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Ceremonial speech assignment for younger students

This was the ceremonial, or special occasion, speech assignment for middle school students ages 10-14.

  • Topic: “What are three things you have learned (or that inspired you) from a character in a book you have read?”
  • Length: 4 minutes – 1 minute for each main point, plus 1 minute to cover the introduction, transitions and conclusion.
  • Structure: The students should use a three-point structure and include a metaphor for their character in the speech. There are two pattern options for main points.
    1. Categorical pattern: Each main point should be a lesson learned with the metaphor mentioned anywhere in the speech. For example, “From Harry Potter I learned that you should look out for your friends and family.”
    2. Comparative pattern: Each main point should be a comparison between the character and the metaphor, where the metaphor is mentioned in each main point. For example, “Another way that Harry was like a snowy owl is that he was protective of those he cared about. Snowy owls are very protective of their families and will even fight bigger predator like wolves, according to National Geographic.”
  • Outside sources: None are required except for the book from which the character is taken, which should be used for examples. Other sources may be used if desired, as in the example above.
  • Visual aids: Optional.

Informative speech assignment for younger students

This was the informative speech assignment for middle school students, ages 10-14:

  • Topic: “A fun place to visit close to our town.” You can decide how to define “close” – I set it within two hours to include two different tourist areas. The students should be specific and not try to cover an entire town or broad area due to the short time limit.
  • Length: 4 minutes1 minute on each of three main points, plus 1 minute to cover the introduction, transitions, and conclusion.
  • Structure: Students were allowed to select either a space or category pattern. Each main point was to focus on either breaking the fun place up into three key locations (space) or three key features or reasons to visit (category). The speech topic lends itself primarily to talking about facts like location, cost to enter, features, hours, etc. and students should do that. But students should also be encouraged to include testimony, specific examples, and personal observations (like favorite thing they did there or best food they ate there) as well.
  • Outside sources: At least one required. It could be the location’s web site, a brochure, or an interview with an adult who had been there.
  • Visual aids: Optional.

This assignment worked well — students covered amusement parks, outdoor hiking areas and an annual convention. Visual aids could be made mandatory if you get a chance to cover them before the assignment. If you wish to add additional source requirements, the speech would probably have to be made longer.

Persuasive speech assignment for younger students

Recently I had an opportunity to teach public speaking for middle school students — in our area that includes students ages 10-14. I developed some new assignments for them.

This was the persuasive assignment:

  • Topic: “What is the best pet for a family?” Students were to be specific about the pet, so rather than just say “dog” they were to select a breed.
  • Length: 6 minutes1 minute on a “needs” section, 1 minute on each of three main points, plus 2 minutes to cover the introduction, transitions, and conclusion.
  • Structure: The students used a needs/benefits structure. After the introduction, they did a needs section, which focused on what they saw as a family’s needs and limitations for a pet. The main points focused on benefits of their particular pet and how it addressed the needs. They were also to include at least one counterargument — a potential downside of their pet — and address it. It is essentially the Motivated Sequence but without the visualization step IV.
  • Outside sources: At least two required.
  • Visual aids: Two required. I was able to allow the pets as visual aids, but pictures would work too.

This assignment was a lot of fun and the students worked hard to make a good case for their favorite pets. They needed a lot of help and examples for the needs section so we worked on those in class and created a master list from which they could select those that would apply to their topic.

Advice on choosing and using visual aids

I recently prepared this document for a class with advice about choosing and using visual aids for a classroom speech:

Although visual aids can be a great addition to a speech, not every visual aid is a good choice. Good visual aids do one of three things in your speech:
• Show how something looks.
• Show how something works.
• Show how two or more things relate.

A great way to see visual aids like these in action is to watch informative TV programs like sports analysis programs, the Weather Channel, a cooking or how-to program, or the news to analyze how they use visuals. Rarely will you see only words used as visuals. More often you will see videoclips, maps, demonstrations, graphs, or diagrams and photos.
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Web resource on delivery

Mitch Joel of Six Pixels of Separation does a great job of explaining why extemporaneous speaking is the most effective format.

Using the image of “horror story” he defines the limitations of both memorized and read speeches, particularly in a classroom setting.

This would be a great resource to share with new speech teachers or with students skeptical about the extemporaneous format.

Link to article

Web resource for speech assignments

Link: Web resource for speech assignments

The web site has a nice list of resources for a public speaking class. Included are suggested historical speeches to share with class, suggested speech assignments and resources to aid a debate program.

It is directed toward all grade levels, but the majority of the list will apply to high school or college students.

Speech assignment on interpersonal comm

I had a hybrid class with a mix of public speaking and interpersonal communication. The public speaking part of the class ended with a group presentation worth 20% of the final grade. On occasion, a student would have a legitimate excuse for missing their group’s presentation (such as a car accident on the way to class). In those instances, I would offer this makeup assignment.

This assignment still required a class presentation but also helped to offer a student’s perspective to the class during the interpersonal comm unit, which I placed at the end of the semester.

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Three electronic grading forms now available

I have made available all three of my electronic grading forms for $1 each at the web site I created these forms (sales speech, informative speech and persuasive speech) so I could quickly return detailed comments to students electronically after a speech.

All of the forms include instructions on how to customize them to suit your needs. They include dropboxes for frequently used comments, checkboxes to indicate complete or incomplete items, and comment boxes.

I describe how I use the forms in detail here:

The forms helped to decrease my time spent grading speeches while still providing students with detailed and personalized comments. Let me know if you have any questions about them.

Impromptu speech topics

A lot of lists are available for impromptu speech topics. My topic list evolved regularly. I typed it up recently for someone on request and wanted to offer it here as well.

At the start of the semester, I would choose a topic then ask a question for the students. Later in the semester, I could just read the topic and let the students run with it. If you have a reluctant group, you could stick with the questions.

The persuasive topics can be a bit more difficult so I only used them for the last few days of the semester for the few students that had to finish up their impromptus. For the persuasive impromptus, I would give the students two topics and let them choose one.

Informative topics:

Web sites – what’s the best web site that we’ve probably never heard of?
Video games – what’s the best video game you’ve played?
Coaches – who is your favorite or least favorite coach? or what makes a good coach?
Football players – who is your favorite or least favorite football player?
Best places to go in our state – what is a great place to visit in our state?
Pets (this one is always popular) – what is the best kind of pet to have?
Best apps – what is a great app that we’ve probably never heard of?
Vacation spots – what is a great place to take a vacation?
Commercials – what is the best or worst commercial you’ve seen?
Pizza – tell us about the best pizza you’ve ever had?
Movies – what’s the best or worst movie you’ve seen?

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Why a grade appeals policy?

A grade appeals policy put in your syllabus at the start of the semester will save you a lot of headaches later. I tried this in several different ways and this is how I found that it worked best:

Grade Appeals: A grade appeal process is available if a student feels that the instructor may have missed something and can provide a logical argument for why the grade should be reviewed. Grade appeals must be written as logical arguments and submitted to the instructor in writing with the original assignment attached to the appeal (unless the grade was returned electronically). The instructor will respond to the appeal within one week.  Appeals must be filed no more than one week after the assignment is returned. In most cases, appeals will not change a grade by more than 10% of the original grade.

This approach left me some flexibility but also (I hope) offered a sense of fairness. It also helped to reduce angry discussions right after class because I could tell students that a process was already in place to help them.

In addition to the grade appeals policy in the syllabus, I also offered a “how speeches are graded” description at the web site and made sure students knew to view that as well.

Have you had success with a grade appeal policy? Please share your approach in the comments and I will add your ideas to the post and give you credit.