Developing the confidence and participation of reluctant speakers

Julie Walters, Shoreditch Park Primary School 

Project rationale 

However, I noticed that, for some students, oracy based tasks were a challenge and that collaborative thinking and discussion weren’t areas of learning where they felt at ease. I observed some reluctant speakers in my class and was keen to develop classroom practice that ensured every student could benefit from a talk-rich classroom. 

Additionally, I wanted ensure students felt confident and comfortable during oracy tasks. Susan Cain states that introverts and extroverts can both thrive in collaborative thinking and talk if given tasks or roles suited to their strengths (2012). In her TED talk, she also states that in a society where we value extroversion, ‘…there is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas…’ (2012). 

This led me to begin my research with the exploratory research question: 

In what conditions do pupils feel confident and self-assured to participate within oracy tasks? 

Baseline data 

I observed group discussions and oracy within a class setting. These were tracked using a Harkness diagram which identified the number and quality of contributions, body language and interactions with others. I interviewed 4 students I had identified as being under-confident and reluctant to participate in oracy based activities. The students were asked to rate their enjoyment of group discussion on a scale of 1 to 10. The average rating was 4.75. They were then asked to rate their confidence during group discussion, the average rating was 4.25. When asked to explain their ratings, some students said that they felt shy, or that they weren’t sure what to say and that they didn’t feel like they had as many ideas as other students. 

We were at the early stages of introducing talking roles in class. These are roles that pupils can take on during a discussion and were developed by Voice 21. Below is an outline of the talking roles: 

  • Instigator (I) – Starts the discussion or opens up a new topic for discussion 
  • Builder (B) – Develops, adds or runs with an idea 
  • Challenger (C) – Gives reasons to disagree or provides an alternative argument 
  • Prober (P) – Digs deeper, asks for justification or evidence of ideas 
  • Clarifier (CL) – Simplifies or makes things clearer by asking questions 
  • Summariser (S) – Identifies the main ideas from the discussions 

I was interested in tracking the impact these talking roles could have on reluctant speakers. From here I created my evaluative research question: To what extent are talking roles, used regularly to guide group discussions, an effective strategy for improving confidence and participation among reluctant speakers in Year 2?

Intervention & intended impact 

As an intervention, two focus groups were established. Each group consisted of two reluctant speakers (identified during baseline data collection) and two confident speakers from the same class. Group discussions using talking roles were used within lessons and weekly intervention sessions took place out of class. At the start of each weekly intervention, the groups were given coaching on the talking roles and the sentence stems that accompany each role. The group discussion would follow immediately after. 

The intended impact was for all students to feel confident and valued during group discussions to ensure that discussion-based activities in class were impactful and beneficial for all. It was my aim that the students who had been identified as reluctant to participate would show an increase in confidence and participation. 

Impact data: Quantitative

Weekly intervention group discussions were filmed. These videos were analysed for length of contributions from the focus students, number of contributions and types of contributions (linked to the talking roles). 

All four focus students showed an increased number of contributions from their starting points. Each focus student contributed only once in the first week, but all of them contributed three times in the fifth or sixth week of intervention. Student B peaked at four contributions during the discussion in week four. 

There was a similar increase shown in type of contribution (talking roles used). All four focus students used a broader range of talking roles as the intervention progressed, showing a deeper understanding of different ways to contribute to a discussion. 

Talking Roles Used During Group Discussion:

Impact data

Student Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 
A B B, C B, C B, C I, B B, B, C
B C I, B  B, B, C I, CL, B, CL C, C B, C, B 
C B B C B, S B, B, S B, CL, CL
D B I, B I, C B, B B, B, S

The students were interviewed for the second time at the end of the six week intervention. The students were again asked to rate their enjoyment and confidence of group discussion on a scale of 1 to 10. 

Average Rating of Enjoyment and Confidence During Group Discussion:

Interview Question Average Rating Baseline Data Average Rating Post Intervention 
On a scale of 1-10, how much do you enjoy group discussion? 4.75 6.75
On a scale of 1-10, how confident do you feel during group discussion 4.25 7.25

Impact data: Qualitative 

In the transcript below, Student B demonstrates an increase in both participation and confidence during discussion. In Week 1 she challenges another student’s point and gives a reason to back it up. By Week 4 she instigates the discussion, shows a similar level of detail in her answer but also clarifies her point further after being challenged. 


A challenge during this research was choosing a discussion point for each session that would elicit high quality discussion. Some discussions seemed to ‘hook’ the students more than others. I chose a selection of discussion points linked to real life experiences and topics covered in the Year Two curriculum. 

If I were to carry out this investigation again, I would set up a control group to compare the progress in confidence and participation between the two groups. We can presume that some progress would have been made regardless of the weekly intervention groups, since the development of oracy was a whole school focus. 

My next step is to share my findings with staff and demonstrate how oracy can be developed in the classroom in order to benefit all learners. 


Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York, NY: Crown Publishers. 

Cain, S. (2012) The Power of Introverts TED talk. Available at:

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