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Time to Talk

Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: April 2001
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Are your children comfortable speaking in front of others? Oral presentations, from "show and tell" in kindergarten to debates in high school, are all part of training children to speak in front of groups. Too often, though, these training opportunities are set aside in order to complete the "more important" reading and writing assignments. Are such public speaking experiences really just time-fillers?

Scripture tells us to "Preach the Word: be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction." 2 Timothy 4: 2 NIV That takes more than simply memorizing passages of Scripture. It takes the ability to gather one's thoughts and confidently present them in a meaningful way. By including the following activities, children can be accomplishing many of the same academic objectives covered in written work, but with the added benefit of building skills as a speaker.

  1. Direct young children as they act out simple stories just read aloud. Serve as the narrator and prompt them with their speaking parts so that they are just repeating what they hear--like the rehearsal of a play. Every opportunity doesn't have to be a final performance and this hands-on approach helps the development of recall of both sequence of events and detail, both basic reading comprehension skills.

  2. Incorporate puppet shows performed by the children. They can read from scripts, encouraging the development of reading with fluency and expression, or repeat what they are told if they are unable to read.

  3. Schedule time for children to practice reading out loud to you or to younger siblings in order to develop fluency and expression. They should use materials that they consider "easy," not those being used for daily instruction. This not only increases reading ability, but also builds skill in speaking with expression in order to keep the attention of the audience. Even if this is a regular part of your language arts class in grades 1-3, look for opportunities for older students. We often took turns reading aloud from one book. Listeners cleaned (once we took turns painting my son's bedroom) so everyone wanted to be a "reader."

  4. Assign a narrow topic and allow each child to become the teacher of the information he finds. Instead of writing a report, he should give an oral presentation, using a visual aid for the audience. He will develop study and reference skills as he finds and processes the information, and hone a variety of other skills depending on the type of illustration he chooses to use.
  5. The very young may simply find the answer to a question as you direct them through a book, holding up a picture in a book as they share what they have learned. But, even the young can enjoy being as creative as older siblings. Children may wear a costume, cook or mix a dish to be sampled, build a model, or make a poster. Occasionally, older students may be instructed to practice making and interpreting graphs, charts, and maps by requiring one of these as visual aids.

    Preparing to teach requires understanding information. Therefore, this activity also helps students use and retain information much longer then simply reading about the topic and answering multiple choice questions.

  6. Encourage discussion of books, movies, and current events. During those discussions, include specific details to support your opinion or ask direct questions to help the students develop support for theirs. This begins preparation for later debates, as well as contributing to the ability to write well.

Instructions (below) about speaking in front of an audience should be given as a group before anyone speaks. You may remind a student of some point individually before his turn only if you do so privately so that he is not embarrassed. However, it is even better to point out proper behavior after the presentation for all to hear. Not only is the speaker more likely to remember to behave that way again, but others in the audience will make a mental note to do that, too. Remember, it is practice that will build confidence and skill over time.

  1. A speaker should stand up straight and look at his audience as much as possible. When using notes, look at them quickly and then back at the audience.
  2. A speaker should talk to, not read to, his audience.
  3. A speaker should speak loud enough for his audience to hear him comfortably.
  4. A speaker should try not to use "uhm" or other meaningless expressions when pausing to think about what he is saying.

Be sure that you participate as part of the audience. Do not act as judge. Instead, respond with positive comments and make mental notes of weaknesses that should be addressed later. Otherwise students will become discouraged and try to avoid speaking.

During the preparation stage, guide the student with directions that will help strengthen those areas you observed as weak in past presentations. If students are going to be speaking in front of a larger group, not just family, consider yourself a director working with actors before opening night. Have them go through their entire presentation, just like a dress rehearsal, with you as their audience. Then point out what they did well and offer very specific suggestions for improvement. Continue rehearsing as needed to make changes and build confidence. Preparing for more formal presentations provides a good opportunity for polishing skills. However, these experiences should also be balanced with opportunities to speak less formally in order to allow students to become comfortable speaking in front of others.

More than merely recalling information, our children need to be able to sort through ideas and draw conclusions. Then they need to be able to explain those conclusions to others, offering reasons, not just "feelings," as support. The simple activities offered here not only give the shy child confidence with others and the talkative child something interesting to say, but give all students experience gathering their thoughts before sharing them with others. Just add the study of Scripture and they will be ready "in season and out of season."

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