Jo Chessum reviews how the new Primary National Curriculum for English promotes talking for different purposes.

I have to admit, I was worried. Worried that the absence of ‘speaking and listening’ from the new English Curriculum would mean the lack of a requirement to develop children’s communication skills; and worried, because if children’s speech and language skills are not good enough then they will not achieve good enough levels of literacy. How can we expect children to develop the language skills they need to participate fully in the curriculum if we do not give them direct teaching and frequent opportunities to observe and practise talking for a range of different purposes?

At first glance, the brief section on ‘Spoken Language’ raised alarm bells. The framework has neither the detail nor guidance found in the reading and writing frameworks and there is little attention given to children’s understanding of language. Much is left to interpretation and pinned on teachers’ knowledge and understanding of language development. However, despite this significant lack of guidance, a closer look at what the new curriculum is actually trying to promote, reveals an underlying message that I feel should be warmly welcomed…

Developing Spoken Language Across the Curriculum

The new English Programme of Study emphasises the importance of Spoken Language, stating that it ‘underpins the development of reading and writing’ and indicating that general progress is closely related to a secure grasp of spoken language. In order to promote talking across the curriculum, teachers need to plan frequent opportunities for children to use spoken language for a variety of purposes…

  • Describing
  • Explaining
  • Developing narrative
  • Engaging in everyday conversation
  • Sharing ideas and opinions
  • Discussion
  • Presenting information
  • Debating topical issues
  • Schools need to consider how they are going to promote the use of spoken language activities, through policy, training and practice. They must ensure teachers have a good understanding of the skills that they are trying to develop and are able to evidence effectively students’ participation and progress.

Incorporating Spoken Language Into Your Curriculum

Daily Routines

Use the daily routine within the classroom to promote opportunities to develop spoken language for different purposes. For example, remind children of the skills of presentation and narrative during ‘news’ sessions, recap on the skills of effective discussion when exploring the class text and provide key questions for children to answer when asking them to explain their work to others.

Weekly Focus

Work on a different purpose of talk each week during each term. This can be very powerful when adopted as a whole school approach. Children will quickly learn that Week 1 is about explaining, Week 2 is about discussion, etc. and, with the support of displays showing vocabulary and key phrases, they will begin to internalise the language used when talking for different purposes. Linking the purpose of talk to a writing focus for each week can provide opportunities for children to practise orally before they begin to write.

Termly Focus

Work on a different purpose of talk each term. Most effectively, this could be introduced and linked to a style of writing or issues arising from the class text. Further opportunities to engage with the same purpose of talk can then be embedded in other subjects across the curriculum, e.g. debating an idea for a geographical development, role playing a historical debate or debating a current topical issue in Citizenship.

Any Opportunity

Opportunities for developing spoken language will arise on a day to day basis so keep your eyes and ears open. Activities involving democratic decisions such as choosing a school council rep, rearranging the classroom or planning a class assembly all provide opportunities for explaining, formal presentation, discussion and debate. The more pupils engage in communication for a range of purposes, the more comfortable and competent they will become.


  1. Enthuse children
    Use topics that are of interest to them.
  2. Model
    Show children examples of explanation, discussion or debate (both on screen and yourself!)
  3. Teach
    The rules of different purposes of talk as you would teach the main features of written genres.
  4. Provide frameworks
    Use planning strategies for spoken language tasks, allowing pupils time to plan what they want to say, and encouraging self-assessment of skills.
  5. Talk then write
    Provide opportunities for pupils to prepare and use talk for different purposes before they start writing.

“The National Curriculum for English reflects the importance of spoken language in pupils’ development across the whole curriculum – cognitively, socially and linguistically.” English Programmes of Study – Key Stages 1 and 2 (DfE, 2013)

To find out more about the features of talk for different purposes, download our free resource ‘Purposes of Talk’ at


  • The National Curriculum in England: Key Stages 1 and 2 framework document. Reference DFE – 00178- 2013. Crown copyright 2013.
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