Oral rehearsal

I am about to put together a presentation on oral language so my next few blogs will explore the research that supports this area. There are many aspects to oral language and I have already explored  Konza’s work on oral language as part of the Big 6.

This blog will consider the importance of oral rehearsal, something that Lyn Sharratt (author of Putting faces on the data) paid a lot of attention to in her recent work with Metropolitan schools in Brisbane, Queensland.

It is interesting when you google ‘oral rehearsal’ – there isn’t much about it. Yet, oral rehearsal in writing is a necessary prerequisite for thoughtful writing pieces (Sharratt & Fullan, 2012).

Not only is it necessary for writing, but any speaker should be given opportunity to rehearse before sharing their thoughts in a public forum. This includes teachers in staff meetings and professional development and of course, students before they have to share orally in the classroom.

This makes sense – how many of us ‘rehearse’ what we are going to say prior to a formalised presentation. One of the reasons I sometimes avoid contributing in a public forum, is because I haven’t had the opportunity to rehearse what I would like to say. If I feel like this, how do some of my students feel?scared

Calkins (2001) stated that, ‘In schools, talk is sometimes valued and sometimes avoided….and this is surprising – talk is rarely taught…Yet talk, like reading and writing, is a major motor – I could even say the major motor – of intellectual development’ (p.226).

A search in the United Kingdom of the term, Oral Rehearsal, undertaken by the Department for Children, Schools and Families found ten references:

  • Using writing partners and oral rehearsal, 
  • After oral rehearsal, write explanatory texts independently from a flowchart or other diagrammatic plan, using the conventions modelled in shared writing. 
  • Rehearse sentences orally before writing and cumulatively reread while writing
  • The trainer repeatedly models rehearsal of sentences in speech before committing them to paper…
  • The importance of oral rehearsal and cumulative re-reading
  • Oral rehearsal before writing 
  • Rehearse sentences orally before writing and cumulatively reread while writing 
  • A range of drama and speaking and listening activities that support appropriate oral rehearsal prior to the written outcomes. 
  • Oral rehearsal prior to writing…. In pairs, children rehearse phrases and sentences, using some of the ideas suggested. 
  • Scribe the sentence, modelling its oral rehearsal before you write it. 
  • Oral rehearsal: in particular, those children who have poor literacy skills; for children with poor language skills.

All of these refer to rehearsing orally prior to writing. I would go further and promote oral rehearsal before speaking informally and formally.

A study by Myhill and Jones noted that a teacher employing oral rehearsal practice in her classroom observed improvement in the use of imaginative written text and in low-attaining writers. She attributed improvement in her student’s writing to the fact that oral rehearsal allowed the children ‘to think about before writing it down’ and that oral rehearsal made it ‘easier to change it [writing] in talk than when it had been written down.

oral rehearsalGive students the opportunity to talk things out prior to speaking publicly or to written responses!


Blank’s Levels of Questioning

Blank’s Levels of Questioning

hungry caterpillarIn my last blog, I looked at Konza’s sixth component of teaching reading: comprehension.  Konza mentioned the importance of questioning as a comprehension strategy. One of the questioning frameworks that I have used quite successfully is Blank’s levels of questions.

It was devised by Marion Blank, an American developmental psychologist who specialised in language and learning. She studied a number of year one students to find levels of comprehension that equated to success in the classroom.

Blank found four different levels of questions. Levels 1 and 2 ask for simple concrete information and levels 3 and 4 ask for more abstract information. Both receptive and expressive language skills are required.

Level 1 – language is applied to what is seen in the everyday world. Information is directly in front of the reader or recently removed. Responses are short or nonverbal (eg pointing).

Hungry caterpillar 2

Level 1 – Show me the sun.

Scanning for a matching object – Find one like this.

Identifying an object by sound – Show me what you heard.

Identifying an object by touch – Show me what you touched.

Naming an object heard – What did you hear?

Naming an object touched – What did you touch?

Naming an object seen – What is this?

Imitating a simple sentence – Say this…..

Remembering pictured objects – What did you see?

Remembering incidental information – What did you see?

Level 2 – information is supplied but it is not directly apparent. Reader has to select what to attend to – size, colour etc

Hungry caterpillar 4

Find fruit that is red and spotty.

Scanning for an object defined by its function – Find one that can…

Describing a scene – What is happening?

Recalling items named in a statement – What things…?

Recalling information from a statement – Who? What? Where?

Completing a sentence – Finish this….

Concepts: Naming characteristics and functions of objects – Tell me its …..

Concepts: Attending to two characteristics – Find one that is … and ….

Concepts: Identifying differences – How are these different?

Concepts: Citing an example within a category – Name something that is a ….

Level 3 – language does not directly relate to what is seen or heard and reader must think about and reorder the given information. Consideration and evaluation of certain basic facts are considered before a response.

Hungry caterpillar 3

How did the caterpillar feel when he had finished?

Scanning for an object by integrating verbal and visual information – Find one to use with this.

Describing events subsequent to a scene – What will happen next?

Assuming the role of another person – What could he say?

Following a set of directions – Do this, then this.

Arranging pictures in a sequence – Make these into …

Formulating a set of directions – Tell me how to…

Formulating a generalisation about a set of events – What happened to all of these?

Formulating a statement to unify a sequence of pictures – Tell this story.

