Activities and Games
Public Speaking Activities
Common Core-ready lesson plans to develop public speaking skills from Instructor Magazine.
- Grades: 3–5
On Record Learn the art of speechifying from the masters, and some modern orators as well.
American Rhetoric contains a wealth of text, audio, and video speeches from significant figures in American history, as well as speeches on current events.
History.com offers a collection of audio and video speeches organized by theme and historical period.
British news outlet The Guardian presents its selection of the greatest English-language speeches of the 20th century from influential world figures. Each audio speech includes transcript and commentary from experts.
Wikipedia offers a chronological list of noteworthy speeches from ancient times to the present day, with links to audio and transcripts.
StoryCorps has archived more than 45,000 interviews by everyday people. This site has great resources for coaching students to conduct effective interviews, as well as a series of animated audiovisual recordings that kids will love.
I’m the Expert
Even your shyest students will enjoy showing off their unique talents by presenting short “how-to” lessons to the class. Begin with a brainstorming session about skills students are proud of, such as counting in a foreign language, learning spelling-list words, fixing a bike tire, or making banana pancakes. (They should select something that can be completed in about 10 steps.) Next, share a few how-to videos from YouTube or cooking demonstrations from a site like marthastewart.com. Ask students to identify common elements in this type of public speaking. What kind of language is used? How is the presentation structured? What types of visuals are used? Have students outline the steps of their speech and create visuals illustrating key points. Encourage them to pair up and take turns practicing before presenting to the whole class. Once students are ready, gather the class and start the video camera!
And the Nominees for Best Book Are…
Help students practice persuasive speaking as they passionately nominate a favorite book for the “Best Book of the Year” awards. Ask students to select a book they read this year to nominate for the award. Create categories such as comedy, science fiction, biography, mystery, and so on. Next, discuss the key features of persuasive speaking while watching a selection of online speeches (try blog.ted.com and search for “talks for kids,” or go to kids.learnoutloud.com). Explain how effective speakers appeal to both the audience’s emotions and logic while also establishing their credibility as someone the audience can trust. Ask students to think about specific examples in their selected book that demonstrate why it’s truly great. Have students write out their nomination speeches and present them to the class. To keep students on their toes while others are presenting, randomly select a student to provide an “instant retell,” where he or she summarizes the speaker’s key points. Wrap up the activity by holding a vote and celebrating the best books in each category.
The Sound of a Decade
What if each decade was a radio channel? Divide students into teams and assign each team a different decade as the focus of a radio show they will create. Ask students to research important events from that decade, as well as highlights in politics, science, entertainment, and popular culture. If possible, have them find a key speech from the era to include in their “broadcast,” as well as a popular song from the time. Once students have compiled their information, encourage them to run through their entire radio show a couple of times before recording it. As they practice, ask them to think about how they will bring energy and excitement to their voices to keep their listeners’ interest. (If you can get some early radio-show recordings, or even something current, play these for your students.) Once students are ready to record, provide digital voice recorders, iPods with microphones, iPhones (look for the voice memo app), or computers with GarageBand or Audacity (a free audio-editing program is available online). When the recordings are complete, set up a listening station in your classroom where students can listen to the decade channel of their choice.
Capture the highlights of the school year while also helping students develop interviewing skills. As a class, brainstorm a list of great interview questions to ask fellow students about the school year. Questions could include “When was a time you felt really proud?” or “What was the silliest thing our teacher did this year?” (Go to storycorps.org for examples of questions.) Explain that one of the keys to being a good interviewer is asking interesting questions—and another is being a good listener. Examine a news interview or an interview from StoryCorps as a case study in conducting an interview. Have each student select three questions to ask three different classmates, writing each question at the top of a lined sticky note. Set a timer for 15–20 minutes and ask students to pair up with an interview partner. During the interview time period, each student will ask one question and write down a summary of the response, as well as respond to one question. When the timer goes off, ask students to switch partners for their next interview. After the third round of interviews is complete, invite students to post their sticky notes on a classroom wall or in the hallway for everyone to enjoy. When it’s time to take everything off the walls, collect the interviews in a book with some favorite photos from the year and make copies to share with families, or post a digital version online.
Silly Summer Story Stew
Get students talking while your class brews up a silly story together! Bring in a bag of assorted objects, like old electronic devices, school supplies, stuffed animals, and silly hats, being sure that there is at least one object for each student. Gather the class in a circle and ask each child to take an item from the bag. Next, invite a student to start the story by saying a few sentences that include the item he or she pulled from the bag. The story continues with the person to the student’s left adding a few more sentences and including the item he or she selected. Once students complete their turn, invite them to add their item to a big pile in the middle, known as the “story stew.” If possible, record the story as it’s being told so it can be shared with families or other classes.