Employability Skills > Using language effectively > Speaking and listening

Speaking and listening

smiling learners talk

Speaking and listening skills underpin effective communication. Learners need to be able to speak so that others understand them in formal and informal situations, whether speaking to family and friends or work colleagues and customers.

Listening for the detail or gist of information requires a range of skills – not least the confidence to ask for the speaker to repeat what they have said! Don't forget the importance of non-verbal communication skills in face-to-face situations, and that communicating by phone requires a different range of skills.

Start by exploring Teaching speaking and listening: A toolkit for practitioners which has a strong employability focus and suggestions for developing speaking and listening in work related contexts. Look at Team discussions for ideas about how to introduce learners to a range of useful skills that reinforce team effectiveness. These activities reinforce the complementarity of team working and communication skills.

Take a look at the skills and qualities, challenges and ideas for action below. For additional support and guidance on developing speaking and listening skills, explore the ideas in Working together and Thinking and solving problems. Understanding the business considers how learners need to apply these in the workplace.

Resources for Speaking and listening

Teaching speaking and listening: A toolkit for practitioners

The toolkit was produced to support key skills teachers and learners but the content is entirely relevant to speaking and listening skills development at any level. It has a strong employability focus and suggestions for a wide range of vocational contexts are provided. The toolkit focuses on practical examples arising from real situations where learners need to speak and listen – particularly in the workplace. It is based on the experience, reflection and learning process model.  Activities to use with learners include active listening, giving a short talk, tone and style, making notes and mind maps among many other relevant areas.

The links below take you to a collection of resources produced as part of the Key Skills Support Programme which address speaking and listening among other areas, and cover areas such as active listening, giving a short talk, tone and making notes. The resources, both generic and vocational (covering most areas), are from Levels 1-3.

Level crossing is a comprehensive collection of key skills resources to support teachers and learners with functional skills. Revised in April 2009, it provides an overview of requirements, guidance and many activities for learners from Entry Level 1 to Level 2. Specific to this area are sections on awareness of audience, speaking, discussion, listening, non-verbal communication and presentations.

Teachers will find these assets provide a rich seam of resources and guidance for this area. They can also be used for staff development.

Teaching speaking and listening: A toolkit for practitioners - launch in original context

  • star star star star star RateTeaching and learning resources: Communication Web 
  • star star star star star RateTeaching and learning: Communication PDF 
  • star star star star star RateTeaching and learning resources: Level crossing Web 

Team discussions

These learner activities from the Co-operative learning toolkit highlight the close relationship between team working, speaking, listening and discussion skills. Co-operative learning is a powerful tool that can be used to model workplace practice in the classroom or workplace, and indeed, in cyberspace, where virtual teams can learn together. Team success requires individuals to use effective speaking, listening and discussion skills.

Although the resources are set in an IT context they are readily adaptable to any context and applicable at all levels. They follow sound active learning principles and model a participative process.

What makes a good discussion leader? examines the vital role of the team leader in discussion. Using agree/disagree strips learners will be able to develop their speaking and listening skills.

Four team discussion tools: Brainstorming, Grafitti wall, Team ‘stuck’ sheets and The parcel and the wall are four tools that help team members to solve problems creatively while practising discussion skills.

Using graphic organisers is another problem solving tool to help learners to analyse complex tasks and then use them in team discussions.

Secret word is an activity that develops vocabulary and listening skills. It is simple to prepare and very engaging for learners, and can encourage the timid or reluctant participant to engage in discussion.

Try the activities out with colleagues and consider:

  • the value of discussion skills in the workplace;
  • how you can use the activities to help learners to prepare for a role as team workers; and
  • how you might use the extension activity, Using graphic organisers to help learners structure discussions.

Team discussions - launch in original context

  • star star star star star RateWhat makes a good discussion leader? Web 
  • star star star star star RateFour team discussion tools Web 
  • star star star star star RateUsing graphic organisers Web 
  • star star star star star RateSecret word Web 

Telephone and customer care skills in user support

This resource consists of four audio tapes in which employees in a fictional small company handle calls from customers who are having problems using the company's online ordering system. You can use the resource to help learners understand the importance of good customer care and how it impacts on business. Learners will also develop skills in active listening and in responding appropriately to customers.

You can download audio files below. The learning activities included in the guidance notes (also below) offer a choice of approaches to suit the needs of different learners, ranging from the very structured to the more open-ended. For learners needing more support there is a ‘call framework’. More advanced learners can develop their analytical thinking skills by devising and testing their own framework or guidelines for effective call handling.

Try the activity out with colleagues and consider:

  • the value of discussion skills in the workplace;
  • how you can use the activity to help learners to prepare for a role as team workers; and
  • how you might use the extension activity, Using graphic organisers to help learners structure discussions.

After learners have tried out the activity, ask them to reflect. What did they learn? How did they learn? How could these skills be useful in the workplace? This helps to make explicit the skills and qualities that learners need to acquire, and nurtures self-management and reflection skills.