Concepts: Identifying similarities – Find the ones that are not…

Concepts: Selecting an object by exclusion – Find things that are not …

Concepts: Selecting a set of objects by exclusion – Name something that can… but is not a ….

Concepts: Citing an example by excluding a specific object – Name something that is not a ….

Concepts: Citing an example by excluding a class of objects – What is a ….?

Concepts: Defining words – Say this……

Unusual imitations

Level 4 – reader has to reason beyond what is seen, heard or said. Reader has to draw on past experience, make parallels, look at causes and likely effects and justify decisions.

Hungry caterpillar 5

Why can’t he eat anything else?

Predicting: Changes in position – Where will ….?

Predicting: Changes in structure – What will happen if …?

Justifying a prediction – Why will…?

Justifying a decision: Essential characteristics – Why wouldn’t it?

Justifying a decision: Non-essential characteristics – Why would it?

Identifying the causes of an event – What made it happen?

Formulating a solution – What could you do?

Formulating a solution from another perspective – What could she do?

Selecting the means to a goal – What could we use?

Explaining the means to a goal – Why should we use that?

Explaining the construction of objects – Why is …. made of that?

Explaining an inference drawn from an observation – How can we tell?

Explaining the logic of compound words – Why is this called …?

Explaining the obstacles to an action – Why can’t we …?

Reference: Blank, M., Rose, S., & Berlin, L. (1978). The language of learning: The preschool years.

These levels of questions help develop comprehension but also develop oral language using rich text. Although the example of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is for younger students, the levels of questions can be applied to any text and any year level.

NB If you are a teacher in the Queensland State School system, the Metropolitan EAL/D Prep Program edStudio can be accessed through the Learning Place (S712114786). This edStudio houses a number of rich texts that can be used with Blank’s levels of questions.



Oral language


IMG_1147The Big Six

In 2011, Deslea Konza wrote a series of papers entitled Understanding the reading process. She identified six major components for the effective teaching of reading and called them The Big SixThey included:

  1. Oral language
  2. Phonological awareness
  3. Phonics
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Fluency
  6. Comprehension

Konza (2011) stated that although reading is difficult to reduce to a small number of components,  the big six was one way of synthesising the major findings of an enormous number of empirical studies into the components of an effective reading program.

The following blog is a brief summary of her first component from her original paper and supporting paper on Oral language.

Oral Language

Children talkingOral language is important for both reading and writing. Children who have been immersed in rich and increasingly complex conversations will have the advantage of increased vocabulary development, understanding language structure and the ability to tune in to the sounds of the English language. Competency with oral language is necessary for understanding language at a printed level as oral language will help develop strong vocabulary, strong grammatical skills and an ability to reason and infer.

It is also important for children to have experiences with books and other forms of print. Awareness of how marks on a page represent language develops from a very young age and this comes about from watching people read and write both for pleasure and other purposes and having stories and books read to them.

Oral language abilities are linked to the development of early reading skills and to reading in the middle years of primary school.  Oral language positions the child as an active, literate oral language learner and prepares him or her for the challenge of learning to read (Konza, 2011).

What do we do for students who don’t have the benefit of a language-rich and print-rich environment? These students will be further disadvantaged if this is not recognised and acknowledged by the school. As Konza (2011) states all young children need a stimulating language environment at school, but for children from these less literacy-rich backgrounds, the need is urgent and paramount.

General principles regarding oral language development

  1. Refer children for assessment if speech and language delays are significant – a hearing assessment and a referral to a speech pathologist if speech or language is delayed or different from peers.
  2. Build oral language across all year levels – oral language proficiency assists with relationships, communication, business and personal lives and employment. Teachers can continue to assist students become more articulate and sophisticated users of language.
  3. Allow wait time  – waiting at least 3-5 seconds gives children thinking time (OWL – observe, wait, listen)

Teacher language

  1. Model clear and correct use of oral language.
  2. Monitor student understanding.
  3. Adjust language according to student need.

Teaching strategies

  1. Teach active listening- active listening requires selective and sustained attention, working memory, cognitive processing and information storage and recall mechanisms. Barrier games and story grammar activities help to develop active listening and for older students, teaching note-taking skills from oral input.
  2. Build on student language – elaborate by adding new information, extend through questioning, reinforce through repetition, model self-talk, taking turns, eye contact and appropriate social distance.
  3. Build oral language development into daily routines and classroom activities – do this during roll call, transition time, collection of materials, giving of instructions.
  4. Provide opportunities for social interaction – Oral language develops better through one-on-one conversations with a better language user. Who is doing the talking in your classroom? Students need as many opportunities as possible to engage in discussions and conversations – pairs, small groups, parents, volunteers, aides.
  5. Explore books together – reading narrative texts provides oral language support for both younger and older children. Picture books can stimulate language and promote a rich discussion of ideas.
  6. Model thinking processes through ‘think alouds’ – the more difficult the problem the more likely we are to articulate our thinking processes as we search for a solution – modelling self-talk is very useful for problem solving and for managing emotions.
  7. Consider the language demands of each lesson – need to explicitly teach the new vocabulary and other elements of language.
  8. ‘Correcting’ children’s communication – most effective response is to model the correct way without explicitly pointing out the error.

Konza (2011) concluded that to help develop these critical skills, it is important to:

  •  engage in conversations with children as often as possible.
  •  provide as many opportunities for discussion and conversation with other fluent speakers.
  •  explore books together.

Reading aloud LPB Laos.jpg
By Blue PloverOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26109345