Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All Eyes on Me: Public Speaking in the Classroom

Many students today are completely comfortable interacting and sharing online. Although this is an important skill (and a skill we need to hone), it does not replace the importance of being able to speak comfortably in front of a real live audience. The anonymity of online interactions forms a stark contrast to the attention a live speaker receives from an audience. For many students, being in the front of the room alone as the focus of an entire classroom is a scary prospect. No matter how old your students are, you can help them improve their public speaking skills and help alleviate their fears.

There are some wonderful public speaking activities on the Gateway that you can use to teach effective public speaking techniques. Please look at Joann’s Picks this week as well as the resources posted daily on our Facebook and Twitter pages. These resources will be especially useful to language arts, English, or social studies teachers. To complement Joann’s featured resources and the other Gateway resources dedicated to teaching public speaking techniques, I decided to focus my column on integrating more opportunities for public speaking in your regular curriculum. Students can learn to be more comfortable in front of an audience if they get to practice doing it a lot. These ideas should be useful from kindergarten on, because it is never too early to let your students practice speaking in front of their peers.

A key issue to consider before you decide to include more public speaking in your class is: why is public speaking such an essential skill for students? How will they benefit by learning to speak well in front of an audience? I suggest having a brainstorming session about the topic with your students. If they discover the importance of speaking well, they will be more motivated to work to improve their own skills.

Why is it so nerve wracking to speak in front of an audience of peers? As a teacher, I have no problem talking in front of students, but my palms get sweaty thinking about talking in front of the parents at open house. This would be another good topic to discuss and brainstorm with your students.

The following list can help you start thinking of ways to easily implement public speaking within your regular lessons and activities. Please let us know if you have other activities that you use in your classroom. We love to hear from our readers!

Some ideas to try in the primary classroom:
- Do a weekly show-and-tell. You can fit this into your curriculum by having students relate their sharing to a topic of study.
- Choose a student to be a “guest teacher” each week. They will get practice talking in front of the class and they will have a chance to learn the material even more.
- Pass around a grab bag of items (the items may or may not be related to what you are studying in class). When it is their turn, the student will pull an item out of the bag and give a short impromptu speech about what the item is and what some of its uses could be. I like to give points for creativity on this activity. You don’t need different items for each student, just a weird assortment of things will do. It’s fun to put in strange kitchen gadgets, pictures of interesting inventions, and anything else you think the students might like.
- You may have an Odyssey of the Mind program at your school. The program challenges students with long term and spontaneous problems each year. You can use some of the ideas for verbal spontaneous problems in your classroom to help your students get comfortable speaking in front of each other and thinking on their toes. Here is an example of a problem, and there are many more on the site.

Some ideas to try in a secondary classroom: (Many of the primary ideas would work for secondary students as well.)

- A simple way to get students talking is by awarding participation points for answering questions and joining in discussions.
- Assign a presentation for a research project. Require a visual aid (such as a poster, powerpoint presentation, animoto video, etc.) For many students, the visual aid can be helpful for reducing their anxiety.
- If your students seem really uncomfortable in front of the class, start with a video presentation for one assignment and move on to more chances to actually stand up and speak in front of the class.
- Discuss what needs to be in a good presentation, and grade presentations with a rubric that your students help create.

Good luck, and happy speaking! We will see you soon on Facebook and Twitter.

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