Ideas for Speaking Assignments
There are many different kinds of speaking assignments you can use in your classes. And different types of projects work better for different courses. The measure of success for any of them is how well it helps students learn the content you are teaching and how the assignment encourages students to take an active role in their learning. General ideas for assignments follow; you will, no doubt, modify them for your own needs.
Individual presentations: Probably the most common type of speaking assignments, students can present on many different kinds of topics: their own research, how their research relates to a specific aspect of the course, a question the common readings pose. In many cases, presentations are used as a starting point for discussion. They can also work well to place student research at the focus of that discussion.
Group presentations: Working in groups, students synthesize several points of view on course themes or different students' research.
Panel Presentation, Conference or Symposium: If students are working on related projects, they can be assigned to present their work as a panel. Rather than giving one presentation as a group, several students or groups of students offer their own presentations and then they or the class discuss the common ground. A student commentator may be assigned to explore the common themes and open discussion.
Presentations Contrasted for Class Discussion: Student or group presentations on subjects related to course themes may be set in contrast to one another to get at a discussion of those themes. Students may be asked, for instance, to present on how their subject relates to an important concept in the course; after the presentations, the class as a whole considers which subjects presented best speak to those concepts.
Local Experts: Allow students to acquire distinct expertise - either through separate reading assignments on the same topic or through research projects - and then bring those experts together to discuss the topic. This discussion could take any form from a series of presentations to a panel interview (with either prepared or impromptu questions) to a structured conversation.
Question and Answer: As a follow-up to a presentation or as an assignment on its own, asking students to field questions on either their own research or a course topic requires them to understand the topic - and areas where that topic may be confusing. And requiring students to ask questions demands active listening on their parts.
Debate: Formal debates, with assigned sides and roles, can push students to consider a question deeply and put together sharp arguments. By laying out two sides to an issue, debates can be a starting point for discussion.
Cooperative Debate: Cooperative debate functions much like a formal debate with a crucial difference. Unlike an ordinary debate in which judges find for one side or the other, here the evaluators reach their own conclusions on the issue being debated; judges may decide the answer lies somewhere between the two sides' positions. This pushes debaters to find common ground in order to argue for their sides. It also makes the debate an ideal springboard to the discussion that follows.
Role-linked Presentations: Students are assigned roles or points of view from which they must present. These presentations could take any form from informal discussions between specific people to mock conferences to prepared panel presentations. All of these forums require students to become an expert on one point of view on a topic and to consider how that perspective relates to others commenting on the subject.
Mock Trial: Trials can push students to consider multiple sides of an argument. By allowing for different witnesses, this format can also require students to understand various points of view about the subject.
Advocacy: Turning a presentation into a situation in which student advocate for their position asks students to understand their topic and to consider its implications. Students may advocate for conclusions based on their own research or for positions based on assigned roles. Often, this format involves trying to convince a panel of a point of view or to take some action.
Lecture Respondents: Students may be asked to present on the previous class's lecture. For instance, students may be asked to discuss how readings shed light on the lecture, vice versa, what questions the lecture raises about the readings, or what the most important concept in the lecture was. These responses may form the starting point for discussion.
Oral Exams or Quizzes: Individual oral exams in large classes are often impractical, but can be successful in small classes. Alternatively, orals can be given in class, with each student answering a different question. Other students may be required to ask follow-up questions.
Respondents: With most types of student presentations, another student may be assigned to comment upon, raise questions about or generally spur discussion on the presentation. This can be a formal role - as when a respondent has read the paper upon which a presentation is based - or respondents can be chosen from the listening audience.
Discussion Leadership: Requiring students to lead discussion demands they think differently about both the topic and about speaking. By asking students to ask questions instead of answering them, it pushes students to think proactively about the subject and it suggests that questioning and facilitating conversation are useful ways of communicating.
Readers' Theatre: A readers' theatre provides students with an opportunity to creatively construct a group of oral readings. Students connect texts with a unifying theme and create an introduction and transitions to contextualize their oral interpretation of texts.
There are, of course, many variations on these formats and many other possible speaking assignments. To discuss ways you might use or adapt any of these assignments in your classes - or to discuss your own ideas for speaking assignments - contact Dr. Sue Weber Associate Director.