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public speaking in the elementary classroom

28 Nov Public Speaking in the Elementary Classroom: Tips & Tricks

By Sarah Hanna, Rubicon International

After our recent post, Speaking of Talk, which focused on the importance of creating Speaking & Listening opportunities in the elementary classroom, we wanted to share some additional strategies to enhance a public speaking lesson or unit.

Strategy 1: Putting the “We” into Public Speaking

Students often get anxious at the thought of speaking in front of their peers, particularly when standing and addressing everyone from the front of the classroom. So when the spotlight is on, having opportunities to work and present in groups can help students feel more supported and enhance their confidence.

To make the group presentation successful, engage in a classroom discussion about effective group process dynamics. In the third grade classroom where this unit was developed, the students brainstormed ideas about what helps and inhibits good group communication.

group time

Each time groups met, the helpful group process ideas were posted on the board. Using this, groups would attempt to move through problems that arose and reach resolution without teacher assistance. Comments like, “Why don’t we each share our ideas before we decide?” or “Let’s each write down our reasons and then we can read them to the group” and “I think those ideas are really similar, what does everyone else think?” could be heard around the room.

When groups did reach a stand-still, such as: “She’s not interacting with us” or “He can’t think of what to say, but doesn’t want our help,” teacher leaders would offer suggestions. Depending on the length of class time and number of days devoted to the unit, assigning group members individual roles, such as leader, encourager, materials manager, scribe, etc., can also prove valuable.

Strategy 2: Hearing the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Give students the opportunity to hear both good and bad examples of public speaking. Using content from a New York Times article about why people go to the zoo, I created two versions of a short speech, one well-organized with interesting facts and captivating language, and the other which was composed of short sentences, void of any real creative details. The students recorded and then shared their observations from the two versions…what worked and what didn’t. I was amazed by all the thoughtful observations students identified from this exercise. They noticed things like mumbling, run-on sentences, lack of vocal inflection and eye contact, non-captivating language and delivery. This led to a discussion about supportive and distracting nonverbal habits during a speech.

The students also watched a TED talk by a student, 13-year-old McKenna Pope, who convinced the American toy company, Hasbro, to create Easy-Bake Ovens in a gender neutral color scheme. Pope’s talk not only showcased the power of effective speech delivery, but demonstrated how a child can influence others and make an impact through their persuasive voice. The students were awestruck to see how much power and potential their voices can have.

Strategy 3: Giving and Receiving Feedback

In order to take a formative learning approach, and help raise students’ awareness of their own presentations’ strengths and weaknesses, incorporate opportunities to give and receive peer feedback. In our third grade class, once students had finished creating their individual portions of their speech, they took turns conducting mini-presentations for other group members. Groups were given brief peer-feedback forms to help shape their feedback language and remind them of the multiple elements in an effective speech. During final presentations, these forms were also used. Each group was assigned another group to give feedback orally at the conclusion of their speeches.

Talk about the Talk

A final point worth mentioning as we consider public speaking strategies for improvement and growth: In each of the above suggestions, the students are getting opportunities to practice and hone their public speaking voice. Whether making suggestions during a classroom discussion about effective group time, offering ideas within their group of how to move through their process, articulating their observations after listening to a teacher-led example, or providing feedback to a peer’s speech, the students had repeated opportunity to share and articulate their thoughts and reasoning in a public setting.

So as you incorporate these and other strategies to your public speaking lessons, think exposure, opportunity, and feedback!

For more ideas to foster student engagement in your ELA classroom, check out Five Strategies for Engaging Reluctant Readers!

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