Eliot PallotDiscover Your Voice Officer

3 reasons why...oracy is vital for empowering our young citizens

Friday 28 Jul 2017

After a recent conference, I was inspired to examine how oracy can support citizenship education

Today we live in a world where the latest news and controversial topics of the day are only ever a few clicks away. In this world, the ability to critically consume that information, place it in its proper context and then use it as a citizen, are crucial tools. Oracy skills are a key building-block in developing those abilities.

I recently attended the Association for Citizenship Teaching’s (ACT) national conference, where speaking skills were referenced throughout the day. The key note speech was given by Lee Jerome, Associate Professor in Education, Middlesex University, on why citizenship education is essential in a school’s ability to enact the Government’s Prevent duty (to combat extremism in young people). Lee pointed out that even very young students are aware that there are political dimensions associated with tragedy (such as with recent events in London and Manchester), however, the students often lack the ability and/or confidence to have proper conversations about what these events mean and how to engage with the various responses we might have.

The challenge of equipping students to deal with these events and questions is one that a whole school faces, but is one that particularly confronts those responsible for citizenship education. It is important that the right tools and support exist for students to be able to speak about societal issues and events of national importance.

This is where we believe that oracy proves vital to creating the environment in which students have space to explore these ideas and here’s why:

  1. Fostering a culture of speaking and listening in the classroom allows students to critically engage with the barrage of messages and ideas from the media, and to reflect on their own beliefs and why they hold them.
  2. Asking students to engage in debate, and to argue in favour of points of view they might not hold themselves, builds understanding of the source of disagreement, thereby deepening engagement with the world around them. This in turn, builds resilience and equips students with tools with which they can make sense of the world around.
  3. Having tough conversations about why they believe what they do, prepares students for operating in democratic institutions and debate. This also makes students more confident and empowers them to have the tough conversations to begin with!

Teaching citizenship is a task that requires students to understand and share information through conversations that happen every day. It requires them to engage with ideas as quickly as the news changes and think deeply about what its implications are. Oracy is integral to this work and the heart of the English-Speaking Union’s goal to create Confident Communicators, Critical Thinkers and Empowered Citizens.

How can you introduce oracy skills into your school’s citizenship curriculum?

The ESU provide workshops to educate teachers on the importance of oracy in general, and provide example activities and exercises to stimulate discussion. Take a look at our latest topics for debate in your classroom here.