Let’s Talk Oral Communication

October 12, 2017

Alix Horton, NTN Literacy Coach

Learning how to effectively scaffold instruction for English Language Learners taught me that  if you want to boost your students’ content understanding, ask them to talk about it in meaningful and purposeful ways. Ask students (and not just ELL students) to talk about content that matters, both informally to each other as well as more formally in presentations, and they’ll learn more (see, for example, “Why Talk Is Important in Classrooms” by Fisher, et al). That’s one big reason why I’m thrilled about New Tech’s revised Oral Communication rubrics, because they encourage more active conversation about content. They allow you to assess students during more casual conversations as well as during presentations, and the specific rubric descriptors help you determine how to support students with the oral communication skills they need.

Informal Oral Communication

On the informal side, there’s a new “Interpersonal” section, designed to allow you to assess and scaffold students’ oral communication skills when they’re speaking more informally about content related to projects and problems.

How might you use this section of the rubric?

  • Socratic Seminar:  Model and practice what a particular indicator (bullet) from the interpersonal section would look and sound like. Ask students to set a goal for themselves and ask them to reflect on whether they met that goal after the discussion. Or have students self-assess, using the rubric.
  • Fishbowl: Ask students on the outside circle to pick one student. Ask the person in the outside circle to track who the inside student responds to- maybe even draw a web. Ask them to share one piece of positive feedback and one piece of constructive feedback with the student in the inner circle, based on the interpersonal section of the rubric.
  • Think-Pair-Shares and Round Robins (where a small group of students each share, without interruption from others, until everyone has had a chance to say something): Model, set goals, and self-assess, similar to what you might do in a Socratic Seminar. These structures might be nice to scaffold students’ participation in something more challenging, like a Socratic Seminar.
  • One-On-One Conference: Quickly assess students’ oral communication skills based on the conversation.
  • And lots more! Have other ideas? We’d love it if you shared in the comments below!

We’re hoping that the addition of this section to the rubric gives you more opportunities to assess, but also scaffold, oral communication for students.

Formal Oral Communication

On the more formal side, you’ll also notice that we divided the rubric into a “Presentation” section and a “Delivery” section. Our hope here was that it would be easier for you to figure out what you might assess individually vs. in a group. Specifically, we designed the rubric so that you could use the “Delivery” section to individually assess a particular student on their presentation delivery skills, while you can use the “Presentation” section to assess a group’s presentation in its entirety.

How might you use this section of the rubric?

  • Presentation practice session: Give quick individual and group feedback after a presentation practice session, or have students self-reflect or provide peer feedback. You might even use the peer assessment tool in Echo to have students give each other feedback.
  • End of project presentation: Give individual and group feedback for an end of project presentation. You might also have students self-reflect.
  • Panel feedback on presentation: Ask community members serving on a presentation panel to give feedback on particular oral communication skills.
  • Please share your own ideas in the comments!

Supporting Students With Oral Communication Skills

Ultimately, students will only improve their oral communication skills if they have opportunities to see models, to practice, and to reflect. And that’s where we hope the individual indicators, or bullets, will help. For example, you might decide that you’re going to focus on a particular indicator for a project. You might decide that the indicator, “After listening, can synthesize main points and reference key details” is a key goal for your students.

You could try:

  • Modeling: Model how you synthesize main points when you listen to students talk about content
  • Having students practice with a graphic organizer: Create a graphic organizer where students list main points from a group discussion or presentation and then weight and combine them into one main point
  • Having students practice in small groups: Have small group discussions about important content where you periodically stop the conversation and ask one student to synthesize the main points so far.
  • Providing additional support: You might have little cards ready with sentence starters or suggested vocabulary for English Language Learners or students who might need more support.

All of these activities will scaffold students’ oral communication skills- but they’ll also get students to dig deeper into content. By asking students to communicate informally and formally on important topics, and scaffolding and assessing them both individually and in groups using the Oral Communication rubric, you’ll build an essential 21st century skill- and you’ll also help them improve their knowledge and skills.

This blog originally appeared at Literacy for Living.

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