Telephone and customer care skills in user support - launch in original context

Giving and receiving feedback

In this audio and paper based activity, learners listen to examples of peer-to-peer feedback, identify good and poor practice and establish a set of do’s and don’ts. In listening to the feedback learners will recognise that effective speaking and listening are essential for learning and relate to all aspects of life and work. Although the resource is designed for learners in Information technology (IT), it is accessible to learners from any subject area as the topics are not technical. It was piloted in a prison and very well received.

They should also recognise the importance of being able to receive feedback positively although the feedback itself may be negative. This requires sensitivity. In addition to using the example activity, teachers and learners can develop their own scenario and role play it themselves rather than listen to recorded versions. This might also lead to demonstrations of the use of body language and tone.

Learners should be able to:

  • improve their learning and discussion skills;
  • identify key points about giving and receiving feedback; and
  • develop their understanding of how to behave during the feedback phase of peer review activities.

You can download four audio clips and comprehensive guidance notes below. This activity builds well following the teaching, and development of the skills outlined in the first set of resources in this list.

Giving and receiving feedback - launch in original context

Discussion and debating skills in Citizenship

This booklet is packed with useful guidance and provides a practical introduction to discussion and debating skills development within a citizenship context. Learners are helped to express their opinions in a clear and logical way, to think critically and to develop reasoned arguments. The content covers issues such as listening, presenting alternative viewpoints, opinions and separating fact from opinion, lines of arguments, responding, challenging, persuading, debating and peer and self-evaluation.

The resource includes activities, such as card sorts and questionnaires, which can easily be adapted to develop the skills of speaking and listening in an employability context. Consider how you can use these with your learners to help them to develop their ability to manage contentious situations where they will need a particular set of speaking and listening skills.

This resource complements Make it happen. Here you will find a selection of videos and downloads that illustrate discussion and debating skills in use. Explore the section, Taking action on citizenship, which focuses on learner activity around a formal debate. There are short videos on preparing for the debate, the debate itself and reflections on the arguments by learners. Other videos look at a risk discussion at a staff conference and a reflection seminar from Coulsdon College.

These resources provide you with an informed and informative background to help you prepare your learners to develop and practise skills in discussion and debate.

Discussion and debating skills in Citizenship - launch in original context

Making your case

This learner activity aims to help learners develop their language skills through independent learning and research and presentation skills. Learners play the role of a person applying for funding for a work placement abroad and also in turn, the role of a member of a judging panel. Although developed for learners in Modern foreign languages it is easily adaptable to use in any vocational area. 

Learners are encouraged to listen and understand points made in discussions and to express their own opinions both as a presenter and as a peer judge. It is suitable for all sectors and levels and develops speaking, listening, reading and writing skills.

The activity is supported by guidance notes, a sample CV and a presentation record sheet which you can download from the screen.

After learners have tried out the activity, ask them to reflect. What did they learn? How did they learn? How could these skills be useful in the workplace? This helps to make explicit the skills and qualities that learners need to acquire and nurtures self-management and reflection skills.

Making your case - launch in original context

  • star star star star star RateMaking your case: Guidance notes PDF 
  • star star star star star RateSample CV PDF 
  • star star star star star RateLearner record sheet for presentations PDF 

Communication: Body language

Non-verbal communication plays an important part in providing good customer care, and being aware of how body language can affect interactions at work is a valuable skill. This card activity gives learners the opportunity to interpret body language and explore how and why it can affect a situation in both positive and negative ways. It is available in paper-based and interactive formats. The downloadable teachers’ guidance notes suggest flexible and imaginative ways of using and building on the activity. The activity can be used with all levels of learners and can be adapted to take account of their levels of language and literacy.

An important feature of the resource is that there is not necessarily a ‘correct response’ to each of the cards. Where learners’ responses differ you can use this to explore issues of equality and diversity by encouraging them to consider how our mood, temperament or culture might affect our interpretation of someone’s body language.

Communication: Body language - launch in original context

  • star star star star star RateBody language: Guidance notes PDF 
  • star star star star star RateSheet 1: Body language image cards (Pack A) RTF 
  • star star star star star RateSheet 2: Body language behaviour description cards (Pack B) RTF 

Soap opera

This inspirational and prize winning soap opera resource is a comprehensive and stimulating role play activity. Set in a block of flats, with a café, a general store and a pharmacy on the ground floor, it provides a wide variety of realistic, interactive scenarios. It operates at various levels from beginners to advanced and will stimulate independent learning and development of language skills. It is supported by:

  • downloadable guidance notes;
  • graded scenario prompt cards, which are available in French, German, Italian, Spanish and English and can be adapted as appropriate;
  • a downloadable poster of the block flats as a visual stimulus;
  • an additional downloadable poster of a conference centre as an alternative setting; and
  • a diagram of the flat occupancy.

You can use this flexible and adaptable activity to:

  • encourage creative and imaginative use of language through speaking and listening, reading or writing;
  • encourage teamwork or collaborative learning; and
  • promote cultural awareness.

Soap opera - launch in original context

  • star star star star star RateSoap opera: Guidance notes PDF 
  • star star star star star RateSoap opera: A3 poster of block of flats PDF 
  • star star star star star RateSoap opera: Characters from the block of flats PDF  Word Document  
  • star star star star star RateSoap opera: A3 poster of conference centre PDF