Oral Language skills are the combination of speaking and listening. It is how people communicate verbally. According to WIDA, oral language includes linguistic complexity (the amount and variety of language used), language forms and conventions (variety of grammatical structures and conventions), and vocabulary usage (general and technical language). All students, especially multilingual learners (MLs), need practice with oral language. First, I’ll share some challenges and possible solutions for improving student’s oral language skills. Then, I will go over tips for supporting oral language skills with MLs.
A student is in the silent period or is too shy to speak in front of a large group.
- Include opportunities for whole group speaking, small group speaking, and partner speaking opportunities.
- Create a safe and welcoming classroom environment. This will help to lower the student’s affective filter and increase their confidence.
- Give opportunities for students to listen to a question and respond nonverbally (such as by drawing or pointing to a picture).
- Give sentence frames and sentence stems that model how to structure the answer.
Tips for Supporting Oral Language Skills
Use general topics to practice a language structure before using the same structure with content information.
Task cards with pictures are a quick way to introduce or review speaking and listening. If students are learning to compare and contrast, have them select a card and share their answers with a partner. Then, the partner listens to the answer and tells if they agree or disagree.
I agree because _____. I disagree because ______. I agree but also think _____.
Next, students can listen to a story and compare and contrast using the same sentence frames.
Use Pictures to Support Vocabulary Development
Speaking and listening can be challenging if you are unfamiliar with the topic’s vocabulary. Use pictures to build student’s vocabulary. Then, support them using sentence frames to form simple and complex sentences.
Read more about labeling pictures to support ELLs.
Support Oral Language Skills by Focusing on Practicing Listening Skills
One component of oral language is listening. Set up activities where the focus is on carefully listing and then responding (by speaking, drawing, or writing) to what you hear.
Following directions is one activity where students can practice their listening skills. Give students a picture of a map. The teacher gives a series of directions, and the student figures out what the final location is. Eventually, students can take over the role of giving directions to a partner.
Read more about practicing listing skills with MLs.
Support Oral Language Skills by Focusing on Practicing Speaking Skills
QSSA is a way to give structure to the traditional turn-and-talk activity. In it, students are given an open-ended question. They give a signal when they have thought of their answer. This gives students wait time and allows for greater participation. Give students a sentence stem. This gives all students support in creating a grammatically correct answer and provides additional support for students who are unsure of their answers. Finally, have students share. Have students share with a partner or in a small group before sometimes having a few students share in the larger group.
Read more about practicing speaking skills with MLs.
Resources for Supporting Oral Language Development