Resources for Teaching Public Speaking

Chaleygirl, a 41-year veteran of teaching who is starting a new position asks:

Can you steer me towards any good ways of teaching speech? I want my students to have my opportunities to speak in class, but I don’t want to bore them with gobs of notes on pronunciation, articulation, correct breathing techniques, etc. I want them to find joy in the spoken word as I see joy in literary works. Any help would be appreciated.

First, congratulations on 41 years! I work in a Catholic school with a colleague who retired from the public system after 30 years and who’s approaching 40 years of teaching. We are very privileged to have his wisdom, experience and joy for teaching–I’m sure your new school must feel the same way.

I don’t have as much experience teaching speech as I do with literature, but I’ll give it my best shot and ask readers to add their suggestions.

I’m going to approach this by listing some public speaking activities I’m familiar with that have been useful to me and other teachers in getting students to speak comfortably and confidently in front of others. They’re not listed in any particular order.

Wax Museum

The teacher I mentioned earlier does a wax museum project every year with the seventh graders. The students choose a person of historical importance and research their life story, producing a biographical paper in MLA format. They then condense their research into a short (60 second?) speech in first person which they memorize.

The seventh graders then dress up as their subject and present their speeches to the entire school body, like a living wax museum. The entire project takes around two to three weeks, if I remember correctly.

Impromptu Speaking

This is an activity that gives students practice in thinking on their feet in addition to getting them to speak publicly. I usually do a two-week unit on impromptu speaking just before Christmas. Students are given a topic, and they have 5 minutes total to prepare and deliver a speech on that topic. I usually recommend that they prepare for one minute and speak for four minutes.

Last year, Samantha, a former student of mine, asked if she and some of her high school classmates could teach my class about impromptu speaking. Samantha’s school was sponsoring a junior high speech tournament and she wanted to encourage my students to participate. She and her classmates did a fantastic job, and the students enjoyed learning from high school students.

Here are some web resources that I use when I teach impromptu speaking:

Debate

Junior high students love to argue and get legalistic when it comes to rules and regulations, so a debate unit is a natural way to get students to practice public speaking. I don’t have much experience with formal debate, so I’m going to point you to Debate Central: Resources for High School Students, and Trivuum Pursuit’s Debate Page, and ask any readers out there to give their suggestions about teaching debate.

Oral Interpretation

Oral interpretation is a great way to make literature come alive and give students yet another chance to speak publicly. Students choose a three-minute excerpt from a novel, play or other piece of literature, and read it dramatically. The presentation does not need to be memorized, which allows students to focus more on their expression and pronunciation.

ReadWriteThink.org has a five-day oral interpretation unit featuring poetry that includes student handouts and performance rubrics. For some good examples of poetry oral interpretations, see The Poetry Archive where poets read their own works.

Also see Professor Kirt Shineman’s page on Oral Interpretation.

Blogs

Here are a few public speaking blogs that, while not directed specifically at teachers or students, may help you in preparing to teach speech classes:

This list is courtesy of the newly redesigned TeacherClockHours.com.
Conclusion

Okay readers, now it’s your turn to help Chaleygirl. What resources do you use to teach public speaking? Leave your suggestions and tips below in a comment.

2 Responses

  1. DANYA says:

    Thank you for this this site . I have been a teacher for 28 yrs. in the NYC DOE and the internet resources I have found are like finding a motherload of pure gold.

  2. Nick says:

    Thanks for your encouraging words. It’s been hard to find time to write lately, but comments like yours make me want carve time out of my week to add new articles.

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