Should we teach adults speaking skills?

Speaking in class and doing oral presentations are common in adult English language learning classes; indeed speaking is formally tested on the U.S. Citizenship test. However, some adult educators might ask why adults need good oral presentation skills in Adult Basic Education (ABE) and Adult Secondary Education (ASE), and if these skills are included in the College and Career Readiness Standards that we now expect of adults.

Adult learners need or can benefit from good speaking and oral presentation skills in many important ways in their roles as workers, patients, parents, community members, and in preparation for college:


  • Oral self-presentation skills at a job interview often determine whether or not the adult learner is offered the job.
  • Clear, complete, oral communication is essential in most jobs. People who work in teams must communicate orally to get their work done. Employees must communicate clearly and completely with their supervisors. In jobs that involve communicating with customers or clients, good speaking skills are often essential and always a plus.
  • Adult learners often need to stick up for themselves at work to avoid wage theft, address unsafe working conditions, and get the wages and benefits they are entitled to. In addition to reading, writing and numeracy skills, oral presentation skills may be essential to make their cases.


  • Adults need to be able to communicate clearly with health care professionals in person, and by telephone. They need to be able to organize their thoughts, and speak clearly and succinctly.


  • Often parents need to communicate with their children’s teachers or school administrators. Clear and complete oral communication in English is essential to get information, and also to build good relationships with teachers and school officials, which is often helpful for support of their children in school.
  • Parents with good oral presentation skills themselves may be able to help their children prepare oral presentations for class, and can model oral question-asking that may help them with participation in class discussions.
  • In some cases children may have good learning options that their parents don’t know about. Being able to ask other parents and school officials about possible choices may open opportunities for their children that they would otherwise not be aware of.

Community and civic action

  • As a community member an adult learner who wants to express views about an issue, and who has good oral presentation skills, will be more persuasive. The ability to speak clearly, with logic and passion, and to offer good examples, may convince others to act for mutual benefit.

College preparation

  • In addition to college classes that require formal oral presentations, some may require participation in discussion, and grades may depend on this. Adult learners who are comfortable with speaking in discussions and making formal presentations will likely be better prepared for what college requires.


Are these kinds of skills included in the new College and Career Readiness Standards (College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, Susan Pimentel, MPR Associates 2013) that we now expect of adult learners?

Yes, they are!

Speaking skills are included as part of one of the major shifts to these new standards (shift 2, page 10,) “The second key shift required by the standards and reflected in panelists’ selections is the prioritization of textual evidence across the domains of reading, writing, and speaking and listening – a decision based on national assessment data and input from college faculty indicating that command of evidence is a key college and career readiness skill. “ [emphasis mine]

There is a whole strand of speaking and listening standards: “Including, but not limited to, skills necessary for formal presentations, the Speaking and Listening Standards require students to develop a range of broadly useful oral communication and interpersonal skills. The standards ask students to learn to work together, express and listen carefully to ideas, integrate information from oral, visual, quantitative, and media sources, evaluate what they hear, use media and visual displays strategically to help achieve communicative purposes, and adapt speech to context and task.” They include, for example: “Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task. (SL.9-10.4)” and “Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating a command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.) (SL.11-12.6).” Speaking, of course, is also included in the language standards.

In Appendix C, RATIONALES FOR THE SELECTION OF THE COMMON CORE, is this important sentence: “Panelists also argued that articulating ideas and information orally with precision and coherence (Speaking and Listening Standard 4) is a skill students need in college or at work. Indeed, both employers and college faculty cite the ability to articulate thoughts and ideas clearly and coherently (orally and in writing) as key on their respective surveys.” (College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, page 109)

In an article on the Common Core State Standards that she wrote in January, 2014, prolific K-12 technology blogger Jacqui Murray begins her list of “11 Things I Love About Common Core,” with “They teach speaking and listening. Of all the skills that make a difference in a child’s future, their ability to speak and listen to others tops that list. How have we not included this in the past? I have no idea and truly don’t care. I’m happy it’s part of the plan now.”   Speaking and listening are now part of the adult education standards, and we need to make them a priority now in our ABE and ASE teaching.


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