Language development and verbal communication


Ensure learners have opportunities to hear, see and use new vocabulary in a variety of contexts, as part of deepening their understanding of the concepts and developing knowledge and skill in the subject or vocational area.

Provide plenty of opportunities for formal and informal discussion in the subject classes, so that learner can express what they think, know and wonder about the concepts and topics you are exploring.  When learners express in spoken language their thoughts and views and understandings, it helps them to clarify their thinking and develop communication skills. It will also help you as the teacher to hear and clarify any misunderstandings or questions that arise in relation to the topic.  

Encourage confidence and skill in verbal communication through activities such as:

  • role-play or simulations;
  • verbal presentations by individual learners to the whole group;
  • team games involving discussion and negotiation within teams and turn-taking in presenting the team’s answers or solutions to the whole group;
  • structured group discussion; 
  • debates;
  • learners teaching each other;
  • asking learners to do some of the routine spoken communication that you would normally do yourself  - for example, on a catering course, using the phone to place orders with suppliers.


Helping learners follow and understand a talk or verbal instructions:

A lot of learning can take place when the teacher summarises, describes, explains, and the learners listen actively and with a purpose. This method is most effective when:

  • learners get some initial preparation;
  • talk is carefully structured and timed;
  • listening is active, not passive;
  • follow-up activities consolidate learning. 


Before your talk:

Introduce the topic, including any key words that might be new to the group.

Ask the learners to do something to prepare to focus on the topic: for example, to think about what the key words might mean; to discuss what they already know about this topic, or to say what they would like to know.  You could also set a task for learners to help them focus on the talk: for example, ‘listen carefully so that after the talk you can make a diagram summarising the three main points’.


During the talk:

  • Explain any new or unfamiliar words, or words that may be familiar but mean different things in this context.  Revisit and remind learners of these words and their meanings when the chance comes up during your talk.
  • Structure what you say in ways that help learners to actively follow, understand and think about it.  For example:
  • Say how long you will be talking for - how long the group will need to focus on your talk.
  • Preview the overall content of the talk: say how many main points you will cover and give a one-line summary of each.
  • Break the talk up into short, manageable sections based on the main points.
  • Pause after each section to ask questions to check out understanding, and to encourage questions so that you can clarify or briefly recap before you move on.
  • At the end, re-state the overall topic, give a one-line recap on each of the main points, and summarise the key learning point/s.
  • Invite comments and questions.


If you are going to speak for more than twenty minutes, stop after ten minutes, and again at ten minute intervals to give the listeners a small, quick ‘energiser’: for example, “discuss this question with your neighbour for 60 seconds,” or fill in a checklist, change seats, ask questions.


After your talk:

  • Allow enough time for the learners to process the main points and to formulate their questions, opinions and comments.
  • Facilitate individual and group activities to help in this.  Ask learners to discuss the topic in pairs and/or in small groups as time allows.
  • Give a small number of questions to focus and guide their discussion.  For example learners could individually identify, then share and discuss in pairs and small groups: 
  • one main point they learned from the talk;
  • two or three details associated with the main point; 
  • one point they already knew and would like to comment on or add to; and
  • one question they have about the content.
  • Ask learners to do something to sum up their learning from or response to the talk and the discussions.  For example, they could make a 3-D model, paint a picture, make a mind-map, compose a rap, or write a 140-character tweet to help them understand and explain the main points. 


Note-taking from talks:

Taking notes on the content of a talk is a complex literacy task which involves several skills: the ability to listen; to write quickly; to use abbreviations; to summarise key points; and to tell the difference between main points and details and examples.  If learners want or need to take notes during the talk, it would be worth spending some time sharing ideas and examples of how to do this, in the context of your subject area.

One suggestion could be to use a graphic organiser: a format or structure for recording the key points.  There are many variations possible.  There are also alternatives to use a template: learners could, for example, use flow-charts, or mind – maps.  Over time, in the early phases of the course, introduce learners to a few different formats for taking useful notes.  The choice will depend on the purpose of the talk and on learners’ preferences.