When parents think about their kids English Language Arts learning, our minds often focus on the two areas of reading and writing. This comes at no surprise - after all, we wait eagerly for our child to read their first words, and are brimming with excitement when they scratch out their name in crayon. We view reading and writing as the main indicators of literacy success, not realizing that the ability to speak and listen are also critical to literacy.

Oral communication skills are some of the most important academic and social skills our kids develop. To speak clearly, concisely, and intentionally takes work, and simply hearing our kids socialize with others is not enough. One day, they may need to speak at a job interview, present in front of an audience, or make a speech at a large family event - being articulate and expressive on the fly seldom happens, so we need to make sure our kids are prepared. The same goes with listening skills. In the future, your kids may need to listen to instructions, follow orders, assess the words of an employer or adversary, or follow a professor’s lecture. Without properly honed listening skills, the words may just fly in one ear and out the other!

oral communication
Strong oral communication skills are essential and can be used in many ways. Source: Unsplash.

Helping your child improve oral communication skills will help them to be successful across most of their subjects, as kids are often required to present their work orally in everything from Science to Mathematics. Listening is essential to nearly every subject as well - you won’t just be helping them to perform better in Language Arts, but in all areas of the curriculum. Your kids will also become more confident, fluent, and articulate in their speech.

Are you wondering how to help your kids improve their literacy? Read our article.

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Oral Communication in Schools

You may be wondering - don’t my kids learn speaking and listening skills in school? Why should I teach them at home? The reality is that oral communication probably doesn’t get as much attention in school as reading and writing, and it’s not the fault of the language arts teacher. Oral communication skills will differ drastically from one individual student to another, and individualized instruction is fundamental to truly enhancing one’s speaking and listening skills - a tough challenge in a day already packed with curriculum, not to mention large class sizes. If your child gets nervous or anxious when it comes to speaking aloud in front of a large group, they are likely not getting the practice they require to be more confident at speaking.

Helping your child at home with oral communication skills at home will also give them an edge in their academic performance. If your child can present their projects and summarize concepts orally, they will stand out in their studies. You’ll see your child excel, and overcome their anxieties around speaking in front of a large group.

Now that we’ve established why oral communication skills are important, let’s review some tips for supporting your kids at home!

Have you got a reluctant reader in your home? Learn how to help your child in our latest article.

Tips for Supporting Your Child's Oral Communication Skills

Make time to Talk about a Variety of Topics

Help your kids speak about more topics in the home by sparking conversation around different ideas around the dinner table or during a car ride. Go beyond asking about what they learned at school - ask them to summarize a book they are reading, or a video they are watching. Stage mini debates over a meal (Rice vs. Bread, what is the best sandwich and why?) to give them low risk opportunities to use language to explain and argue.

Making conversation about different topics will help your child become more confident about speaking and socializing. It can help you build a stronger relationship with your child and cultivate lines of communication around your home. 

Play Games that Require Oral Language

Board games are one of the most fun ways to nurture talk in your home. Play language-based board games like Taboo, Apples to Apples, Charades, and Scattergories to build in some organized conversation on a weekend, vacation time, or a family event. Games that incorporate a strong oral language element are fun and will add variation to the ways your family communicates at home. When you have a new game or a new player, ask your child to read the instructions and explain the rules to you - these moments of practice truly support your child’s ability to speak and synthesize information. If they aren’t quite ready for that, ask them to repeat the rules after you have explained them for every new game.

Encourage your Child to Read Aloud

Reading aloud is one of the easiest ways you can get your child to practice their speaking skills at home. While reading a book word-for-word can seem incredibly simple, it anchors their speaking in content and they can focus on enunciation and saying words aloud clearly. Take turns reading aloud, and model exactly what you would like your kids to do. Select poetry, short stories, and 5-minute stories, or take some time to read an article on a topic your child is interested in, whether it be cars or music artists.

Get your Kids Into Drama

Drama classes or workshops are some of the most fun classes to take, and they are deeply focused on oral communication skills. Reading a script aloud with a group, acting a story out using body language and spoken language, and performing it can be incredibly powerful and fun. Your kids will also meet new friends and take skills back to their learning in school. Check the internet for local listings for arts classes near you.

drama
Drama is fun and will help your kids develop speaking skills. Source: Unsplash

Focus on Listening Skills

We’ve talked a lot about speaking skills, but how about listening? Listening skills are important because we use those skills in critical situations everyday, from getting instructions from our supervisors or training sessions to listening to orders during emergency situations. When we become critical listeners, we develop a skill that will serve us long into life. Kids who develop those skills sooner are at an advantage, especially as they get to the more lecture-based instructional formats of high school, college, and university. They will get more from their learning if they are attentive, and engage others when they know how to show they are listening by asking follow up questions and using positive body language.

Find out how to help your child with their writing skills.

Crank up the Audiobooks and Podcasts

Thanks to the digitization of everything, there’s so much audio content for kids to listen and practice with. Find an audiobook subscription that works for you and your kids to get them listening to books. Not only will they be able to listen to great stores, but they will enhance their ability to listen for information, stop and rewind as needed, and make connections with other texts they have consumed. Older kids will love audiobooks as an alternative to reading, as they can listen while walking to school, riding the bus or sitting in the car.

Smaller kids can listen to a kids book while following along to the paper edition. They will make connections to the words and sounds, and likely become better readers in the process.

listening with headphones
Use audiobooks and podcasts to support your child's listening skills. Source: Unsplash.

For older kids, podcasts can be a really light and fun way to consume content while practicing listening skills. Thousands of podcasts exist today on apps like Spotify and Apple Podcasts, so find a podcast series your kid will enjoy and listen to it together. It can be a ton of fun to talk about the podcast after!

Model Positive Listening Behaviour

Any parent who has gotten into an argument with their child and watched their child look away, stare at a phone, or put their head down while you are talking can attest to how annoying it can be when their kids lack an understanding of positive listening behaviour. Explicitly tell your kids how important it is to make eye contact, nod while speaking, and give undivided attention when someone is speaking directly to them. Model those exact behaviours, and over time, you will see them doing the same.

Find a Tutor to Help

Of course, teaching your kids listening and speaking skills takes time, patience, and a lot of planning. As a parent, you are probably also busy with working full time and running your own household. Why not take the pressure off yourself as a parent by hiring a private tutor to help them with these skills?

A private tutor can help your child stay focused on developing oral communication skills, especially your child’s greatest areas of need. They can coach your child through a presentation assignment, help them practice speaking for an inquiry project, or help them to summarize academic concepts orally. A tutor can also help your child with their other subjects in the process, so you can be hitting multiple birds with one stone!

Sites like Superprof have listings for hundreds of local tutors near you, who can meet with your child virtually or in person. Find a tutor to help your child with their speaking and listening skills today!

Read all of our tips for helping your child develop digital media literacy at home.

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.