How do we work to affect positive change in our community? Our society? The world? It begins with the art of effective communication, through reading others’ ideas, writing about our own, and I think especially, through having the courage and confidence to speak up for our beliefs.
This lack of confidence in public speaking skills is a barrier to my students’ success. Knowing the importance of being able to effectively share our ideas with others and the empowerment that comes through owning and sharing our stories means I have to do something about this in my room, stat.
How do we empower students to find and share their voice with others?
Let’s move beyond the simple turn-and-talk or the dreaded (by students and teachers) PowerPoint presentation during which students begin with “So mine was on…”, proceed to turn their back on the audience to read directly from their slides, and end with “And so, yeah. That’s it.”
As my students so eloquently point out: BORING!
Here are 3 of my favorite strategies to get students talking in a meaningful way.
Philosophical Chairs Debates (Thanks, AVID: You da real MVP)
Present a central statement to students and ask them to decide whether they agree with the statement or not. (Tip: think engaging. What’s going to get them fired up?)
They stand on one side of the room or the other depending on their choice. A mediator (who remains a neutral party) stands in the middle and calls on either side to speak.
Give the “Rules of Engagement” which require that they listen carefully, seek to understand the other arguments presented, summarize what the speaker said before building on the idea, and wait until at least three people on their side have spoken before they go again.
Encourage students to keep an open mind and invite them to switch sides during the debate if they’re persuaded.
This strategy builds confidence, emphasizes the importance of listening to the opposition, and allows opinions to evolve, or even, wait for it: change.
Be sure to build in time for reflection at the end of the lesson, especially if the topic is controversial. We don’t want to get kids all hopped up on debate and then send them down the hall to Ms. Smith’s room still fired up. Trust me, I’ve done it. Not a good plan if you want to keep your colleagues happy!
Socrates is my main man, and his style of seminars are my jam. I love his philosophy and especially the quote above my desk:
“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” – Socrates
Students conduct a close reading of a thought-provoking text. They write and respond to deeper-level questions in response to the text to prepare.
Desks are arranged into two circles, an inner circle and outer circle. There are many variations, but in my seminars, students in the inner circle speak and those in the outer circle take notes. At the halfway point, they switch spots and roles.
Someone is appointed discussion leader, and the opening question is posed. The leader has additional questions to ask when the conversation needs it.
I provide sentence stems like:
I agree with ______________ because ______________.
I’m not sure what you mean/t by ___________________ could you please clarify?
Interesting point you made. It makes me think _________________.
Again, build in that reflection component at the end of the lesson. As in debates, seminars can also be controversial/thought-provoking and need to be debriefed.
TED talks are an integral part of my classroom. We watch a talk every Wednesday (or, as we call them in my room, TEDnesday. Oooh, next post idea!)
Students choose a topic of interest to research, argue, and present in the same style as the TED videos we’ve watched.
The audience evaluates the speaker using the form we’ve used with the other TED talks. Students know they have to bring it in these presentations to fully engage and persuade their audience.
The best part is that students love the topics they’ve chosen and are really passionate about what they are saying.
This makes all the difference. From the central statements posed in philosophical chairs, the questions presented in Socratic seminars, to the topics selected for TED presentations: it’s all about passion.
When we help students find what they are interested in, passionate about, and motivated to speak up for or against, we teach them what the art of speaking is truly about: Using your voice to empower yourself and to influence, impact, and inspire others.
Somebody get these kids a mic!