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

Oral language

Children sitting on the mat in class.

Oral language is one of the foundations of early literacy. Having skills in listening, talking, viewing, drawing and critiquing are all important precursors to developing skills in reading and writing.  Oral language is needed to negotiate social situations, create meaning of the world around them, and access the curriculum.

Teachers need to engage all students in general classroom talk and in activities that require specific listening and talking skills. Teachers also need to be aware of and incorporate, the cultural practices and perspectives of all their students where possible. When students feel that the talk and activities in the classroom are meaningful, purposeful and meet their needs, they are likely to better engage in learning.

ERO, 2017

Four kinds of oral language usage and development underpin curriculum access and students’ ability to learn in later years:

  • Independent listening. This includes the ability to listen to extended talk (such as stories, factual accounts, or presentations) and to retain the information so that it can be recalled. The kind of listening students are expected to do at school (especially where the teacher is talking to the whole class) often differs from the listening they are used to doing at home, where talk is mainly about familiar events and experiences, involving just a few people who know each other well.
  • Independent speaking. This includes the ability to use extended talk (for example when recounting news, retelling a story, or explaining an idea) without the support of immediate feedback. Independent speaking of this kind requires learners to use increasingly precise and sophisticated language that is tailored and communicated clearly to the audience.
  • Using social language. This is about developing conversational skills in small groups, such as greeting others, sharing stories, or offering entertainment. There are often group norms for initiating, joining and ending conversations, and introducing new topics in particular social situations that may have to be learned.
  • Applying discussion skills. This is about the ability to interpret specific language (especially academic language) to carry out structured learning tasks. This involves students in thinking about abstract concepts, reasoning about possible and probable causes, and reflecting and talking about their own learning. Discussion skills also involve the use of focused talk in a small group for a particular purpose, generally to clarify or explore ideas, make decisions or reach consensus about the best option. During a discussion, students build knowledge and understanding, expand vocabulary, learn new ways of expressing ideas, and develop their listening and critical thinking skills.

Learning Through Talk: Oral Language in Years 1 to 3, MOE, 2009

School stories

Improving written and oral language with multimedia
Sally McDougall and her students explain their process for writing book reviews and creating QR codes to share them with the wider community. Using technologies as part of this learning process has resulted in improved written work, reading, oral communication, and confidence. Sally has found there’s that higher level of engagement because they’ve got an authentic audience.

Phonological awareness and classroom-based research
Classroom teacher Pam Becker talks about the steps she took to improve student outcomes in their oral language development and the impact this had on her practice and her students.

Student support programmes

Pause Prompt Praise – Tatari Tautoko Tauawhi (PPP)

Pause Prompt Praise is a set of reading tutoring strategies to help older children experiencing difficulties in learning to read. These strategies help children use all sources of information available to them when they are reading from meaningful texts.

In this programme, parent tutors are trained to recognise the types of mistake children often make in their reading (for example, omissions, substitutions, insertions) and to respond to each mistake by:

  • first pausing (to give the child time to self-correct)
  • then (if necessary) prompting appropriately
  • finally praising the child for all positive behaviours (these are listed and include “turning up for tutoring” and “a bright smile” as well as for self-corrections and all attempts).

A Te Reo version, Tatari, Tautoko, Tauawhi, was developed and trialled in the early 1990s.

Resource packs are available from  Down the Back of the Chair

Tatari Tautoko Tauawhi (teacher pck) * RESTRICTED * (Each) code:710734

Tatari Tautoko Tauawhi (Student)* RESTRICTED * (Each) code:710735

Requests for this resource should be emailed to DTBOTC Administrator at [email protected]

TATA – Oral language/phonological awareness in Māori immersion education

TATA is a resource-based programme which focuses on simultaneously developing a sound oral language base and lifting the phonological awareness of children in Māori immersion education settings. Six schools in the Tauranga and Waikato area participated in exploring and trialing the resource, in collaboration with Group Special Education (GSE) Poutama Pounamu Education Research and Development Centre in Tauranga. This research involved whānau (family members), both in the development of the resource and the documentation of the evaluation.

The name TATA was coined from TAutu reTA, the first and last letters of the Māori words for dictionary. The name was chosen also because it means "almost" or "getting close to it", to reflect that these children are almost ready to start reading (kuatata te tīmata ki ate pānui) but the skill of matching sounds in words to the letters will prepare them even more.

The issues

Children entering immersion classes have very varied language needs. Their language experiences range from those who have been communicated with mainly in Māori, through to some who have had no Māori language communication. A small but significant number have poor communication skills in either English or Māori. For any of a number of reasons, often including special physical or learning needs, they have not gained the ability to identify sounds in words and relate them to print. Teachers in immersion education sought strategies particularly to support this small group of children to set them on the road to literacy.

