Students talk every day- to one another, their teachers, and their families. But are they building skills to speak well? Are they receiving feedback to help them build confidence and improve upon those skills?

If the classroom was a stage, Reading and Writing tend to get the spotlight. And while no one can deny their importance…what about Speaking and Listening? Is there time to teach kids to talk and to reflect upon their talk?

Why Public Speaking?

But, Where Does Public Speaking Fit?

One appealing option is to consider what learning objectives would be enhanced by adding a public speaking component.

As someone who has taught public speaking and other communication courses, I recently had the wonderful opportunity to create and lead a public speaking unit to an enthusiastic group of third graders. The teacher, Mrs. Jacobs, determined that a speaking unit would pair nicely with their opinion writing unit. The students were already working on finding their voice, and generating reasons and examples to support their opinions; what better way to practice and improve their oral communication skills than by sharing their own ideas and opinions publicly?

Topic Selection

The students were given a choice of teacher-approved topics and got to select their top three favorites. Topic selection is an important part of the process- if the topics are too narrow and inconsequential (like, “what the best kind of ice-cream?”), generating thorough and thoughtful insights becomes difficult. A good litmus test to analyze the effectiveness of the topic is to consider the length of time each student or group of students will be required to speak, and ask, “Is there enough reasons, evidence and examples to support this topic and hold audience interest for 3 minutes? (or  5 or 10, etc.)” Also be mindful of the reverse research quandary, “Is this topic too vast, too complex to be adequately explored in X minutes?”

Topic selection can be accomplished a number of ways. We chose to have small poster boards around the classroom with a topic listed. Students got three sticky notes in three different colors to write their name and add it to the posters of their choice. Students were then assigned one of the topics in their top three, and grouped with two or three other classmates.

Some topics selected for this project were:
  • “Should third graders have homework?”
  • “Should pets be allowed at school?”
  • “Do video games help you learn?”
  • “What can kids do to earn money?”
  • “Is chocolate healthy?”
  • “How can kids help endangered animals?”
  • “What makes a story great?”
OREO: Opinion, Reasons, Evidence
A Formative Approach

Bringing It All Together

In our follow-up post, we share tips and tricks to make your public speaking unit a success! Read it here!

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