Research School Network: Developing oral language through reading and responding aloud Matthew Courtney discusses the importance of exposure to oral language to children from an early age.

Developing oral language through reading and responding aloud

Matthew Courtney discusses the importance of exposure to oral language to children from an early age.

by Greenshaw Research School
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All teachers are aware of the need for children to develop secure literacy skills in order to access the curriculum. This is supported by research evidence which demonstrates that success in literacy is a key predeterminer for later academic achievement.

Research also suggests that in order for children to be successful in literacy, they need to develop a secure understanding of language.

Many children come to school with the foundations of this understanding already established. They have been exposed to a rich variety of oral language through engaging in conversations with adults, being read aloud to at home and being exposed to high-quality talk.

For these children, this early exposure to oral language provides the ideal foundation to support them in becoming strategic readers and confident writers.

However, we know not all children are exposed to a language rich environment. For example, evidence shows that one in eight disadvantaged children do not have a single book of their own in their homes.

How can we support all children in developing their oral language skills, particularly those who have not been exposed to a rich literacy environment in the home?

Reading and Responding Aloud

Research shows that high-quality language input from both adults and their peers can support children’s oral language development. In short: we can make a difference.

The research that attends to the development of children’s oral language skills suggests that reading to young children and encouraging them to answer questions and to talk about the story with a trained adult’ is an effective strategy.

The EEF’s Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1 guidance report, provides detailed guidance on how this can be achieved in the classroom.

Teachers can use approaches such as reading a book aloud and modelling the process of making inferences. For skilled readers this process is something that is done automatically and by making this process explicit we can support children in developing this skill.

Teachers can ask relevant questions aloud and then model answering these, as demonstrated in the image.


Next, teachers can encourage children to make their own inferences with the support of an adult before they engage in planned tasks with their peers. After this support and scaffold has been provided, children should then be encouraged to engage in inference making, independent of an adult.

Using reading aloud as a springboard, not only provides an opportunity for children to practise their oral language skills through their discussions around inference but also provides an opportunity for children to hear an adult modelling reading with fluency, expression and prosody. By selecting high-quality children’s literature, teachers can also expose children to a range of vocabulary, too.

Evidence also demonstrates that reading aloud can develop children’s reading, mathematics and cognitive skills as well as their inclination to read for pleasure.

However, it is important that teachers have a clear understanding around the intention of their read aloud session: is it a read aloud for pleasure, where the text is often best left uninterrupted? or is the reading aloud intended to develop pupils oral language or another aspect of literacy, where modelling, scaffolding and support may be most effective?

Targeted Support

As well as ensuring that oral language development is a key component of literacy curriculum for all, it is important teachers are aware of children with language weaknesses in their classrooms.

For children with language difficulties, the evidence is clear that oral language interventions, such as the Nuffield Early Language Intervention, can provide effective support.

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