Appendix 2: Functions of oral language

The purpose of language is to communicate needs, wants, ideas, information, feelings, and relationships. Understanding the meaning and the communicative function of language are key to children’s language learning. Seven ‘functions’ of language are outlined in the table below. Each function is presented (in the left column), followed by a description (middle column) and a list of appropriate learning opportunities/experiences (right column)10.

Table 20: Fuctions of oral language

We communicate to

We use language to

Realised through

Get things done

(instrumental function)

Identify things, seek and provide information, request assistance, ask, persuade, explain, refer, facilitate

Problem-solving, role-playing, gathering materials

Influence behaviour/feelings/attitudes of others

(regulatory function)

Give information, instruct, direct, persuade, help, manage, organise, negotiate

Making rules in games, giving instructions, constructing persuasive talk, teaching

Get along with others

(interactional function)

Greet, welcome, meet, introduce, take leave, attract attention, congratulate, sustain conversations with familiar/unfamiliar people, interrupt appropriately, negotiate, resolve conflict

Structured play, dialogues and discussions, talking in groups, taking/giving turns, substantive conversations, role-plays and scenarios, talking on the telephone

Express individuality and personal feelings

(Personal function)

Express thoughts, ideas, feelings, recount experiences, explain, predict, narrate, praise, agree/disagree

Making feelings public, interacting with others, talking about topics of interest, retelling, recounting

Seek and learn about the social and physical environment

(heuristic function- tell me why?)

Ask questions, clarify, make request to repeat, investigate, prioritise, discuss, investigate

Q & A, inquiry and research, discussions, interviews, exploratory talk, investigating

Create – stories, games, new worlds, new texts

(imaginative – let’s pretend)

Tell stories (narrate), imagine, experiment, predict, play, anticipate, think of new ideas, play with words, use body language

Stories and dramatisations, rhymes, poems and riddles, nonsense and word-play, storytelling, performances, recitations, drama, skits, puppetry, readers’ theatre

Give information

(representational – I’ve got something to tell you)

Tell, report, inform, comment, share skills, impart knowledge, justify, describe, convey message

Oral reports, class meetings, debates, procedures, scripts


Opportunities for children to practice the functions of language are provided through both Formal Talk Contexts and Informal Talk Contexts (below):


Table 21: Contexts for children to practice the functions of language

Formal Talk Contexts

Informal Talk Contexts

  • Debate
  • Delivering oral messages
  • Dramatic presentations
  • Greeting, Introducing, Thanking, Bidding farewell to someone formally
  • Morning news
  • Report
  • Retelling
  • Storytelling
  • Telling joke/anecdote


  • Brainstorming and listing
  • Child-led play
  • Class discussions
  • Collaborative problem-solving
  • Construction activities
  • Games
  • Giving directions and instructions
  • Individual conferences
  • Joint text (oral or written construction)



10The contents of this table are adapted from Michael Halliday’s Seven Functions of Language (1975) in: Department of Education, WA (2013). First 005. Speaking and Listening Resource Book. Addressing Current Literacy Challenges. Department of Education, Government of Western Australia.