Vocabulary and oral language

Oral language is the words and sentences that we speak to convey ideas, memories, wishes, and information. Oral communication is a two-way process, comprising both the receptive (comprehension) channel and the expressive (production) channel. With respect to spoken language, this typically means listening and speaking.

Oral language skills are foundational when learning to read (Cadbury & Douglas, 2019). They contribute strongly to the language comprehension component of the Simple View of Reading.

The core components of language are phonology (rules governing speech sounds), morphology (rules for word building), syntax (rules for combining words together), and semantics language meaning). A student’s vocabulary is the words that they know, understand, and can use in speech and writing. It is part of the semantic system of oral language.

Teaching oral language

Oral language is a ‘biologically primary’ skill, which means that children’s brains are inherently receptive to learning to speak and understand speech and will learn to do so naturally given the right environment (Geary, 2012). However, its vital importance to academic and social development means that it should not be neglected in schools.

Educators should create many and varied opportunities for talk in the classroom by building oral language routines into daily activities. For example, students can be required to respond to classroom discussions or questions using complete sentences rather than offering a single word or short phrase as a response. Educators should also consciously find opportunities to employ more sophisticated language in everyday classroom routines (Dobinson & Dockrell, 2021).

Explicit instruction in oral language involves drawing attention to morphological elements of language like past and present tense suffixes (-ed, -ing) in the early years and instruction in etymology in mid-upper primary.

Evidence-based teaching activities for oral language in whole class or small groups include

Anne Fernald: Why talking to little kids matters

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