Reading Time: 3 minutes

Teaching young students how to speak is the most important area of learning. The best practice embeds speaking and listening across all aspects and areas of their education.

Students use speaking and listening to solve problems, speculate, share ideas, make decisions and reflect on what is important. Social relations in the classroom depend on talk, and students’ confidence and attitudes to learning are affected by friendships and positive interaction. Therefore, having the right words to express their thoughts, to rationalise their ideas, and talk about their feelings and viewpoints are essential for all facets of education. Teaching basic speaking skills has a key role in all subjects and areas of learning.

Many students come to school with limited skills in the language of instruction. Teaching must help them overcome their fears by making talk a positive and interesting experience. Success must be celebrated and the learning of new vocabulary and phrases should be a planned and a satisfying experience. Adults should speak slowly and clearly to facilitate pronunciation and understanding. New words need to be repeated frequently until the students are con dent to use them for themselves. Ultimately, most students should be able to speak clearly and express their ideas using appropriate vocabulary.

Teachers must plan to use specific words and phrases directly linked to the activities set for students. This will help young students learn quickly and in a meaningful way. Teachers must play alongside students, using the new vocabulary and helping learners to practise and use them for themselves. Planning activities to promote discussion is an essential way of teaching students how to engage in conversation. For example, using open questions such as, “What do you…? Why have you…? How do you…?” cannot be answered with one word. These questions encourage students to speak in phrases or sentences. By using these open questions during sand, water or construction play; students will become familiar with a range of mathematical and scientific language. New vocabulary must always relate to what students are doing now or to what is actually happening in the classroom.

Extend the variety and range of vocabulary through well-chosen stories that have attractive illustrations and repetitive meaningful phrases. Students can then rehearse new words and phrases during the story and re-enact them in role-play. Use rhymes, poetry and songs to help them see patterns and humour in words. Encourage students to bring in objects of specific interest to them, and to talk about them within small group situations.

Creativity, understanding and imagination can be fostered through discussion. Encourage students to talk with each other by allocating talk partners. The teacher poses an open question and each student has to speak out their ideas in turn to their partner. Students must also be taught how to become active listeners. They must look at the person speaking, and respond only when their partner has finished. A few responses can be shared with the whole group.


• Plan specific vocabulary and phrases, to be used each week, by the entire teaching team.

• Post the new words and phrases around the classroom as memory recall for adults.

• Encourage students to speak out as they play.

• Engage students into talks about the here and now, and pose open questions during activities.

• Role model conversations with talking partners.


Hoff E. (2009) “Language Development”

Julia Dockrell, Morag Stuart and Diane Kind (2004) “Talking Time: Supporting effective practice in preschool provision” London Institute of Education.

By Gianna Ulyatt

Gianna has extensive experience as a teacher, principal, and inspector. She is a consultant with expertise in KG and has spoken at conferences in Hong Kong, Spain and the U.K. She sometimes works in the UAE. To connect with her, email giannaulyatt@