“Spoken language underpins the development of reading and writing. The quality and variety of language that pupils hear and speak are vital for developing their vocabulary and grammar and their understanding for reading and writing.” Department for Education, GOV.UK

No secondary English teacher I’ve met would disagree with the above statement. They might feel it is an ideal however that doesn’t always find its way into the classroom in the way we might hope. In some ways, the speaking and listening strand at KS4 no longer being worth 10% of the overall English GCSE Language grade might not be such a bad thing: it could allow classroom teachers to move further away from stilted, false and ‘tick-box’ tasks. With more flexibility, the often repetitive powerpoint presentations, fake customer complaint calls and awkward role plays could more easily become performance poetry, whole scene adaptations and storytelling linked to creative writing. Time has to still be mentioned as the age-old KS4 demon of course, but I still feel that a more creative approach here could be the key to unlocking children’s passion when it comes to English.

In Pie Corbett’s review of the new primary curriculum, he feels it has missed the opportunity “to grab teachers’ imagination and raise standards” by not explicitly including ‘story-telling’ in its spoken language element. He states that, ‘Talking like a book’ helps children internalise vocabulary and sentence structure, developing an elegant turn of phrase. Oral learning of written texts stretches back as far as Aristotle!” His Storytelling transition project with Chris Smith uses the story of Odysseus to help Year 6 children bust the myths of secondary school and use spoken language and narrative to ease fears and anxiety. In my last school, the storytelling techniques worked amazingly for KS3, 4 and 5 alike when it came to understanding plot, identifying narrative devices and exploring potential meaning.

I’d say that Pie Corbett’s techniques being implemented at KS2-3 then go a long way to allowing a more creative approach to speaking and listening in the classroom at KS4 – as a part of everyday literacy practice and engagement with reading. Visits to the Storytelling Museum all round!

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rachel headshotRachel Wallace Rachel Wallace is a former English teacher and KS3/4 Leader. Easyread is an online intervention for children with reading difficulties, dyslexia, auditory processing problems and more. www.oxfordlearningsolutions.com