Monday, December 26, 2016

Special Occasion Speeches: Everyday Speaking



When I reflect upon my teaching journey, it always amazes me how I was led to teach speech. This area within the humanities realm would not have been my first choice to pursue as a teenager, but I am so grateful that it has become my passion. Public speaking is truly an area that requires discipline, practice, and it is one that applies to every single person's life in countless ways. 

In every walk of life, we are called upon to be public speakers. As teachers, we take the floor daily. While other professions may not address audiences as frequently - board meetings, presentations, interviews, small-group collaboration, and one-on-one informational sharing occurs. These are all forms of public speaking, which require people to be able to encode a valuable message to at least one other person. Communicating clearly can allow individuals to advance in his or her career, obtain a dream job, find success, and improve the quality of his or her craft no matter what that craft may be. This idea is powerful and one that has fueled my passion for teaching young people to love public speaking or mildly tolerate it.

In addition to communicating as part of their careers, students will also be asked to speak public in some of life's most important events. Weddings, funerals, significant birthdays, anniversaries, and other functions that occur among family and friends. To help students begin to realize that they will need to speak at these functions throughout their lives and give them a little practice with real-world speaking, I've developed a few activities during my final unit (Special Occasion Unit) in my speech class to help make public speaking more realistic. 

1. Tribute Speeches (AKA Class Eulogies)

Taking my class roster, I cut up names and throw them into a hat. I then have students pull names out and deliver a speech on a person in the class. These speeches are delivered in more of an impromptu fashion, but allow students to reflect on the various messages their peers have shared throughout a semester and encourage students to provide praise and affirmation to others positively. Sparked from the initial end of the world 2012 Mayan calendar debacle, this assignment was designed to promote a celebratory feeling as the semester begins to wind down. 


Public speaking and leadership are two skills that work in tandem to help individuals successfully communicate an idea. Spending a few days focused on what it means to be a leader and leadership style can help students realize how to use their voices and speaking prowess to communicate with others in a variety of settings effectively. Typically, I use the week after the holiday break and before finals to teach leadership skills to students in a three-day mini-unit. The first day focuses on leadership styles and asks students to reflect on how they serve as leaders in the classroom, in their extracurricular activities, and in the workplace (if they have jobs). The second day, I choose to emphasize how to put their leadership skills into action, and the final day emphasizes what their current leadership abilities mean for them as future college students and workers in society. There are so many incredible resources on leadership and communication. My personal favorites include: 
3. Acceptance Speeches

Again, this assignment is typically more impromptu in nature than a full formal speech assignment. One concept I like to discuss during the Special Occasion Unit is accepting compliments. As human beings, we are culturally taught to deflect compliments. When someone says, "I like your sweater," the receiver of the compliment may say "Oh, I've had it for a while" or "I got it on sale." We make up excuses or attempt to downplay compliments. It is difficult to confidently accept kind words and staying humble at the same time. I like to challenge students to dream of an award they would like to receive one day. This dream can be grand or simple, far-fetched or realistic. Then they have to find a way to accept the award with grace. Not only does this encourage them to realize that we are allowed to receive compliments, but it also challenges them to set immense goals and reach for them. 


I use this assignment frequently in a variety of different situations. I know I've written about this assignment before. During this unit, I share a few examples of This I Believe essays from the official website and spend time analyzing what made these essays meaningful. Then I challenge students to reflect on their own values and write about one belief that is meaningful to them. Using at least one personal story as to how that belief has influenced or shaped their lives, students write short essays that are then shared aloud. Every year, I am amazed by the depth and positivity of my students' beliefs and am inspired by their perspectives. In a unit that focuses on real-life speaking, this is definitely a powerful and important assignment. When we encourage students to use their words to express their ideas with the world, amazing results occur. 

5. The Official Summative SOS Assignment

At the end of the unit, I allow students to choose what type of special occasion speech that they would like to deliver, encourage them to reflect on what they value/what is important to them, and then give a speech within the realm of reality that is meaningful to them. I love these speeches because they are diverse, personal, and realistic. These speeches will happen in their lives. What has been wonderful is many students choose to deliver a tribute speech to a beloved coach, mentor, or teacher. This year, one of my students decided to award our princiPAL with a Principal of the Year award. We try to have the guest of honor come in if a student is confident enough to hear his/her tribute speech. Many guests were able to attend this past week to hear their speeches, including our principal. The reactions to their speeches, particularly his, are priceless and truly showcase how powerful words are and how special our words can make this world!

Everyday public speaking occurs when significant life experiences happen. Celebrating memories, relationships, and growth are vital parts of our lives. Teaching students to embrace these moments will help make the words they share meaningful.

(My State Qualifying SOS-er! She's pretty fantastic and going to make an amazing teacher one day!)


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