Active speaker/listener: Guide for parents and carers

How parents, carers and mentors can help

  • If pupils have a talk or presentation to prepare, help them to organise it by focusing on the needs of the listeners. At this stage they should be thinking about ways to involve the listeners by using a range of techniques including:
    • figures of speech, such as rhetorical questions
    • visual aids
    • slideshows using software such as PowerPoint.
  • Treatment of the topic will need to be more detailed now but the talk must retain clarity.
  • Talk with pupils about how they might try consciously to include gestures when they are making a presentation in order to improve the effectiveness. Point out how politicians and other professional speakers use gestures and other forms of non-verbal communication on television.
  • At this stage in discussions, youngsters should not only be listening to what others say but they should be thinking about what might be behind the statements (the so-called sub-text). Talk about examples of this as they crop up either in real situations or on television. For instance:
    • Interviewer: Will you cut spending on hospitals?
    • Politician: We have no plans for that at this time. (Sub-text: I’m not ruling it out.)
  • Whenever you notice interesting examples of the way spoken language varies (accents, dialects, slang, very formal language and so on) draw attention to it and start a discussion about why this happens. The focus at this stage should be to encourage the young speaker to explain what is happening and to see how it affects listeners.

General advice for supporting young speakers and listeners

Speaking and listening is an important part of English and pupils are formally assessed on this aspect of their work as part of GCSE. Confidence is important but pupils who are very confident and speak out freely may be poor listeners and may not always speak to the point. Shyer pupils may be better listeners and need to be encouraged to share their ideas more readily. As a parent or carer, you will have a very clear view about your child’s speaking and listening and can help by reinforcing the strengths and offering encouragement in the weaker areas.

Teachers are required to assess speaking and listening in particular ways which may not be familiar to you. There are four main aspects of speaking and listening in which pupils need to make progress.

  • Talking to others
  • Talking with others
  • Talking within role-play and drama
  • Talking about talk

Talking to others

In this aspect, teachers will look at how well pupils can express their ideas on a topic, probably after some time for planning and preparation. As pupils progress, they will talk for longer and about more complex subject matters. They will develop the ability to organise what they say in order to communicate well with their listeners and be increasingly able to adapt the way they speak to suit different situations.

If your child is preparing a talk for homework, you could:

  • make sure your child is clear about the topic and has thought about what the audience will already know or think about it
  • discuss ideas about the topic and try to develop them further
  • listen to a quick summary to see if the content is clear
  • listen to a practice run-through of the talk and give constructive and encouraging feedback
  • check that the language is appropriately formal or informal to match the situation
  • boost his/her confidence by praising strengths such as good choice of vocabulary, clear organisation of ideas, and confident use of gestures and eye contact.

Talking with others

In this aspect teachers will consider how well your child can use talk in conversation or discussion with others. The ability to listen well to others and talk in ways that show understanding and help the discussion work are important features of this. For example, if pupils are working together in a group to solve a problem or complete a task they might take on different roles, such as making sure that everyone contributes ideas, or summarising what has been said so far and moving the discussion to the next stage.

To help your child build the skills needed for this aspect you could:

  • discuss activities, current affairs, topical issues, and plans and events, for example:
    • What shall we do tomorrow if the weather is good?
    • Do you agree that she should havew on X Factor?
    • How do you respond to that TV news or documentary programme?
  • play board games that encourage cooperation and negotiation, such as ‘Trivial Pursuit’
  • encourage turn taking, and listening to and responding to other people’s views respectfully
  • discourage interrupting and contradiction of others.

Talking within role-play and drama

Within drama and English lessons, pupils will sometimes take part in activities where they pretend to be someone else and speak and respond in role. For instance, they might be asked to imagine they are a character from a book that the class is reading and then respond to questions as that character would. Working in role is important because it develops understanding and empathy with characters and situations. Pupils won’t be expected to be great actors but they must be willing to put themselves into someone else’s shoes, adapt the way they speak and use gestures.

To help with these skills at home you could:

  • have fun doing impressions of celebrities, TV performers or characters from soaps
  • play confidence-building games like charades
  • explore situations by imagining different people's responses, for example 'What will grandad say when he finds out about your good report?'

Talking about talk

Pupils should develop the ability to reflect on the way they and other people use talk and think about how and why speech varies in different contexts. For example, they should understand what is formal and informal and what is polite and impolite. They should be aware of different accents and dialects and discuss the impact that different types of talk have.

To help with this you could:

  • talk about why some language is offensive and why it is important to be aware of the effect language has on others. For example, have a discussion about what you really mean by statements like, ‘Speak nicely to your nana’
  • discuss why you speak differently on the telephone depending on who you are talking to
  • talk about different accents and dialects that you hear on TV or radio programmes, and the impact accents and dialects have
  • celebrate your own accent or dialect by talking about particular words or pronunciations you use.