Public speaking with students doesn’t have to be difficult or tiresome!
I am accustomed to having a public speaking class or specific speech units embedded within a class. These past few years, I’ve had more freedom in how I implement public speaking with students. With this freedom, I’ve developed activities that will work in most classes.
Working speech concepts into a “regular” class, any class really, can be simple with a small bit of planning. Here are four activities to implement public speaking with students.
Focus on presenting, not reading
I get it, really. Before I present at a conference or in front of colleagues, I get sweaty hands and shaky knees. Everyone is staring at me. I’ve made this beautiful presentation, why not focus on that?
That’s the “easy way,” and many students rely on it. (If we’re honest, many adults do too.) To counteract that, I read students a presentation about engaging their audience. The lesson I’m teaching is in complete contrast to my delivery. It’s terrible! By performing such an awful speech, students are able to laugh and understand my point.
We then discuss why people read from a Powerpoint and how to prepare well enough so they don’t rely on the visual aid. Plus, students can laugh at me. They’ve seen me be goofy, and it sets the classroom community as a forgiving one.
Think on your feet
No matter your subject material, students should be able to respond coherently and clearly. Public speaking with students will naturally include impromptu speaking. (Download those activities for free.) Cut the slips of paper and ask students to draw a topic. Students should realize that most speaking in real life is a version of impromptu speaking.
A quick way to add an element of public speaking is to give a mini-lesson on organizing thoughts in your head and presenting them coherently. That free download even includes a rubric, making the process quick for you and students. Whatever topic you study in class, you can add a quick element of impromptu speaking.
Not only should students practice public speaking, but they should also be aware of public speaking as audience members. Videos, commercials, and social media bombard our students with material that they should know how to navigate. What videos specifically target students? What is manipulative? What should students question?
Students may not even understand that they are targeted—that the videos were made specifically with their interests and beliefs in mind. Teach students about audience analysis. This media literacy lesson helps with both students as the speaker and an audience member. Both parts of public speaking matter.
Most of our communication is nonverbal, but verbal communication still matters. Whatever unit or content area you are, students can present a radio commercial for that topic. I ask students to write and present a radio commercial for a nonprofit. They read their commercial (as a voice-over) without focusing on nonverbal communication.
What I specifically like about this activity is that students experience the power of words. Writing is powerful, and presenting is powerful, but can only verbal communication be powerful? Yes! Students must strive to make the most of their radio commercial so that every word matters.
I spend most of my time practicing with speech students and pairing students to practice with each other. So often, I give a brief overview of expectations and then practice with students for the reminder of the class period.
For practice sessions, I provide myself for a one-on-one resource. I set a timer and tell the student to ask whatever they want. They often want reassurance that a topic is organized or that they don’t sound dumb. (They don’t. They’re just nervous.)
Anther practice focus can be on a struggle area: breathing, fillers, hand gestures. Concentrate on one area with students and give them reminders. Oftentimes, I encourage students to make that focus part of their goal sheets for speech. (All of my speech students have individual goals.)
Finally, ask students to choose their best portion and present it to you. Note what goes well: are students confident? passionate? do they have ample transitions? Explain why that portion goes well and encourage the student to connect that to the rest of the speech.
Lessons that focus on public speaking for students can take many forms. These four activities and built-in practice can work across content areas. They are all part of my public speaking bundle, and you can use them in diverse ways.
Still looking for more public speaking activities? Melissa at Reading and Writing Haven has you covered. Check our her ideas for public speaking with students.