Topics for Speaking and Listening

Paul Main

Choosing topics for speaking and listening to improve communication and reasoning skills.

What makes a good topic for speaking and listening?

Developing good listening skills is an essential skill for children to grasp. It helps them understand what they are being told, it enables them to follow instructions and it also allows them to participate in conversations with others. This article will look at some of the factors that make up a good topic for speaking or listening.

The first thing you need to consider when choosing your topic is whether there is something about which everyone can agree. If not then this may be difficult because people have different views on many things. For example if you were talking about how much money we spend on food each week, most people would probably agree but those who live on very little might disagree. You could discuss why we buy so much food, where our food comes from, how much waste goes into making it etc. These sorts of listening activities involve children appreciating different perspectives. A good topic for speaking and listening should elicit positive student interaction. If you want students to listen carefully, try using questions as part of your topic. Questions help focus attention on particular aspects of the subject matter. They enable learners to think more deeply about their own understanding and provide opportunities for discussion. How can you develop good questions? The Universal Thinking Framework comes with deep question stems that can be quickly used for creating listening tasks. As well as providing a stimulus for deep thinking, the higher-order questions stems can be used to assess English Listening.

Engaging topics for speaking and listening
Engaging topics for speaking and listening


Using a topic for speaking and listening to develop language skills

Coming up with ideas for speaking and listening topics is hard work. Depending on the age group, controversial topics that bring opinions into student discussions can be a good starting point. Children's news programs always offer a selection of good topics. Choosing a child friendly concept is critical for generating discussion. Questions might include, should we eat meat? Do we need cars? What should we learn at school? These open-ended questions require students to generate points and listen to others during a learning conversation. Drama offers a great window for developing these skills. Students can take on different roles and in doing so, change their perspectives.This type of student interaction provides an opportunity to determine the 'listening grade' of a child. Are they taking on board what others are saying or simply broadcasting their opinion? Advanced students should be able to paraphrase by using terminology like 'I hear what you saying' or 'in other words, you mean...'. Being able to demonstrate this ability in listening tasks is an essential aspect of developing language skills. Setting expectations for students is a key part of Oracy development, you can learn more about this area in our other blog post. Having classroom rules and creates accountability for student discussions. In time, these types of practices create classroom climates for productive speaking and listening. Advanced students should be able to participate in discussions that relate to all aspects of the curriculum. Whether they agree with the speaking and listening topic or not, they should be able to contribute valid points and demonstrate their ability to hear others. A good speaking and listening topic can also integrate academic language. The chosen topic can be relevant to the subject area and provide students with opportunities to practice ways of talking about the curriculum area. For example, think and talk like a scientist. Speaking and listening is not just for English Language Arts or English Literature. Each curriculum area has academic vocabulary that needs to be mastered. Classroom dialogue can be used as a way of practicing or rehearsing for writing, think of it as a precursor before pen is committed to paper. 

Speaking using engaging topics


Using topics for Facilitating classroom discussions

A good class discussion should promote the interchange of ideas. It requires active participation from everyone involved. Teachers have a responsibility to facilitate collaborative discussions where children feel comfortable sharing their views. This means being aware of your own biases when planning lessons and also thinking about rules for discussion. If you want to encourage debate then avoid teaching controversial issues such as religion or politics. Instead choose subjects that will allow students to share their thoughts without fear of offending someone else. When choosing a topic, consider how many people may disagree with each other. You could even ask them beforehand if there's anything they don't want to discuss and add these to the rules for discussions. Another important factor is ensuring that the topic is interesting enough to keep students engaged throughout the lesson. Collaborative discussions require teachers to listen carefully and respond appropriately. They need to ensure that every member of the class feels valued and heard. Students who do not speak up during a conversation risk losing out on valuable learning experiences. Asking questions encourages learners to express themselves and helps build relationships between peers. Good questioning techniques include asking open-ended questions rather than closed ones. Questions help develop critical thinking skills and increase engagement levels. Collaborative discussions are an essential part of any successful school community. By encouraging pupils to engage in conversations, teachers can foster positive attitudes towards one another and improve communication within the classroom. 

Speaking using engaging topics
Speaking using engaging topics

Choosing a topic for speaking and listening

Choose something that interests all members of the class but does not cause offence. Avoid religious or political controversies unless you're confident that no-one would object to discussing this issue. Think about what makes a great debating topic? Is it topical? Does it relate to current events? Or perhaps it relates to history? Whatever the case, make sure that the topic is suitable for both groups of students. As it has been mentioned, topics that include relevant academic language can act as a springboard for writing assignments.

Here are some speaking and listening topic ideas:

  1. How can we keep children safe?
  2. What was the most important scientific discovery?
  3. Should all jobs should be enjoyable?
  4. How can we stay healthy?
  5. Does action speak louder than words?
  6. Does practice make perfect?
  7. Does action speak louder than words?
  8. Should we always share what we have?
  9. Should we always keep learning?
  10. Is failure part of success?
  11. Can money buy happiness?
  12. How does travelling change us?

How do you generate ideas for collaborative discussion?

When students are talking and thinking together they are putting ideas under discussion. Starting with a few basic ideas to kick things off should act as a catalyst for building more complex ideas. Having some talking points up your sleeve along with some suitable question stems will ensure that the collaborative discussions don't dry up. Simply having a talk partner does not always lead to purposeful debate. Pupils might need extra ammunition to generate the key ideas that are central to the topic.