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3 steps for improving oral communication in class

FRIDAY, AUGUST 07, 2015 11:18 AM

The Common Core State Standards for English/language arts contain information on speaking and listening requirements for students. Unfortunately, with the pressure to learn all the other subjects in a language arts curriculum, public speaking often gets pushed to the wayside. Yes, students are required to present book reports, research papers and other materials in front of their classmates, but these activities don't necessarily improve oral communication skills by themselves. To really make sure students are getting the most out of these presentations, instructors can take several steps to help students learn the art of speaking.

1. Set a good example
As an instructor, you are required to address a classroom on a regular basis. For students who rarely have to take part in this activity, observing your demeanor during class will be the first example they have of an effective presentation. When kids have an assignment that instructs them to speak in front of the class, start drawing attention to your own communication methods and encourage students to ask you questions about how you prepare for classroom lectures.

Another way teachers can show students effective speaking skills is by reading aloud from a fiction or nonfiction book. Usually, on a grading sheet, kids are encouraged to speak louder, but volume isn't necessarily the key to a good performance, and teachers can demonstrate this by reading with enthusiasm from a book. Give students a topic they are passionate about and encourage them to present their speech the way you read from the book, with excitement and feeling. The final speech the students give is important for gauging oral communication skills, but, just like every subject, teachers need to prepare students for the task and give them tools to make them better.  

2. Teach students how to present
It's not enough to simply talk to kids about what makes a good presentation - instructors also need to give them tips and tricks they can use when working on the assignment. For most people, public speaking is really difficult because they get anxious and can't focus. In fact, Edutopia notes that 75 percent of people experience nervousness when speaking publicly. You can't expect kids to do well if they haven't been taught how to overcome this anxiety. A few tasks you can assign students to help them work on their oral communication, include:

  • Practicing in front of a mirror
  • Giving the speech to friends and family
  • Focusing on body language while practicing
  • Working on deep breathing to relax

Encourage kids to work on their communication skills during class discussions by asking them to explain how they came up with answers. The week before papers are due you could also have students stand up and face the class every time they give an answer or are speaking. This exercise will help kids adjust to facing the classroom and having all eyes on them so it's not such a shock when they get up in front of everyone for their presentations.

3. Clarify the rubric
In addition to preparing kids for the big speech, constructive feedback afterward is also invaluable. If kids don't understand exactly where they lost points, they won't know how to improve for next time. It can be difficult to comprehend grading rubrics because certain presentation features are often grouped together. For example, a grading sheet might list content, eye contact and pacing in one box, Teaching Speaking notes. A teacher may take off points in this section, but when a student looks at the marks they won't know which area they need to improve. To overcome this confusion, either make sure the rubric lists each section separately or provide a sheet with notes for each student to review.

Having proficient oral communication skills will benefit students in school, and will also be vital for future success in college and a career. Employers want to know people they hire can speak clearly and effectively convey a message. By giving students the practice and tools they need to perfect oral speech, teachers are helping them get better grades and prepare for their futures.