Speaking: Introduction

Speaking in Academic Contexts


The three main kinds of academic speaking activity that students will be involved in are:

  • Group Work
  • Formal Seminars
  • Oral presentations.

Speaking in academic contexts is becoming increasingly important as teaching methods change to involve more group work, joint projects and group marks. Students see problems if other students are not seen to be pulling their weight in collaborative work. It is therefore important to try to be more aware of what is involved in seminar or group activity and to learn some of the interactional language that is used there. It is important to practise making presentations, taking part in discussions on academic topics and so on.

You need to learn about:

  • The purpose of seminars.
  • Making a presentation: the structure of presentations making and using notes to speak from. Introducing the topic giving the information in detail sequencing, describing similarities and differences comparing and contrasting illustrating a point – giving examples and referring to research emphasising a point summarising and concluding.
  • Controlling the discussion: leading the discussion changing the subject – moving on speeding up things coming to a conclusion.
  • Participating in the discussion: interrupting politely asking questions – asking for more information/clarification stating a point of view – supporting your view agreeing and disagreeing – challenging and commenting making suggestions checking – making sure that you have understood holding the floor – preventing interruptions.
  • Listening and note taking.


In seminars, the same as with writing, plan your talk. If you are going to get as many marks for speaking as writing, spend as much time on it as your writing. Written language is different from spoken language. If you just read out your essay or report, no one will understand you.

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