Using prompts to help students engage in sustained ‘free’ speech

Philippa Adkins , Surrey Square Primary School

Project rationale 

I am hugely passionate about students being able to express themselves when sharing their thoughts and experiences with peers, both inside and outside of the classroom. I have always put a high value on children’s personal talk about their lives. Examples of this include their peer-to-peer conversations at lunchtimes and their presentations in front of their peers within the classroom setting. Having listened to students share their news or present something in front of their peers, I decided to research whether the duration and content of their talk improved with the use of a prompt. 

I recorded 18 students from the same class, particularly focusing on four students: two English as an Additional Language (EAL) students and two non-EAL students. I chose two EAL students to focus on whose grasp of English was fairly good. However, they did not have the fluency to be able to speak at length in front of the class. They were keen to present and did not lack confidence, but only spoke in broken sentences for roughly 10 to 20 seconds at a time. It seemed as if they needed an aid or prompt for them to be able to speak for a longer time, or questions that would help them to better construct their talk. 

The non-EAL students I chose to focus on lacked structure in their speeches; they did not develop their ideas. An example of this would be ‘I went to my cousin’s house…’ with no further explanation of what they had done. 

Baseline data 

In October 2018 I recorded the focus students sharing in front of the class. As a class the level of ‘free’ speech in around 90% of students was poor – both in content and duration. I transcribed their utterances, and noted the length that they were able to speak for without an aid. 

Below are the transcripts and timings: 

Student A (EAL) – ‘In the weekend I gone to the beach with my mum and dad and my baby. I was I playing in the beach with my baby and I was making a big sandcastle. Then it was so big I got in there. Then I gone into the water and I swimmed by myself.’ Duration: 0.28 seconds 

Student B (EAL) – ‘One day I go with my friend’s house for a sleepover all day.’ Duration: 0.09 seconds 

Student C (non EAL) – ‘I have a boy and a girl doll and this is the daddy and this is the sister and I play with the doll in my doll’s house and they both have a bed and I have a table in there and also they eat their dinner at their table.’ Duration: 0.24 seconds 

Student D (non EAL) – ‘On the weekend I went swimming with my mum and my dad and when I went swimming my mum and my dad were swimming together and I was swimming by myself because I can swim and I kicked my legs very good and I wasn’t drowning in the water. When I jumped in the water I jumped over my dad’s head!’ Duration: 0.34 seconds 

In total I recorded 18 students and only one was able to speak for over a minute without an aid. Although the students were very keen to talk it was evident they needed to focus on the content of their speech in order for them to be able to hold the attention of the audience for at least a minute. 

I decided not to focus on the grammatical accuracy of their talk as this would stop the flow and fluency. Grammar was addressed separately as part of literacy, for example the correct use of the past tense. The focus for this research was explicitly on the content of their talks, which would then impact the duration for which they were able to speak in front of an audience. 

Intervention & intended impact

The main intervention was modelling talk. Adults modelled the intended format for the talks by sharing their ‘news’ or showing something that they were passionate about. They did this in line with the social & emotional strand of oracy, ensuring they presented with liveliness and flair.

We created discussion guidelines with the students relating to the physical strand of oracy. This was a whole school focus. Students became better at standing up straight, looking at the audience and using gesture. We then focused on the linguistic strand of oracy so that students thought about their vocabulary and how it would engage the audience. 

As well as modelling and teaching the oracy strands explicitly I created a visual prompt – a dice with question words – to prompt the students as they During ‘Show and Share’ sessions, which are held at 3pm each day, the students used the dice to prompt them to either share some news or talk about their favourite toy or item they had brought to show. 

The expectation was that if they were sharing about their weekend they would use the dice to say where they went, who they went with, why they went to a particular place, how they got there, what they did etc. Students were given dedicated time in talk trios to rehearse their ‘Show and Share’. Each time they spoke there was a ‘silent summariser’ to promote listening and to ensure the other students were taking turns to speak and thinking about what they were going to say. 

During ‘Show and Share’ sessions, which are held at 3pm each day, the students used the dice to prompt them to either share some news or talk about their favourite toy or item they had brought to show. 

Impact data

Below are some examples of the type of talk after an aid was introduced. 

Student A – ‘I got fidget spinner and it’s the colour blue and it even spins when I had the daddy finger and the brother finger. Then it spins a lot for 14 minutes and then evenly it spins for 5 million, trillion ways and then it, then it spins and stops and slows for 10 minutes and then it speeds then it … when I press the circle button it have rainbow colours and lights it and when I light it and when it goes so fast like it’s cat boy and sometimes I press and sometimes I don’t and evenly it has a big gold and evenly it spins for ten minutes…’ Duration: 1:41 minute

Student B – ‘Yesterday my mummy and my daddy. One day I go to a sleepover. Yesterday my daddy pick me up to my home and erm tomorrow my mummy give me a present of like a bunny, a bunny of playdough.’ Duration: 41 seconds

Student C – ‘On the holidays I went to holiday special and at the end of holiday special we got prizes and I got a prize and then we went to our groups and we got the boxes….so it was a kind of making thing… and also we sang some songs and when we get, we got home I even found some Easter eggs on the table and we even got presents at school. I got a present from someone and she gave me a bag and some chocolate bunnies…’ Duration: 2:01 minute

Student D – ‘I got this fish frame from phonics today because I won a word, er counter. We counted how many ones we got and me and Olamide got this from Becky, from the prize box. It is pink and it has a fish on it and it also has … I don’t know what they’re called.. oh I know they’re called, er scales..’ Duration 54 seconds

After the introduction of a prompt, the explicit highlighting of oracy strands, and the modelling by adults, there was an improvement in the duration that the students spoke for, as well as increased confidence and fluency. I made 18 recordings in April and May and the durations of talk ranged from 21 seconds to 2.01 minute. Seven of these were over a minute and five were over 40 seconds. The durations before the modelling and prompt were an average of 18 seconds per student. 

The data showed that the modelling and prompt made a significant impact on all students as the duration of their talks were longer as well as more fluent. 


This research indicated that with a simple prompt used in the classroom, students’ oracy skills significantly improved. In the past ‘Show and Share’ sessions have been perceived as a ‘filler’ activity. However, this intervention has made it much more valuable as an activity. 

In conclusion the time spent doing ‘Show and Share’ has benefitted all students – both the quieter and more confident. The question as to whether a prompt helps a student to achieve sustained ‘free’ speech for a longer period is evident through these findings. Dedicated time, intentionality and planning were all part of making this a success. The main challenge of this project was that too many students wanted to share something which meant that sometimes there was limited attention span of the audience, so it was better to limit it to three of four children per session in order to maintain the interest of the other children in the class. 

Next steps

The children will be filmed doing Show and Share in order for them to critique and feedback to their peers about what is good about their talk and how they can improve it.


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