Read on for six public speaking activities. Then, sign up for a free download of the activities in a printable form.
I earned an endorsement in “speech” for my teaching license. (I’m in Illinois.) I took extra communication courses and observed high school speech classes. When I started teaching, I had experienced public speaking activities as a student and a teacher observer.
Still, I felt underprepared to teach public speaking. My first year of teaching, I thought materials were lacking on the Internet, from textbooks, from anywhere (and I searched). This was pre-TpT and I was sinking or swimming. That first year I did lots of paddling, but over the years I grew confident in teaching a speech class.
I created these public speaking activities to address common areas of concern with high schoolers. Most students fear the nature of a speech class. Most students use too many fillers when speaking. Most students focus on one area, such as volume and forget about the rest: non-verbal communication, tone, eye contact, etc.
Through coaching speech, spending many weekends at speech tournaments, and teaching public speaking, I created these public speaking activities. I’ve seen variations of these or adapted these from activities geared toward younger students. These speech activities should work well with high school students.
1. Eliminating fillers.
Before starting, choose your topic and write a list of common fillers that don’t positively add to spoken communication: um, yeah, like, uh. Students must speak for 30 seconds (vary the time if necessary) and not use any fillers. Students should realize how easily fillers creep into their speech.
Each student will give a short speech for 30 seconds. The topic isn’t too important. You can choose one for the entire class or allow students to choose. Students must restart their speech if they use a filler.
This activity is perfect after the first formal speech. Students need to decompress, but they also need to eliminate fillers.
2. Nonverbal practice.
Students will line up in alphabetical order only using nonverbal communication. I have students line up by order of their middle names since they typically know everyone’s last names. They experiment with different forms of nonverbal communication and have fun. Most often they make a capital letter with their fingers. If some students know middle names, they will switch classmates around.
The real practice is when students realize many of them have a middle name that starts with the same letter. “A” is a common one. Then students must figure out how to communicate the second letters of Aarron, Ann, Alice, and Abraham. I will say I’ve never had a class line up correctly.
This activity is the perfect introduction to nonverbal communication.
3. Focus on one goal.
(This is a bit like #1 but fillers are such a huge issue with high school orators that it gets its own activity.) I normally do this activity later in the year after students are comfortable with each other. I also don’t do this activity if I feel a class may not give meaningful feedback.
Students will individually decide what they want to improve in their speaking – they will each have a goal. Some students want to work on eye contact, others want to balance their volume, others want to stop fidgeting. Then I divide students into small groups. Students will practice the current speech they are creating, receiving constructive feedback when they need to correct an action to meet their goal. Their group will also tell them when they did well and moved toward meeting their goal.
This activity works well to meet individual goals and to build classroom community.
4. M&M/ Skittles.
This is a fun, quick activity. Bring a large bag of small candies like M&M or Skittles to class. Ask students to take as many pieces of candy as they like but not to eat them yet. Pass the bag around. Then, students must tell a fact about themselves for each piece of candy. 15 pieces of candy? 15 facts.
This also works with review. 5 pieces of candy? Review 5 facts with the class concerning public speaking terms. After speaking, students may eat their candy.
This activity works well as a review or as a first day of school activity.
Have students organize a speech quickly by delivering an impromptu speech. Often I would ask a class to write a topic on a piece of paper. (Sometimes I would say that the topic needed to be persuasive or informative – but it always needed to be clean.) Students would draw from a box, take 30 seconds to outline their speech, and talk on the topic for one minute. As the school year continued, I would increase the speaking time. Students enjoy creating their own topics and learn to speak on the spot in a mature, organized manner.
Put students into groups. Give the speaker a list of emotions and a list of generic statements. Ask the speaker to choose a question and an emotion. The rest of the group must decide the speaker’s tone. This opportunity allows for discussion about intentional tone and miscommunication.
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