The planning

Planning was firmly grounded in research about language acquisition in general and about the social and cultural contexts for Māori language development. Paramount was the principle of Māori ownership and control of the process, so the whole development was driven by the participants. Linguistic research emphasises that language knowledge is intertwined with cultural and social knowledge – learning grows from the talking and interactions that occur in the home and in community settings where the users take an active part in events.

The TATA programme builds on the understanding that the best form of teaching for meaning is through focused, instructional conversations between the teacher and learners. The TATA development also reflects the fact that, unlike English, tereoMāori is phonologically regular, so that learners can confidently rely on letter-sound relationships as building blocks for most words.

The resource

The TATA resource was developed in response to teachers' observations that junior class teaching based on TutureriTautoko Tauawhi (Pause Prompt Praise) procedures, while appropriate for many children with a solid basis of oral language, did not offer sufficient help to certain readers working at the pre-reading and emergent stages. These children needed to be able to isolate sounds in spoken language and match them to letter and word shapes if they were to become independent readers. A kit of materials was designed which teachers could develop, augment, and use flexibly to promote conversation and phonological awareness. Suggestions for a starter kit included a range of picture cards, objects (including found objects such as shells, as well as household items and toy animals), dictionary and consonant cards, waiata (song) cards and tapes, and a sand tray and play dough.

Setting up the TATA project

Teachers in the six schools identified children who could benefit from a special phonological awareness programme. These children were assessed in terms of the research criteria, and a group from each school selected. Two researchers then progressively trained teachers and tutors from each school. In each school, the teacher who had identified the children agreed to act as the liaison teacher to collaborate with the researcher. She contacted the whānau members of the students and also sought out whānau members and kaiawhinawho were prepared to train as tutors and implement the programme with the target students. As she also helped with training the tutors,organised the administration within the school, and monitored the programme in the school, the liaison teacher was critical to success.

Only half the selected students were tutored in the first phase of the programme, so that it was possible to gather comparative data on children's progress after eight to ten weeks. In all, four assessments were carried out with each group of students.

The three members of the research team were a field worker, who carried out the school liaison and assessment, a trainer, and a researcher who concentrated on data gathering and analysis. However, in practice, all the participants and school communities collaborated and developed a shared understanding of the programme, its purposes, and its effectiveness.

TATA tutoring sessions

Each tutoring session lasts 10 to 15 minutes, with several sessions each week. The tutor selects items from letter bags for the child to name. The beginning sound or sounds are identified, and the item placed appropriately on a large alphabet mat, with the child matching the sound to the letter, and naming the letter. Learning is reinforced by related activities, discussion and practise, that includes forming letters in the sand or dough. As the sessions proceed, the child takes increasing responsibility for the tasks and the tutor extends the variety and range, including drawing, writing, singing, and collaborative reading from dictionary picture cards. Tutors and liaison teachers are encouraged to withdraw and add items to their kits so that new challenges are presented, and children become more independent and active in talking and exploring words and ideas.

Having real objects or pictures to handle gives a practical context, which focuses attention and promotes conversation. The hands-on aspect of the programme is one of its major strengths.

The results

The analysis of assessment data showed that, over two terms, all students made gains – many of them significant – on the three formal measures of naming of objects, the isolation of initial sounds, and sound-to-letter matching. These measures, however, tell only part of the story. The children and tutors enjoyed using the materials, and not only gained skills, but grew in independence.

Through discussion with a number of key teachers and tutors, a collaborative story was developed which gives a richer flavour of what had motivated them and sustained them through this project, and what they had observed with their children.

Teachers saw children coming through with more skills for reading, and greater confidence, so they participated more fully and were able to benefit more from the class programme. They also valued a practical programme which could be done in the school but was also easily available to parents, so gave genuine opportunities for home-school partnerships.

The tutors found that the flexible resource enabled them to increase the challenges and maintain the appeal of the sessions. One tutor, Bridget from Te Kura O Waharoa, conveys some of the excitement they expressed. She describes the resources as "awesome" – children who came into the programme not having any idea of where to start came out confident, their self-esteem over the moon. Her biggest struggle was to help one girl of 11 years who could recognise only one letter, but she was able to gain confidence from success with TATA tasks and started to read and write words, including her name. The liaison teacher was a good encourager – the partnership was vital. While the children benefited – and they did benefit – she also felt she benefited herself, gaining a lot of skills intereoMāori and the confidence to help the children.

The parents, too, came to the programme, quite keen but scared at first because of tereoMāori, but as they watched the tutor, they began to realise that they could be involved too. They made the effort to participate in the one-on-one classes, and they just loved the experience, especially taking part in the language games. The tutor set homework and got feedback from parents who liked being able to work alongside their children with hands-on tasks. Parents wanted their children to be able to enjoy, learn, and succeed in tereoMāori, and to be confident – to hold their heads up and be proud of themselves.

