Sunday, 7 January 2018

I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue: Oracy Games For The Classroom

Hello and welcome to another blog post on, the blog that has done for teachers 'what being hit repeatedly on the head with a large croquet mallet does for small frogs... or so I'm told'. You join me here today as I consider what teachers can learn from the long-running BBC Radio 4 panel game 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue'.

Whilst the chairman always introduces the teams as being given silly things to do, the entertainment is usually derived from witty and clever wordplay which demonstrate the competitors' mastery of the English language. Both the EEF's KS1 and KS2 literacy guidance reports have the development of pupils' speaking and listening skills (or oracy skills) as their first recommendation - in the KS2 document the emphasis is on developing pupils' language capability.

The KS2 guidance specifically mentions the benefit of collaborative approaches to improving oracy skills:
The impact of collaborative approaches on learning is consistently positive, but it does vary so it is important to get the detail right. Effective collaborative learning requires much more than just sitting pupils together and asking them to collaborate; structured approaches with well-designed tasks lead to the greatest learning gains. Effective collaboration does not happen automatically so pupils will need support and practice. Approaches that promote talk and interaction between learners tend to result in the best gains. The following should be considered when using a collaborative learning approach:
  • Tasks need to be designed carefully so that working together is effective and efficient, otherwise some pupils will try to work on their own. 
  • Competition between groups can be used to support pupils in working together more effectively within their group, though over-use of competition can focus learners on the competition rather than succeeding in their learning, so it must be used cautiously. 
  • It is particularly important to encourage lower achieving pupils to talk and articulate their thinking in collaborative tasks, as they may contribute less.
  •  Professional development may be needed to support the effective use of these strategies.
Now obviously the games that the participants play on ISIHAC aren't research-based but if we apply the principles above, and pay heed to the warnings too, we should be able to use some of them to promote a collaborative approach to improving oracy skills, and as a result improve reading and writing skills as well.

Without further ado, the games:

Ad-Lib Poetry: The teacher (or another child) reads or invents a line of poetry. Children than take it in turns to continue the poem, one line at a time. The focus could be on rhyming words, adjectives, synonyms or telling a story. This game does not have a strong competitive element.

Cheddar Gorge:  Children all start with 10 points. By taking it in turns to say a word each, children should aim not to be the one who completes a sentence. If the word they say finishes a complete and grammatically correct sentence they lose a point. The main tactic is to try to force the next person to complete the sentence. This game has a focus on correct grammar and syntax and might help children to assess whether or not a sentence has been completed. Teachers could record the sentences and model correct punctuation. As an extension to this children could be permitted to name a punctuation mark instead of giving  a word - this would allow for the inclusion of parenthesis and other clauses.

Compressed Works: Children give brief synopses of films and books whilst other children guess the title. Similar to this is Rewind where children explain the plot of a book or film as if everything happened in reverse order. This could be played in pairs, groups or as a whole class and gives children the opportunity to practise summarisation - an important and often difficult reading skill.

Letter Writing: Similar to Cheddar Gorge, children take it in turns to say a word, this time 'writing' as famous or historical person to another such person, usually about something they are known for. This can be played in teams with the two teams taking the roles of the two correspondents. Letter Writing could be a good game to use in history lessons or in response to the class novel with children taking on the role of the book's characters. This could be simplified for any style of writing so that children orally co-create a piece of work prior to recording it in writing. One tactic in this game is to add in conjunctions, adverbs and adjectives to prolong the sentences. Another variation is Historical Voicemail  where children suggest messages that might have been left on the answerphones and voicemails of historical figures.

Uxbridge English Dictionary: Children come up with new definitions of words based on the parts of the words. This is potentially difficult so this game might need some preparation in the form of teachers selecting words that would work well. This is a word play game which requires children to know meanings of other words, rather than the one they are redefining. A health warning exists here: it might be wise to supply true meanings as well so that children don't believe that their new definitions are correct.

What's the Question? Either the teacher or a child supplies an answer to a question. Children then have to make suggestions as to what the question could have been. Plausible or funny answers can be accepted. This game might get children thinking about cause and effect and is a great opportunity for them to ensure that their questions are succinct and linked well to the answer.

Word for Word: Children take it in turns to say a word. The aim is to say a word that has no association to the previous word. If another child can prove, however ingeniously, that the word a child say is associated with the previous word, then they gain a point. This game could develop children's vocabulary as they hear words that others know and by trying to find links children will think carefully about word meanings.

Click here to listen to examples of the show on the BBC iplayer (may not be suitable for children)

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