Making the connection between oracy and reading

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Many of the skills inherent to reading are developed through spoken language long before children learn to associate sound with print. Attending to children’s early spoken language development is a stepping stone towards building reading proficiency later on. 


And yet, Voice 21 Oracy Schools report that more students than ever are entering Reception with below age-related expectations in speech and language which can affect progress in literacy as children move through key stages. There are many reasons why students’ language levels differ on entry to school that we need to be responsive to. Importantly, in providing a high-quality oracy education, we can ensure access to a rich and supportive language experience in school that benefits all children.

So, what can we do to develop oracy education for our youngest learners?

Create a supportive culture of talk

A high-quality oracy education provides opportunities for children to learn both to talk and through talk. Many of the approaches that are fundamental to delivering an oracy education not only promote inclusive practice but also provide universal support for classroom talk. Much of the best practice in oracy is about creating routines, having clear expectations and providing appropriate scaffolds so all children can participate. To create routines around oracy, teachers might want to create Discussion Guidelines with their classes which can be used during guided activities for both praise and target setting around talk.

Plan explicitly for talk in areas of provision

The Oracy Framework is a helpful tool, enabling teachers to identify the skills involved in different contexts for talk and to plan for a range of experiences and encounters with spoken language. Teachers can view their provision through the lens of the framework, considering how children might use language differently in different areas. For example, how could a numeracy area be set up to elicit reasoning and hypothesising? Or how do the home and construction areas promote descriptive language and the structuring of narratives?

Promote high-quality verbal interactions

Engaging children in high-quality back and forth interactions supports Sustained Shared Thinking [1] (an approach adopted by many early years and Key Stage 1 practitioners) by modelling and engaging children in skills such as clarifying, predicting and describing – skills that support later reading processes. Voice 21's Talk Tactics for early language development are a tool designed to help teachers to support and challenge thinking in back-and-forth interactions with children.

Support English language learners

Students learning English as an additional language benefit from a high-quality oracy education, both because it mimics the way that we learn our first language, through oral interaction, and because it can be the ideal way to acquire vocabulary and learn the grammar of a new language. It’s important to recognise where students are in their English language learning. For learners who are very new to English, there is a typical ‘silent phase’ [2] where realistically they may not speak much but will benefit from listening and language modelling by both teachers and peers.

Importantly, we need to view the languages students bring with them to the classroom as an asset rather than a barrier to their literacy development in English. Encouraging students to use their first languages in the classroom can support their learning and help establish a sense of belonging too. [3]

Harness oracy as a vehicle for vocabulary learning

Voice 21’s Voicing Vocabulary Report (2021–23) identified that an oracy-rich approach to vocabulary development not only accelerates students’ progress in reading but makes them more confident to share their ideas and thinking with others. In this study, we concluded that the active ingredients to create an oracy-rich approach to vocabulary development are:

1.     Establishing a shared understanding of oracy.

2.     Prioritising vocabulary in strategic planning.

3.     Contextualising and rehearsing new vocabulary through talk.

4.     Monitoring ownership of new vocabulary through talk.

5.     Collaborating across key stages to understand how vocabulary progresses.

Whilst this project focused on vocabulary development at the Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3 transition, the underpinning principles behind this approach are transferable across phases. You can read the full report and watch accompanying videos by following this link

Building voices of the future

Ultimately, all children should be given the opportunity to have their voice heard, but to do that, educators need to purposely plan for and develop the oracy skills needed for communication in a range of contexts. As teachers, parents or resource providers, we all have a part to play and together we can help to unlock children’s reading, writing and language skills – empowering them to leap into the brightest of futures.

[1] Allen and Whalley, 2010, Allen, S., and Whalley, M., E. (2010) Supporting Pedagogy and Practice in Early Years Settings. Exeter: Learning Matters.

[2] Robert William McCaul, 2016, Can we learn a second language like we learned our first? | British Council.

[3] García, O., & Lin, A. M. Y. (2016). Translanguaging in bilingual education. In O. García, A. M. Y. Lin, & S. May (Eds.), Bilingual and Multilingual Education (Encyclopedia of Language and Education) (pp. 117-130). Switzerland: Springer. 

In partnership with Voice 21

This blog post was written by Kathleen McBride, Senior Learning and Innovation Lead at Voice 21. This blog follows a recent webinar we held in collaboration with Voice 21, which focused on how early language development supports reading, and vice versa. If you'd like to catch up on this webinar, you can watch a recording here.


We're committed to supporting schools on their oracy journey. We want to help set every pupil on the road to achieve their potential with the ability to articulate their thoughts, ideas, and opinions with confidence – no child should be left behind.

Explore our oracy key principles and more