By Teachers, For Teachers
In an age of staring at screens, typing into text boxes, and designing logos, you’d think face-to-face communication would have a diminished value. But this is hardly the case. Whether in business interactions or personal relationships, being able to communicate face-to-face with others breeds trust, confidence, and clarity. So it is important for teachers to use teaching strategies that give students both formal and informal opportunities in school to enhance their direct communication abilities. And one of these opportunities comes in the form of a public speech. When students (or even adults, really) are asked what they dread most, many of them say “Public speaking.” It’s a nerve-wracking experience to stand, alone, in front of a group and hold their attention for any period of time. Students feel vulnerable, judged, and pressured. While students might enter a speech assignment feeling this way, it’s our job to use teaching strategies to help them feel confident, empowered, and familiar with the process of creating and performing a speech by the end.
If your students have the public speaking jitters, then consider trying one of these more fun, creative teaching strategies for speeches. These will help students grow accustomed to standing and speaking in front of a group of people, and develop the skills of organization, eye contact, vocal control, and so on.
In Tokyo in 2003, Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein devised a new style of presentation for “Young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public.” They called their creation pecha-kucha (pronounced “puh-CHOCK-chuh”), which is Japanese for “Chatter.” If you’re tired of the same old PowerPoint speech, then this dynamic presentation style may spice up your class and allow your students to take advantage of a convenient, highly popular new form.
The concept works like this: The speaker creates exactly 20 slides, each of which appears on screen for exactly 20 seconds. The slides are automated to advance on their own, creating a time constraint that compels speakers to express their ideas in a highly organized, clear manner.
This means that students will compose a speech that is either informative or argumentative and present on it for exactly six minutes and 40 seconds. They have a scrolling screen of slides to guide them, and a tight structure that encourages both their brevity and their elegance of language.
One of my mentors, Jim Schiferl, introduced me to the GLYPH speech. This speech focuses on helping students learn to develop an easy-to-use outline and visual aid and accustoms them to speaking in front of a group.
The word “Glyph” refers to a “Symbol within an agreed upon set of symbols.” Basically, students will create a set of symbols that help to convey information about themselves in this speech.
The GLYPH speech begins with students answering a series of questions about themselves, then following instructions to create a visual aid based on their answers. An example of GLYPH speech directions might go like this:
1. Are you nervous to give a speech?
If yes, cut your poster into the shape of a triangle.
If no, cut your poster into the shape of a circle.
If sometimes, cut your poster into the shape of a square.
2. Where do you live and how old are you?
In the upper right corner of your poster, draw the appropriate shape for your town and draw that shape for as many years old you are.
You get the idea. You could ask students any questions about themselves that would be fun and easy to share, such as what their favorite subjects are, what kinds of music they like, and what they do for fun. All you have to do is list instructions for which symbol represents their answer for each question.
Once it’s time to speak, students have a convenient visual aid/outline to bring up with them. Their speech will be as simple as “I cut out my poster in the shape of a triangle because I’m very nervous to come up here and give my speech.” And so on, explaining each of the symbols they chose to put on their GLYPH.
Another easy way for students to feel comfortable standing up and speaking is to keep the format extremely simple. The Word-Object-Person speech narrows the scope of the topic to three easy-to-remember elements.
Most of the time students use this speech to talk about themselves. They only have to stand up and answer three questions:
The straightforward format helps students feel comfortable with the organization and scope of info. While this speech lends itself to students speaking about themselves, you can use for students to talk about nearly anything that interests them.
One of the biggest worries students have is that they’ll mess up big time in front of everybody. But what if the point of the speech was to intentionally mess up? In the “Intentionally wrong” speech, students focus on performing a speech that has mistakes on purpose in either their content or their performance, or both. Their classmates must listen and watch closely and try to catch the mistakes.
For example, you might secretly assign each student a nervous habit to demonstrate while speaking. One student will be asked to wiggle his legs, another student will say “Ummm” between every three of her words, and another student will rub his hands together incessantly. Instead of being worried about making a mistake, students intentionally perform these mistakes so that the whole class can laugh, be put more at ease, and have a great experience learning about what makes for ineffective speaking skills.
Sometimes it helps to give students something easy to talk about for this speech. Usually I ask students to tell us about their day, or they might even just quote a familiar song like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. For more developed speeches, students will explain a topic, but will include intentional mistakes with their formatting, organization, and verbal expression as well.
Finally, try this variation on the impromptu speech. Place one random object into a brown bag, filling enough bags so each student can have one. When a student selects a bag, they will have two minutes to prepare a two-minute speech about whatever object they find inside.
You can usually orchestrate this so that while one student is speaking, the next student is in the hall preparing their speech.
What students say can vary widely. Students can be encouraged to tell a story about their object, inform the class about the object’s uses, treat the object as a metaphor for some abstract topic, or just talk about what they like or don’t like about the object. Objects should be items you’d typically have available in your classroom or home: An Eraser, a protractor, post-it notes, a folder, toilet paper, a picture frame … you get the idea.
But beware: Impromptu speeches can be tough! While such speeches take the pressure off of students to formally prepare and rehearse a speech, the spontaneity and time constraints can prove rather challenging for many students.
With speaking and communication skills playing such an important role in our world, it’s essential we use public speeches as one avenue through which we help students develop those skills. As nerve-wracking as speaking can be, fun speech activities like these will break the ice and help students feel more familiar with the process of creating and performing a speech.
What other fun speech games or formats do you recommend? Have you tried anything similar to what’s above? Tell our TeachHUB.com community your thoughts in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.