Learners sometimes have beginner study skills, so I think I over talk situations in an effort to try to explain ideas. Learners do talk in the classroom, but it’s usually about external things such as their housing situations, money and life; all the things that are worrying them outside of the classroom.

  • Do you give learners opportunities to discuss in pairs, small groups and as a whole group?

I have sometimes found this difficult. In college, when we are asked to discuss an idea, we jump on the task quickly as we know exactly what we should be discussing. I think sometimes learners aren’t aware of what they should or shouldn’t be discussing, so structured and specific questions could be set in order to help them along. They also need to know why they are discussing something. If they don’t know the purpose of the activity, how can they meet the bar I’ve set for them.

  • How do you enable learners to talk about things they are not sure about, to explore and develop their thinking?


When setting a task, I usually tell learners if they are not sure of something, then they should ask.

I think I could do this better. Some other options are to encourage learners to:

  • ask each other
  • use dictionaries
  • use the internet to check their ideas
  • I should be explicit, and ask them to think of ways they can get clarification – they may come up with some better ideas/more likely to use them!
  • How do you ensure that learners respect each other’s contributions to a discussion?

I suppose I should say through the ground rules that they set at the start of the term. Quite often, I can have a different class at the start of term than the end of term so they become redundant. Also, I have always felt them a little patronising, and easily forgotten about. Interruptions are always on the list of any rules that are made. This leads me to two questions. Do I spend more time going back to the ground rules they set when someone interrupts, or show them alternative ways of discussion? A beginner reader isn’t a beginner speaker, but how many learners actually know how to respect each other in discussion? How many know when to interrupt? How many know how to give their opinion? How many know how to receive someone else’s opinion? Throw on top of this complex needs, a toughness that comes from deprivation, and you end up with a class spiralling out of control.

Hostels are laden with rules, and the company I work for have their own Code of Conduct. Is it really necessary to set another set of rules? I’m not so sure.

I lean towards the latter idea of promoting speaking and listening skills and teaching the conventions. Saying this, I know I need to ensure this is covered in class more.


  • Give learners a chance to talk/discuss in class and make sure they know why they are performing these tasks.
  • Ask learners what they can do if they want clarification on something
  • Plan for discussion – respect each other’s opinion/turn-taking, interruptions – research S&L more. Do I know what I’m expecting yet?


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