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?


Elements that influence the language and structure of oral texts


Today we looked at resource 4.6.1 from the Skills for Life Quality Initiative, and I thought about how differing contexts influence language and structure.

Discussion between a parent and child

Element Influences Type
Audience ·         Register

·         Style

·         Tone

Informal (very) but in some cases may be more formal.
Simplified (depends on context), conversational, familiar or intimateAuthoritative, gentle, understanding, sarcastic
Mode Written or spoken Spoken in a discussion between parent and child – face to face, phone, video call
Purpose ·         Genre or text type

·         Format
·         Language functions

Informal discussion about their day, reprimand about messiness or homework, parents caught lying!

Dialogue – 2 interlocutors

To inform, to explain, persuade, instruct, entertain etc

Topic Lexis It depends what they’re talking about e.g. niche, specific topics, using their idiolect possibly, different registers and different varieties of English

Discussion with a counsellor

Element Influences Type
Audience ·         Register

·         Style
·         Tone

Relatively formal depending on the type of social context the discussion happens in e.g. in a work setting vs meeting them at a fundraiser.
Distant, impersonal, jargon used
Authoritative, lexical choices
Mode Written or spoken Spoken
Purpose ·         Genre or text type
·         Format
·         Language functions
Complaint, formal debate

Conference, possibly 2 or more speakers

To inform, to explain, to argue, to instruct

Topic Lexis Niche/use of jargon, SE, lexical choices changed to suit audience
Notes on what the texts have in common and how they differ:

Both texts are spoken and are dependent on the genre. Influences often overlap – for example style can also be part of lexis. Both depend on gauging the above features from the other speaker’s/s’ point of view and being able to adapt accordingly. For example, if a counsellor is trying to generalise in a debate, I might try to personalise and contextualise my response. I might also try to assimilate my language towards the speaker, or distance myself through the use of more informal language and regional dialects to either make a point (stylistic) or to make the other person seem less of a threat as I see them as more educated than myself (sociolinguistic).

Accent, dialect and idiolect


Today we looked at:

  • Define accent, dialect, idiolect and SE
  • Describe how context affects use of SE (covered in SE post)

Accent – Oxford Dictionaries defines accent as ‘A distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particularcountry, area, or social class:’

Dialect – Oxford Dictionaries defines dialect as ‘A particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group

Idiolect – Oxford Dictionaries define idiolect as ‘The speech habits peculiar to a particular person’.

Standard English – Oxford Dictionaries define Standard English as ‘The form of the English language widely accepted as the usual correct form’.

What are the most important things you have learned from this session? (include any comments about yourself as a learner)

I was familiar with the terms before the course, so for me this is an opportunity for me to brush up on my knowledge.

Next steps? 

I’d like to research the effects of the Liverpool accent and dialect on literacy teaching.