4 classroom tips for oracy during COVID health protections

COVID-19 has created many challenges for schools across the UK. A 2021 study in collaboration with Voice 21 suggested that 44 per cent of secondary teachers and 66 per cent of primary teachers stated that COVID-disruption to schooling has had a negative impact on the spoken language development of their Pupil Premium students. Meanwhile, only a fifth of teachers suggested that their most advantaged students had been impacted negatively. With students back in schools Voice 21 is working hard to support teachers to develop their students’ oracy skills despite the challenges of mask-wearing and social distancing. Here are four tips from Voice 21 to help maintain high standards of oracy in your classroom, and why not also check our blogs on oracy and mask-wearing, and oracy in the COVID-secure classroom. 

Exaggeration with masks

The introduction of mask-wearing into everyday life has highlighted the importance of the physical strand of oracy. Asking students to exaggerate the physical aspects of their oracy through non-verbal cues, for instance nodding their heads, gesticulating or using their eyebrows for emphasis, is a very simple and effective way to overcome any barriers to communication. We’ve posted a handy infographic about mask-wearing and speaking on our socials.

Focus on presentational talk 

If you’re finding that exaggerating your non-verbal cues is helping, why not take it a step further?  One strategy that you could use is focusing on presentational talk and asking your students to ‘stand to speak’. Standing allows us to use gestures and movement which can bring our speech alive. You could practice speechwriting and presentation, or even performance poetryFor students who are at the start of their oracy journey, this might be more of a challenge. In this instance putting your students in pairs of varying confidence levels may help. 


In some contexts, face-to-face learning can create complications in terms of maintaining student safety. Instead, try using a back-to-back as a COVID-safe oracy activity. In pairs, students sit with their backs to each other and describe an image to their partner, who must try and draw it based only on the verbal description. 

This can be an engaging way to introduce something unfamiliar or a fun way to practice using target vocabulary.  It develops the linguistic, cognitive and social & emotional strands of the Oracy Framework. The speaker has to think carefully about their vocabulary choices and the understanding of their partner whilst the listener is encouraged to ask clarifying questions.

Talk Tactics

If you’re finding that wearing a mask is impeding on your students’ ability to communicate, it might be worth using Talk Tactics. Now more than ever, they are crucial to ensure that, despite the potential impediments of masks, teachers are scaffolding classroom discussions clearly and effectively. In utilising Talk Tactics, students take on a specific role in a discussion in order to promote educationally productive talk.

Further ideas and exercises

We know how hard teachers are working to develop oracy in a COVID secure classroom. 

We have a variety of further tips that can help you still value every voice in your classroom. Why not try out some of these Covid secure protocols from the video below in your classroom to continue encouraging talk in your lessons. 

If you have any ideas, strategies or methods of maintaining high standards of oracy in your classroom, let us know via Twitter (@voice21oracy), Facebook (Voice 21 UK), or by email at: hello@voice21.org



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