Building a Talk Community – developing Oracy

(Some of our Oracy Leaders at a Voice 21 ‘Oracy Across The Curriculum’ training event)

Building a community of readers, writers and talkers (and listeners!) is at the heart of our mission as a school. These three life-skills are so integrated that it is often hard to think about the development of one without considering its connection and impact on another. As James Britton (Educationalist, 1970) once said: “Reading and Writing Float on a Sea of Talk”.

So far this year, we have started to ‘sow the seeds’ in the building of our Reading Community (see previous post) and it is now that we turn our attention specifically to Oracy. Our decision to use this term is largely due to the partnership we have started with Voice 21 and the importance of establishing a shared language about developing talk-related skills. The State of Speaking in our Schools report, produced by Voice 21, summarises its findings by saying:

• Oracy can be defined as the development of children’s capacity to use speech to express their thoughts and communicate with others in education and in life, and talk through which teaching and learning is mediated.
• Teachers recognise that oracy can represent both learning to talk and learning through talk.

This was our starting point; we began by exploring what ‘Oracy’ means to our school community and what it currently looks like. The feedback showed that we believe lots of talk activities happen in lessons, but of particular interest were people’s feelings about some of the barriers to developing talk further. These included:

  • Students having poor listening skills
  • Behavioural issues
  • Students’ lack of confidence
  • Off-task chatter
  • A fear of speaking in front of peers (being judged and looking silly)
  • The classroom environment
  • Language issues/lack of vocabulary (especially with regards EAL students)
  • More confident students overshadowing others
  • Lack of maturity
  • The need to create a culture of talking
  • MFL – fear of mispronouncing words
  • Experience – not enough opportunities
  • Time for talk activities (pressure of covering specification content at KS4/5)
  • Looking at the curriculum as a whole (rather than individual lessons)
  • Misuse of language
  • The development of talk skills is usually associated with English (and not Maths for example)
  • The dominance of teacher talk
  • Explicit teaching of talk skills needed
  • Unsupervised pair talk often leads to unproductive chatter
  • Fear of ‘lower ability’ students not benefitting
  • Trying to keep students on track
  • A shortage of resources to support the development of talk
  • Challenges of ‘capturing the learning’
  • The low status of Oracy (Government, student and teacher perspectives)
  • Cultural differences (especially with regards the physical elements of talk – i.e. eye-contact)
  • Having something to say

We have also started by developing our knowledge of talk-related research, looking in particular at the work of Robin Alexander (Dialogic Teaching), Neil Mercer (Exploratory Talk) and Lyn Dawes (Talking Points).

A group of Lead Practitioners across the school have now been to their first Oracy training event with Voice 21 and have since shared some of their learning in a whole-school Professional Learning Briefing. One of the ideas communicated was the idea of having similar ‘Guidelines for Discussion’ in every classroom across the school so that we continue to develop a shared language and set of expectations around Oracy:

Discussion Guidelines:

  • We give proof of listening
  • We respect others’ ideas
  • We build, challenge, summarise, clarify, and probe each other’s ideas
  • We are prepared to change our mind
  • We invite others into our discussion
  • We try to reach shared agreement

Several classroom activities to develop talk were also shared and used during the session including Back-to-back, Fed in facts and Story Telling/Mapping. Click here for a more detailed and visual explanation of this.





A celebration of ‘Reading for Pleasure’ – Our journey so far


(Teachers and Librarians from across Buckinghamshire (and Teresa Cremin!) reading copies of First News)

On 10th January, we hosted an event in conjunction with the National Literacy Trust and First News celebrating ‘Reading for Pleasure’ and highlighting the importance of developing students’ critical literacy skills and reading of news. Professor Teresa Cremin from the Open University also gave a keynote on reading for pleasureand Nicolette Smallshaw from First News, led a discussion on the role of newspapers, magazines and discussion of news aa driver for reading.

The evening began with a presentation of St Michael’s journey in the building of their Reading Community. As a result, it has been suggested that we apply for the Egmont Reading for Pleasure award in association with the Open University and the UKLA. A copy of the application can be seen by clicking here.

The event was indeed a wonderful celebration of reading, full of inspiration and ideas in how to build successful and effective communities of readers.

Jennifer Killick – our wonderful Patron of Reading

What is a Patron of Reading?

