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ESOL Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Module 1- Oral language


In this module you will:

  • view some oral language exemplars
  • analyse your students’ talk in relation to The Progressions: ELLP
  • plan further opportunities to develop students’ oral language

You will need:

Getting started

To start thinking about speaking and listening, please read the relevant section in The Progressions: ELLP. This is a useful summary, easy to read, and contains important ideas about your English language learners. (It’s only 2 pages.)

  • Years 1-4 pp.7-9
  • Years 5-8 pp.7-9
  • Years 9-13 pp.7-9

Summary of key messages about listening and speaking

  • Help your learners to understand and use appropriate language for different audiences and purposes (for example at lunchtime with friends compared with discussing a class topic in the classroom).
  • Focus on teaching academic oral language (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency: CALP), as students will pick up social English (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills: BICS) more easily.
  • Notice how oral language challenges learners in different ways from written language (for example there is generally no opportunity to listen again to a speaker, but with a written text learners can re-read it).
  • Think about the factors that influence each learner’s oral language proficiency. These include:
    • the content of and teaching approaches used in previous English language instruction (if any.)
    • the age at which your learner began learning English.
    • their level of confidence in speaking English, especially risk-taking.
  • Remember that your learners will generally understand more than they can say - their receptive language (making meaning/listening) will be more advanced than their productive language (creating meaning/speaking).
  • Encourage your learners to continue to speak in their home language(s) as this will help them to think deeply and learn English more effectively.
  • Secondary teachers might note that there is an approximate correlation between the stages of The Progressions: ELLP and the ESOL unit standards.

Gathering information

Using the Oral language section of The English Language Learning Progressions: ELLP

Open and read the double-sided, fold-out page for the oral language matrix in your booklet. It is colour-coded for each stage. 

Years 1-4 pp.11-12
  Click the above image to enlarge
Years 5-8 pp.11-12
  Click the above image to enlarge
Years 9-13 pp.11-12
  Click the above image to enlarge

Input and output

There are two oral language matrices:

Output i.e. what your learners can say
Input i.e. what your learners can understand

You’ll see that the output matrix includes the context, the content, delivery, non-verbal responses and language structures used by learners.

The input matrix includes the context, the content, delivery, language structures that the learner may understand and the first language support the learner needs. Look for these aspects of oral language across the top and the different stages down the side.

For each stage of The Progressions: ELLP, the matrices show some characteristics of input that learners can understand and some types of responses (output) they are likely to produce.

Opportunities for oral language assessment

There are many different oral language assessment tools being used by schools.

Informal tools include observations in a variety of contexts:

  • in social and academic contexts
  • during classroom activities in pairs, small groups or whole class
  • during presentations (news, debates, speeches etc).

Information from observations might include:

  • notes as your learner talks about something they have learned
  • notes as you observe your learner follow spoken instructions
  • recording word for word the sentences your learner can use
  • notes as your learner participates in planned and specific listening and speaking activities
  • digital voice recordings of your learner
  • anecdotal observations that you recall about your learner
  • samples from formative assessment activities.

Further opportunities for oral language assessment

Some of the formal tools include:

  • PAT listening
  • NEMP tasks
  • Junior Oral Screening Tool (JOST)
  • ARBs
  • NCEA; ESOL Unit Standards, Literacy Unit Standards and other Unit and Achievement Standards from a range of Learning Areas
  • Record of Oral Language

Assessment Tools Selector

Further information about a range of assessment tools is available at Assessment online

Watching the Oral Language Exemplars

Watch the Oral Language Exemplars DVD and select either Years 1-8 or Years 9-13 from the menu.

  • Watch the students as they talk about their learning from current units of work.
  • Note some of the detail on screen for each learner. This provides the evidence for placing the learner at each stage.
  • Go to the demonstration section on the DVD menu and practise placing some of the students on the matrices.

What features of oral language (output) do you notice?

As you watch, make notes about the content, delivery, non-verbal responses and language structures used by each learner.

You might like to download the following template to record your notes about each learner:

Thinking about your own students' oral language

Collect some information about your own English language learners’ oral language:

  • samples of students’ talk (particularly students talking about their learning in curriculum contexts)
  • results of any formal assessment tools
  • notes from informal observations
  • evidence of the learners’ listening skills

Making a 'best-fit'

How do I go about this?

In this section you will use your information to decide on a ‘best fit’ stage for your students. 

oral output video 2.

Oral Output (speaking) – See how one teacher and her colleague work together to decide on a student’s output stages.

Oral Input (listening) – A teacher and her colleague work together to decide on a student’s input and output stages.

Where do your English language learners fit on the oral language matrices?

Place your own students on the input and output matrix.

Look at the input and output matrices and decide which stage your student is likely to fit into. Make a general decision at this stage.

Sit your own student’s oral language information alongside the indicators at your best-fit stage.
- does this look like the right stage?

Examine the ‘content, delivery and language structures’ at your chosen stage, looking to confirm the typical features with your own student’s talk.
- does this confirm your identification of the best-fit stage?

If it doesn't confirm your identification, look at the stages before and after the one you are looking at to try and find the appropriate stage for your learner. You will probably notice that students show aspects across more than one stage. You are aiming for an overall ‘best fit’.

Monitoring your learners

Keeping track of your learners’ stages is important. One purpose is to show progress over time and this could be done in a variety of ways. You could:

  • highlight and date the indicators on the matrix and record the student’s ‘best-fit’ level. 
  • annotate the matrix with extra notes that support your decision.
  • collate the information on a student ‘record of progress’ form. See the example which you could use or adapt from the booklets.
    Years 1-4 p.64
    Years 5-8 p.81
    Years 9-13 p.89
  • record on your school manager or database system.

Consider how this information helps you and what you should do next to help your learners.

  • what do my students need to learn next?
  • what do I need to do next?

Next steps

Acting on the oral language information

Our suggestions to further develop your own ability to interact effectively with English language learners include:

  • allowing additional “wait time” to give learners a chance to initiate and/or respond
  • modifying your speech if necessary so that students understand.

Suggestions to further develop your students’ oral language proficiency include:

  • using the matrices and looking ahead to the indicators at the next stage
  • using visuals or real life objects to hang new language and learning on
  • providing multiple opportunities to use new vocabulary and/or language structures
  • collaborative small group tasks such as jigsaw tasks
  • think-pair-share
  • 3-2-1 oral language tasks
  • speaking frames
  • disappearing definition.

Many of these strategies are found:

If you need to order copies of these materials, please email  [email protected] or 0800 660 662.

Leading professional learning - oral language

How to use this online material with other teachers to develop knowledge about English language learners’ oral language:

  • The facilitation manual of The Progressions: ELLP also has some helpful ideas. Look at pp.22-24 for tasks, templates and focus questions around the oral language section of The Progressions: ELLP
  • Return to the tab above,  Gathering information,  and go to - Watching the Oral Language Exemplars.  Work through the viewing guide with your teachers, making links to the students in your school who show similar features of oral language and who would be at each stage.
  • Use the series of DVD Making Language and Learning Work (1, 2 & 3) to help you plan for specific teaching ideas and support your discussion about oral language with teachers.

Published on: 15 Dec 2015