Nausea, sweating, weak knees, and a dry mouth are all symptoms associated with the fear of standing in front of an audience. Considering the anxiety that public speaking produces, students of any age are facing a significant challenge when they speak in front of a group (Gitomer, 2001; Plourde, 1989). During a typical school day, students may be required to answer questions in front of the class or present reports. For many students, however, the need for public speaking skills extends beyond the classroom. The confidence gained through public speaking in class transfers to other situations, such as drama, debate, music, sports, and academic or social clubs (Choi, 1998; Dines, 2003; Grubaugh, 1990; Troup, 1999). Additionally, many employers will expect their employees to have proficient speaking skills (Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, 1991). When children have opportunities to learn and practice public speaking in elementary school, they are likely to be more comfortable and proficient with an important skill they will need in high school, college, and throughout adulthood.
While speaking is considered to be an integral part of language arts, it tends to be neglected in the school curriculum (Simons, 2002). However, teachers can easily provide effective and rewarding public speaking opportunities for their elementary school students. Confident public speaking can be cultivated through initial nonthreatening activities, followed by gradually more complex challenges throughout the school year. This article presents a yearlong process for teaching public speaking to elementary students in 4th through 6th grade. The following sequential plan provides motivating activities that will enable students to become proficient in a variety of public speaking situations.
The Yearlong Process
Figure 1 illustrates the projected time line for implementing public speaking activities across the school year. The boxed items are the actual speaking events, and the unboxed items are preparation activities. The plan includes rapport-building activities early on and continues to reinforce a caring atmosphere throughout the year, which is essential to the success of this process. The students will have the freedom to incorporate their own learning styles throughout these activities because of the many opportunities to make choices along the way. This extended learning process begins with low-risk activities, such as cooperative games and story sharing with peers, and culminates into final presentations for a larger audience. First, the stage must be set for creating a supportive atmosphere.
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Setting the Stage
Students may be more willing to take learning risks in an emotionally safe environment where they are encouraged and know they will not be ridiculed. The teacher sets the stage at the beginning of the year by helping the students understand it is their responsibility to encourage, respect, and care about each other. Together, the students decide how to accomplish this goal of creating a caring community. During a class meeting at the beginning of the school year, the teacher leads the students in a discussion about what contributes to school being a safe place to learn. As the students share, their ideas are listed on the chalkboard. The students discuss and agree upon the rules they want for their classroom (e.g., "Respect each other," "Be polite," "Be supportive"). The rules are posted in a prominent place. Throughout the year, the rules are reinforced and the students are gently reminded of the community they wanted to create and why they chose those rules.
Cooperative learning groups provide excellent opportunities for students to practice interacting in a supportive manner. "We are a team, and win or lose, we're in this together!" When students cooperate to pursue a common goal, they experience a sense of belonging and camaraderie--an atmosphere conducive to safe oral expression. Cooperative games at the beginning of the school year should be fun and easy, allowing students to become comfortable with the group. The following are examples of cooperative games that allow for nonthreatening public communication.
* I Like Neighbors Who ... The students arrange their chairs in a circle. One student without a chair stands in the middle of the circle and says, "I like neighbors who ..." and adds a phrase such as "are wearing green," "like pizza," "like to read." Everyone for whom the statement applies gets up quickly and moves to another chair. The person in the middle also must find a chair. When everyone is seated, the person without a seat goes to the center and is the next person to say, "I like neighbors who...." This fast-paced, crowd-pleasing activity can run as quickly as five minutes or last as long as time permits.
* Birthday Line. The teacher announces that the front wall of the classroom represents January 1st and the back wall represents December 31st. The task is for the students to line up as quickly as possible according to the order of their birth dates--while being timed. To accomplish this goal the students must interact and help each other. This first round may go slowly and require coaching. The students then must work together to beat their time. The second …