“A Patron of Reading is a school’s special children’s author, poet, storyteller or illustrator. The school and their patron develop a relationship over a period of time. Everything the patron does is related to helping encourage and develop a reading for pleasure culture in the school: book quizzes, blogs, book recommendations, discussions, plays, poetry bashes, blogs, book trailers and visits. The possibilities are virtually endless.”


At the start of this year, we received the wonderful news that Jennifer Killick would be our Patron of Reading. Jennifer is a children’s author and her latest book, ‘Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink’ was selected by the Reading Agency as one of the titles for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge ‘Animal Agents’.

To coincide with the official opening of our new library, Jennifer came in to school for the day to do an author talk assembly to our primary students and to then lead a number of creative writing workshops with Y5 and Y6 students. These events were wonderfully received by students, several of whom went home that day with personal signed copies of Jennifer’s book. She was certainly the ‘star attraction’ at the opening of our new library with a buzz of students and parents queuing to meet her.

Jennifer’s enthusiasm and desire to support children’s reading for pleasure and creative thinking is infectious. Since coming in for the day, Jennifer has also produced a very informative newsletter for the school, including book recommendations and such issues as reading and dyslexia.

It has been a fantastic experience working with Jennifer so far and long may it continue. We can’t wait to read her next book out soon, ‘Alex Sparrow and the Furry Fury’.

The Impact of ‘The Power of Reading’


This half term, Year 3 embarked on the adventure of following a new scheme of work in literacy from CLPE’s ‘The Power of Reading’.  We have also reverted back to teaching literacy as a whole class, as opposed to streaming into sets.

We have based much of our work on a book called ‘The Green Ship’. Over the past few weeks, we have role played, discussed characters feelings and personalities, written and performed poems and also written stories. It has been amazing! The children have been so enthusiastic and really seemed to have thrived from working within their whole class, rather than their groups.

I have been blown away by the use of imagery and descriptive vocabulary. Many children from the lower set have really thrived and made fantastic contributions to lessons. They have been working on mixed ability tables. Looking through books and the work produced, I feel that for many, the gap has narrowed. They have all really benefited from sharing ideas with a deeper breadth of vocabulary.

In the classroom, we have had a working wall. The children have been eager to impress and get their work on display! Towards the end of this scheme, the children have then had to discuss, plan and write their own adventure story, following a similar structure to ‘The Green Ship’ Within the class room we set up a hot air balloon as a visual stimulus for their writing. This was a great hit with the children! We cannot wait to read our next book ‘Pebble in my Pocket’!

Helen Creek (Y3 teacher)

Our new library – a hugely positive impact on our community

Library Update – First Term in New Library

Since moving into our new school library I have noticed a significant, positive change in the attitude towards books and reading in our school.  Furthermore, there is a healthy increase in visitation from pupils to the library during morning breaks and lunchtimes.

Our stock is healthy and new, attracting more and more students, drawing them in to handle the books and read the blurb and this should escalate with our extra funding.

There has been an overwhelming increase in borrowers, at least 80% more than last year.  Lending has been regular because of the fortnightly library sessions which allow the students the opportunity to return and borrow another book.  This also keeps the library stock healthy.

The brand new library management system is a new feature for our school and has proved to be a very valuable tool.  It also encourages the prompt return and renewal of books.

Aforementioned, the secondary phase pupils have the opportunity of a library session every two weeks, sometimes more.  They have shown to thoroughly relish this time and enjoy browsing the collection or just sitting quietly engrossed in their novels.  Some like to sit on the colourful rug and read to each other.

For the primary phase pupils, this is a whole new experience altogether.  It’s a mini outing!  They arrive with their books under their arms delighting in the knowledge that they will be seeking another treasure to take home tonight.

Mrs Cooper (St Michael’s Librarian)

Reading for Pleasure – Reviewing our Practice

In this week’s Professional Learning session, SMCS staff reflected on the Reading for Pleasure: Review your Practice document from the Research Rich Pedagogies website.


