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Oracy: Giving Students a Voice

You may know all too well, that anxious feeling that comes when you have to explain your point of view or make a presentation in front of a group. Public speaking is not something that comes naturally to most people, but it is an important life skill not only in school but for success in the workplace, within families, and in social contexts. This year, enhancing communication skills is an equity issue that the ICSD has taken on as one of its initiatives.
For the past several months, teachers and administrators have been participating in district-wide workshops on strategies to integrate oracy -- the ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically in speech -- into their various disciplines. While there has been increased emphasis on reading, writing, and math achievement, the ability to discuss topics with a variety of people in different settings is more important than ever. The ICSD has been incorporating resources available through Voice 21, a UK organization as well as curriculum offered by Stanford University.
What sets this new perspective apart from past speaking practice is that oracy is carefully planned for and intentional. Students learn how to discuss academic and social issues using discussion guidelines, carefully planned groupings, and talk roles. They learn how different aspects of communication—physical, cognitive, linguistic, and social—can impact the success of a conversation. Speakers in a conversation are expected to invite and include all participants so that everyone’s voice is heard and respected. As teachers practice using the oracy techniques, they learn how to embed these in their lessons more frequently throughout the school day.        
Who is oracy for? The shy student, the English language learner, the student who needs to articulate their position or persuade an audience, the self-conscious student, even the overly talkative student who has difficulty including others in conversation. Everyone can benefit from improved listening and speaking skills. It’s an exciting time for students to discover the power of their voice and we look forward to the evolution of this initiative as teachers and students become more skilled with its implementation.
Wondering what oracy looks like in practice? Check out this Edutopia video:

Belle Sherman
Beverly J Martin
Cayuga Heights
Fall Creek
South Hill
Boynton Middle
DeWitt Middle
Ithaca HS
Lehman Alternative


Ithaca City School District
Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent
400 Lake Street
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 274-2101