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Quote for organization

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

― Pablo Picasso


Example and in-class activity for language

five words

This example appears in several places online and has several available graphics. It is attributed to Gary Provost from his book 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing.

It is a great example for speech students because while the rhythm of words is important in writing, we could argue that it is vital in speech. The variety of sentence length keeps the speech interesting and the audience tuned in — too many short sentences and the speech can feel rushed and unprepared, too many long sentences and the speech can feel written or memorized and out-of-sync with the audience.

This example could be used as a visual aid in class or developed into a demonstration by having students read the various portions of it and comparing their reactions as audience members to hearing the speech in various ways. For a longer activity, wait to show this example and instead have various groups of students write similar examples to compare and then follow up with this example in the debriefing.

Videoclip for language

The Simpsons: Season 3, episode 23

In this episode, Lisa orders Homer subliminal tapes that are meant to help him lose weight with no effort. The tape supplier sends “vocabulary builder” tapes instead. Homer is discouraged that the tapes are not working, but they actually are.

One portion of the clip is now available here. It is a nice illustration of the difference between using language that is accurate and language that is clear.

Description of episode

Web resource for language

Jeff Haden at offers “10 Phrases Great Speakers Never Say.” While this list is not directed toward students, it does include several mistakes that students often make. Along with listing each mistake it also explains why it is a mistake and what to do instead.

This would be a good addition to a class web site or to cite as backup, especially regarding how to treat visual aids.

Link to article

Examples for language

Gavin McMahon of explains the difference between verbal spice and verbal grit — language techniques that make even dull information more personal and interesting versus language that further slows a dull speech.

The post also has a simple comparison chart that would be a great visual aid to share with students.

Link to article

Web resource about language

Andrew Dlugan of Six Minutes explores the idea of climbing up and down the “Ladder of Abstraction” with your language as a speaker. The article provides multiple examples and would be a great resource for students struggling to understand why a speaker’s language choices are important.

Link to article

Example for language

This graphic from Joshua Katz at North Carolina State presents a fun look at language variations for some common terms in different regions of the U.S. You could select parts of it to share with students as an in-class example or use the entire graphic as additional information on a class web site:

Amercians Speak English Totally Differently From Each Other

Atlantic Video has created a 4-minute video that presents this same information in an entertaining way. It is available at

Soda/Pop/Coke video

Videoclip for language

The “Darmok” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation has many applications when teaching language. I have shown parts of it to show the process of understanding language from context cues, and I know of other professors who use it as well.

The premise is that the crew encounters an alien race that they have trouble understanding despite their electronic translators converting the alien language into English. The trouble is not with the words, but the alien’s use of images from their history and legends rather than straightforward descriptive speech. The episode is written well so that you can understand their language by the end.

Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.

Howard Newton (via Michele Cushatt)

Video for language

Link to episode description

The Simpsons: Season 4, episode 8

Early in this episode, there is a brief scene where Homer is sent by Marge to talk to their new neighbor, Ruth Powers. Ruth is newly divorced and asks Homer to introduce her to his single friends. She is using subtle language, which Homer struggles to grasp. It is a nice example of different ways we use language and how vague language can create communication problems.

Note: There are general references to sex in the scene.