The strong aspects of practice that staff currently identified in the school and in their own teaching and classrooms included the following:

  • Instilling the idea that reading is fun
  • Having a good knowledge of the current popular series of books and classic children’s authors
  • Lots of free reading time given to children
  • The setting up of sharing sessions to talk about books and develop recommendations
  • Getting students to read in class
  • Taking an interest if any pupil mentions what they are reading – including asking questions and praising them
  • The identification of key figures in modern day fiction, non-fiction and poetry
  • A better focus on reading and encouraging different types of readers
  • Staff are on board with reading
  • KS3 have ‘reading for pleasure’ sessions in the new library
  • Staff and students are talking to each other about books
  • Sharing personal views on the value of reading with students
  • Reading aloud in the lesson
  • Children have stories read to them on a regular basis and join guided-reading sessions once/week
  • Recommending subject-specific books
  • Reading text books for pleasure

Aspects of practice that staff wanted to develop included:

  • Opening up children to a wider range of reading materials
  • Promoting reading in KS5 tutor time
  • Starting a specific reading morning
  • Developing a knowledge of poetry
  • A greater variety of reading to include non-fiction
  • KS4 students needing to develop reading skills
  • More time for children to read independently and discuss books
  • The organisation of KS4 library sessions
  • Sharing our own reading with our students
  • Taking/finding the time to read
  • Reading as a teacher and sharing it (some children don’t know I read)
  • Aiming to read more in general either to do with my subject or for my own entertainment
  • Drop Everything and Read time
  • Improving my own non-fiction reading knowledge (related to my subject)
  • Knowing authors and poets
  • Creating inspiring reading spaces and resources
  • Older students reading aloud to develop vocabulary
  • Sharing my own reading habits
  • Having a greater knowledge of children’s poetry
  • Sharing good practice and modelling that we don’t know everything



Building Our Reading Community

Teacher image

The Open University project on building communities of readers (2007-8) had 4 main aims:

1. To widen teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature.
2. To develop teachers’ confidence and skilful use of
such literature in the classroom.
3. To develop teachers’ relationships with parents,
carers, librarians and families.
4. To develop ‘Reading Teachers’, teachers who read
and readers who teach.

A UKLA summary of the report contains a table of key differences between ‘Reading Instruction’ and ‘Reading for Pleasure’, the latter being crucial if we are to develop autonomous, lifelong readers.

As we embark on a journey to develop our own unique reading community here at SMCS in our all-through school context, it is well-worth being aware of the findings from the project which, although carried out with primary schools, contains messages which are important to all of us at any level in education in order to support learners to become lifelong readers.

We have already started this journey by exploring what it means to be a reader, as both a student and adult member of our school, and by creating opportunities to talk about reading and enjoy our fantastic new library. As a result of these conversations, we have made a pledge, as adult members of the community, to support the development of reading:


The SMCS Reading Pledge

As SMCS staff, we pledge to:

  1. Develop the interest in, and enjoyment of, reading across the school.
  2. Talk about what we are reading with our students and each other.
  3. Make the most of our wonderful new library.

We will do this by:

  1. Creating opportunities for our children to choose what they want to read.
  2. Increasing teacher and pupil knowledge of children’s and young adult literature.
  3. Creating opportunities in the school day, including assembly time, to share what we and our students have been reading.
  4. Encouraging the use of the library.
  5. Ensuring students have access to high quality texts.
  6. Modelling reading to our students.
  7. Creating literature-rich learning environments.
  8. Reading with and aloud to our children and each other.
  9. Developing how we teach reading.
  10. Creating a group of ‘Reading Ambassadors’ across the school.
  11. Recognising the role of new technologies in reading and supporting the use of them.
  12. Being aware of messages in Daniel Pennac’s ‘Rights of the Reader’.

Pennac’s messages couldn’t be more valuable. As he says, ‘Our children start out as good readers and will remain so if the adults around them nourish their enthusiasm instead of trying to prove themselves…if we give-up whole evenings instead of trying to save time…if we make the present come alive without threatening them with the future…’

One of the most significant parts of our journey to date, and one that has immediate impact in the building of our community, is the development of our new library, a space which has been transformed with the support of Marilyn Brocklehurst from Norfolk Children’s Book Centre.


One of our Professional Learning Days at the start of term gave teachers the time to talk about their own reading over the summer and to think about themselves and our young people as readers. Further information on how our students feel about their reading can be seen here in this National Literacy Trust Survey from December 2016.

Some further links to reading which can support our thinking and actions as we continue to build our community are:

The Open University – Research Rich Pedagogies

National Literacy Trust Review Posters – Primary

National Literacy Trust Review Posters – Secondary

DfE: Research Evidence on Reading for Pleasure (2012)

How to Teach Reading for Pleasure – The Guardian (2013)

CLPE – Reading for Pleasure…What we Know Works

UKLA – Promoting Reading for Pleasure

The National Literacy Trust – Reading for Pleasure