The tutor stressed the importance of praising the children's efforts. By building on the children's increasing knowledge of sounds, combining them into words, and exploring what the words meant, she was able to move them to reading simple books and from there on advanced their levels in reading. The children would get a little reward, and at the end of the day,recognised themselves as readers. In the words of a tutor, "That was better than a pay – to actually see them read".

The success of the TATA trial programme suggests a model that could be further explored to meet specific needs of young Māori medium students. It offers a focus for reinforcement of language structures and discussion, and gives a practical opportunity to foster home-school relationships.

Mere Berryman 
Poutama Pounamu 
Group Special Education 

The schools in the Tauranga cluster were Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Otepou, Maungatapu Primary, and Matapihi Primary.

The schools in the Waikato cluster were Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Toku Mapihi Maurea, Knighton Normal, and Waharoa.

Hei Awhiawhi Tamariki ki te Panui Pukapuka (HPP) – Supporting children with storybook reading

Hei Awhiawhi Tamariki ki te Panui Pukapuka (HPP) means “Supporting children’s oral language development within English-medium storybook reading contexts”.

HPP is a tutoring programme where parent tutors are trained to enrich students’ oral language. The parent tutors first read the book and then prepare to develop students’ language by using the “One Hand Approach”. For each picture in the book, they think of four statements they could make (four fingers) and one related question they could ask (the crucial thumb). They also look for examples of words that rhyme.

During the session, they greet the students, introduce the book and preview it using their prepared statements and questions. Then they read the story, and over the next few sessions, they revisit it so that the students can retell the story, identify rhyming sounds, think of more rhymes, and segment words into onset and rime. The emphasis is on enjoying the stories and developing phonological awareness.

Results of trialing in seven low-decile schools in 1999–2000 showed that students made substantial gains in reading, phonological awareness, rhyme recognition, and vocabulary knowledge.

Making a year's progress with HPP and PPP

Opotiki Primary School from Ministry of Education on Vimeo.

Principal Tony Howe discusses the strategies used at Opotiki Primary School to improve students’ reading and physical fitness.


What the data showed
The kids were making progress but not the progress we were hoping for. On average they were making 0.72 of a year's progress in a year at school. We would hope that kids would make a year’s progress in a year at school. And it wasn’t that the teachers weren’t trying.

Māori in mainstream
We didn’t have the tools, the assessment tools. We didn’t have the individual programmes that suited the needs of the students and we didn’t have the programmes that were proven to work with Māori kids in mainstream. So we looked at what programmes would suit our needs and we ran with HPP, Hei Awhiawhi Tamariki ki te Panui Pukapuka, which is an oral language programme which prepares students to begin the reading process. We included PPP (Pause, Prompt, Praise), which had been well researched, and TARP (Tape Assisted Reading Programme). All of which had been proven to work well with Māori in mainstream.

Train reading tutors
We decided to redefine the roles of the teacher aides. If they're here, let's train them so they are going to help the students improve their achievement levels. We had three teacher aides in the school in 2001 doing the photocopying, making the paints, etc. That doesn’t result in improved student learning. They were taught tutoring procedures and they were trained to do the pre- and post-testing.

So that meant, for the classroom teacher, someone else did the pre- and post-test, and then we wrote a report. And, from that, an individual letter is written home to the parents saying, “Johnny has gone from here to here. Please celebrate the success.”

We’re not into deficit theorising and saying, “Well, you’re 13 years old and you’re reading at 9. We’re still behind the 8 ball.” Hey, we’ve made a year’s gain! Let’s really celebrate it. That’s really significant given your historical rate of improvement.

Confident students
We’re a decile 1 school and the parents in our school want their kids to be as successful as the parents in a decile 10 school do. They love them to death. They want the best for them.

I think our kids feel pretty good about themselves now. They know they can read and read with success. That’s probably the greatest thing. They’re confident. They’re enjoying and doing better in the other areas.

Healthy students

We’re looking at targets and goals for this year including introducing healthy lunches. So, we cut out all junk food in the school. That means they can’t purchase junk food through the school.

Then we looked at our PE programme. We were concerned about a number of inactive and obese students. We selected a group of 10 students and three times a week they go down to a local gymnasium here. They’re not going there to build big muscles. That’s not the point of it. It’s to get them to enjoy and feel comfortable about being active. And hopefully, that will result in, as they become more active, losing weight, taking part in team sports or individual sports etc. ‘Cos at the moment they’re not.

Recognition for hard work
Winning the MultiServe award in October of 2003 was probably the best PD you could have had for the staff because it made everyone think they were making a difference, a positive difference, for our kids and others are recognising it. That we are doing things well. Yes, we can do them better but it’s nice I think, it’s nice to get a pat on the back and some recognition that your hard work is appreciated.

Key resources

Updated on: 06 May 2021