: Making Talk Work Luca Owenbridge begins the first of two blogs examining the evidence base for structured talk in aiding literacy.


Making Talk Work

Luca Owenbridge begins the first of two blogs examining the evidence base for structured talk in aiding literacy.

by Cornwall Research School
on the

Luca HS

Luca Owenbridge

Deputy Director of Cornwall Research School

Luca is a History and Maths teacher. He came to teaching after working as a Policy Analyst for the Department for Education in London. Click here to read more.

Read more aboutLuca Owenbridge

The Silk Roads are not a topic many year 7 students have studied before.

These ancient trading routes ground any understanding of modernity and must be comprehended to allow any student to truly appreciate the shape of our world today.

There are new terms and concepts, unfamiliar peoples, religions and languages, and maps of the world students will never have seen before. This is a bold place to start a History curriculum.

Much like the tangled web of trading routes straddling first millennia Eurasia, dotted by nexuses of mercantile hubs from Constantinople to Kabul and on to Seoul, the year 7s must develop a similarly complex mesh of literacy skills if they are to engage with the modern world they will find upon leaving school.

The hubs along their routes can be seen in the EEF’s Guidance Report (GR) Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools, and include reading academic texts, complex writing, vocabulary instruction and structured talking.

Divided into two parts, this blog will first take a look at talk working in the History classroom and the evidence base for structured talk in aiding literacy, before examining the specific models the EEF recommends when structuring talk in classrooms.

The Classroom

Today the year 7s are sitting knee to knee so that their talk is observable. Partner A must read the first part of an extract to partner B who then responds with a summary. If partner A feels they have been misrepresented in any way they can challenge B to reframe their summary. One partner B is then selected at random to share their summary with the class and other As are invited to constructively critique their interpretation.

Preparations for a journey on the Silk Roads were elaborate and meticulously planned” says an A.

The plans were… hard…” ventures a B.

I think that meticulous means something more like detailed or careful” retorts an A, thus shaping B’s vocabulary and structuring their talk.

Later, in front of the class, another A adds that this might also mean plans were expensive and that this might have been because the journey was dangerous and long, providing further context for the group.

How do you know they were dangerous?” I venture.

Because later in the extract the writer mentions bandits and harsh weather conditions. I also know that they would not have had the protections we might have travelling in the modern world” chimes back partner A modelling historical reasoning for the class.

OK, and where might there still be gaps in your knowledge after reading and understanding this extract?” I ask, prompting students to reflect on what they still don’t know and to think Metacognitively.

The Evidence

Talk is a powerful tool for learning and literacy. It can improve reading and writing outcomes, enhance communication skills, and increase students’ understanding across the curriculum.1

The 2021 Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group’s (APPG) Speak for Change’ inquiry claimed that oracy:

  1. Improves academic outcomes,
  2. Underpins literacy and language acquisition,
  3. Supports wellbeing and confidence,
  4. Enables young people to access employment and
  5. Develops citizenship and agency.

The report makes the case that a high-quality oracy education should be a part of every child’s entitlement. Yet it also provides evidence that it too often falls short, and that those from low-income backgrounds suffer the most for it. Less than half of unemployed young people (47%) believe their schooling helped them to develop good oracy. That’s compared to two thirds (69%) of young people who are working or full-time students.

Crucially, the EEF’s Guidance Report argues that communication and argument are curricular ends in themselves. For example, as Osborne argues, in science, Critique is not some peripheral feature […], but rather it is core to [the subject]’.2 Focussing minds further, the EEF suggest that talk appears to be particularly beneficial for low prior attaining students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.


1Education Endowment Foundation, Improving Behaviour in Schools, EEF_KS3_KS4_LITERACY_GUIDANCE.pdf (d2tic4wvo1iusb.cloudfront.net) (accessed 23.11.23).

2Osborne, J. (2010). Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse. Science, 328(5977), pp.463- 466. DOI: 10.1126/science.1183944.

Out Thursday 8th February

Making Talk Work Part Two

Perhaps unsurprisingly, quality of talk is more important than quantity in a classroom and the EEF suggest we should focus our attention in two areas.…

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