Evidence for Learning: Oral language interventions

Oral language interventions

A summary of the research evidence on oral language interventions in the Australasian context.

The Teaching & Learning Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of oral language interventions on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.

This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on oral language interventions. In contrast to the Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by school leaders, teachers and students. This information is valuable for school leaders and teachers interested in finding out more about particular examples of oral language interventions that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.

This Australasian Research Summary was generated by Melbourne Graduate School of Education in 2016. 

Oral language concerns spoken and verbal language. It is believed to be important for developing literacy skills, as children transfer their knowledge of spoken language to written text. However, there remains very little Australasian-based research examining the effectiveness of school-based oral language interventions in improving students’ verbal and/​or literacy skills. The few published studies tend to show positive gains, but one study of the long-term impacts of oral language interventions found that these gains were not maintained over time (Henning, McIntosh, Arnott & Dodd, 2010).

The literature search yielded more studies pertaining to parents and oral language interventions, but these have not been included in this review of school-based interventions. Nevertheless, those studies emphasise the importance early intervention for students at risk of falling behind.

Hill and Launder (2010) reported on teachers’ experiences of using an oral language intervention aimed at improving the literacy skills of students in Year 1. The play-based intervention involved teachers incorporating oral language throughout their lessons and emphasising oral language structures and vocabulary. Pre- and post-intervention assessments of students’ literacy skills showed no significant gains in literacy. The authors concluded that oral language does not necessarily transfer to literacy skills.

Henning et al. (2010) examined the long-term outcomes of an oral language and phonological awareness intervention that aimed to improve the literacy outcomes of socially disadvantaged students. Fifty-four students from the same school (males=26; females=28; 28 intervention; 26 control) aged 6 – 7 years participated in the study. The intervention took place over 20 weeks and involved a trained teacher integrating an oral language component during lessons. The results showed that the literacy skills of intervention group students improved immediately after the intervention, with gains over and beyond the control group, but this advantage was not maintained after two years.

In their article, Dawkins and O’Neill (2011) outlined the design and development of an oral language intervention for Years 2 and 3 that sought to improve students’ oral narrative performance. The intervention involved the teaching of narrative structure and coherence as well as appropriate lexical and grammatical structures. The intervention was conducted over eight weeks, with three 30-minute sessions each week. While the researchers did not assess the efficacy of the intervention, they hypothesised that the intervention would benefit students’ written skills.

Rowlands (2012) evaluated an oral language intervention that was trialled with twelve preparatory students in two schools. Participating teachers receiving specialised training in oral language instruction, which they then incorporated into their daily classes. There were also twelve students in two control schools. The results of students’ literacy assessments showed that those who participated in the intervention made greater gains than students in the control group. However, students with the poorest literacy skills made the smallest gains, suggesting that alternative interventions may be more suitable for students with low-level literacy.

Moore, Hammond and Fetherston (2014) examined two different programs of explicit oral language instruction for Year 1 students (n=127) from six schools (three intervention, three control). Students in the first program were taught a large number of word meanings; students in the second program were taught fewer word meanings but in greater depth. The programs ran over 18 weeks during normal English instruction time. Post-intervention results showed that students in both programs scored significantly higher on literacy assessments than control group students.

Dawkins, S., & O’Neill, M. (2011). Teaching literate language in a storytelling intervention. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 34(3), 294 – 307.

Henning, C., McIntosh, B., Arnott, W., & Dodd, B. (2010). Long-term outcome of oral language and phonological awareness intervention with socially disadvantaged preschoolers: the impact on language and literacy. Journal of Research in Reading, 33(3), 231 – 246.

Hill, S., & Launder, N. (2010). Oral language and beginning to read. Australian Journal of Language & Literacy, 33(3), 240 – 254.

Moore, W., Hammond, L., & Fetherston, T. (2014). Strengthening Vocabulary for Literacy: An Analysis of the Use of Explicit Instruction Techniques to Improve Word Learning from Story Book Read-Alouds. Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 19(2), 153 – 172.

Rowlands, S. M. (2012). How can oral language impact on literacy acquisition? The study of an oral language intervention program with preparatory students in Tasmania (Masters thesis, University of Tasmania, Australia). Retrieved from http://eprints.utas.edu.au/14718/

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Oral language interventions; dialogic/​interactive reading; joint book reading.