Integrating Technology into your Language Arts Public Speaking Lesson

We’ve been teaching our speech unit to Grade 7 and 8 students for several years, but this is the first year we’ve really had an opportunity to integrate different types of technologies into our English lesson.

Let’s be honest. Most students hate doing speeches. They don’t like spending the time to write the speech, revise their work, or to present in front of their classmates who might bully them if they don’t pick a topic that’s popular, original, or cool.

Having said that, overall, students (including lower-end students and disengaged boys) were more interested  in our unit because the technology hooked them in a meaningful way. (As opposed to technology for technology’s sake.)

Here’s what we did:

  1. Prewriting: Using a class blog / website to generate ideas
  2. Prewriting: Using Mind Web software to help students brainstorm ideas for their speech
  3. Writing the speech: Using Google Docs to allow student revising / editing and feedback
  4. Practicing the Speech: Watching Examples of Greatness
  5. Practicing the Speech:  Online stopwatch
  6. Practicing the Speech: Video feedback
  7. Assessing the Speech: Peer feedback using clickers

Prewriting: Using a class blog / website to generate ideas

Normally we spend some time at the kick-off of the speech unit generating a class list of potential speech topics. We still did the same topic brainstorming activity, but afterwards, we had students post their ideas on our class website.

We use WordPress to set up our class website, but you could use any blogging or website platform. All we did was create a post explaining speech topic guidelines and then invited students to leave a comment with their speech topic ideas. (As a teacher, you can always moderate student content before it goes live to the world. Or, maybe you have a private class website which is only accessible to your educational community.)

The technology helped because it was a quick and easy way to get 30 students to share all of their ideas simultaneously, instead of teaching it as a shared writing activity where the teacher is recording their ideas on flip-chart paper and students are sharing their topics one-by-one. Overall, the technology way was quicker and students didn’t lose interest.

At the end, we copied and pasted all of the student ideas from the comments section into the actual post. It’s easier to read a list of 80-90 speech topics, as opposed to scrolling through that many comments. (As a side note, when we did this for our last unit on Persuasive Essays, another teacher came in to show us this great resource she found… it was our class list of persuasive writing topics.)

Prewriting: Using Mind Web software to help students brainstorm ideas for their speech

Once students had picked their speech topics, we used SMART Ideas 5 to help our students generate and organize ideas for their speech. Concept mapping software can be a great tool for the classroom, but there are also some downsides.

We booked a double period (100 min) in the lab. This was long enough for students to brainstorm ideas and then to organize ideas into an introduction, 3 body paragraphs and a conclusion with a call to action. SMART ideas also allows you to save your outline as a word document, but it’s important to make sure students get the direction of the arrows set up correctly. (Otherwise the organization of the ideas gets messed up when you convert it to a list.) We printed out the mind maps and marked the ideas to provide assessment feedback before students wrote their drafts.

Concept mapping technology helped our students to quickly generate ideas, but more importantly to organize their ideas. Before when we did this with pencil-and-paper, students couldn’t move supporting details between paragraphs as easily. Now they just click and drag. Plus, the quality of work that we got from lower students and disengaged boys tended to be better when we used the computer because it was easier for them to get their ideas down. (They could also change the ideas and colour-code the bubbles as they pleased. One word of caution: not all colours and patterns print well on black-and-white.)

Writing the speech: Using Google Docs to allow student revising / editing and feedback

Actually, in this unit, we had our students do the drafting, revising, and editing in their writing notebooks. Booking lab time can be difficult.

We spent about a week in the classroom writing our first draft, and then revising and editing the work using checklists and partners. When students were done, they went on to the publishing step and typed up their good copies using MS Word or Open Office Writer. At this point, speeches were printed out and handed in for a writing mark.

Because speeches tend to be a stressful event for students, we allowed students to take their work home and revise it with older siblings or family members. After all, it’s easier to deliver a speech that you’re proud of (but we wanted to make sure we marked their writing mark was based on what they could demonstrate in class, as opposed to what their older brother wrote at home.)

We use Google Docs as a quick and easy way for students to work on a document at home and at school. The power of using Google Docs as your word processor is that the file lives in the cloud on Google’s servers – which means you can access it from any computer with internet access.

The downside of using google docs is that the student work can be accessed at home and at school – which means it’s hard to see what the student wrote independently, and what was typed up by someone else at home. (Sure Google Docs has a revision history, but it only displays the revision date, and not time. So it’s harder to track down which changes were made at home (unless they were made on the weekend.)

If it’s not important to you to make sure all of the work is done at school, then Google Docs can open up a world of peer revising and editing. With other units, we’ve had students write their first draft in their writing notebooks. Students would then revise and edit their work on paper. However, when students were ready to revise with a friend, they could type their work into a Google Doc and share it with that student.

The other student could then go through the document and add their ideas in comment boxes or in a different colour. Because Google Docs keeps track of revision history, you can compare different versions of the same document to see who typed what. Google also handles simultaneous editing very well (We haven’t had much luck with wikispaces for simultaneous editing)

Practicing the Speech: Watching Examples of Greatness

If you have access to a computer projector you can show a few videos of exceptional speakers.

We teach in Ontario, Canada, so every year we try to find good examples of Canadian speeches or speeches from a diverse range of speakers: women, children, different cultures. Aside from the Severn Suzuki speech which a colleague of ours found, we haven’t been able to find any good Canadian stuff. If you know of any videos, we’d love to hear about it.

  • Obama’s inauguration speech (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjnygQ02aW4).  (He starts speaking at 2:40mins).
  • Severn Suzuki speaking at UN Earth Summit 1992 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZsDliXzyAY)  Severn Suzuki (David Suzuki’s daughter) is 12 years old and is speaking to the UN about environmental issues. This is a powerful speech because she role models for students what an effective speech looks like, demonstrates that speeches can move people to act and empowers students to make a difference and care.
  • Martin Luther King – Full Speech (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbUtL_0vAJk). The full version of Martin Luther King’s speech is on YouTube. The familiar “I have a dream” call to action begins around 11 min.

Many teachers don’t have access to YouTube at work because the site is blocked by the school board. You Tube Downloader is a free program. Simply copy and paste the youtube link and the program will download the video. Use the same program to convert the you tube video into a format that you can play at school. (If you convert it into WMV, you will be able to watch it on Windows Media Player.)

Practicing the Speech:  Online stopwatch.

After students have watched the examples of greatness, we have a few lessons on planning out your speech to add emotion and dramatic flair through pauses, pitch and beat changes. We also have a few lessons on how to use cue cards to memorize a speech effectively.

Throwing up an online stopwatch on the computer projector helps the students to be honest about how long (or short) their speech is. Here is one example which the students found: online stopwatch . Unfortunately there are google ads on this site and you might not be comfortable displaying it in class. If you are fortunate enough to have SMART notebook, there is a timer built into one of the templates.

Practicing the Speech: Video feedback

This year, we’re fortunate enough to have a class set of laptops. The netbooks come with a webcam so we had students practice in front of the webcam. It was pretty cool watching your entire class practicing their speech to their laptops.

We used our projector to display an online stopwatch so that students started at the same time and felt confident to give their speech out loud masked under a crowd of voices. Students replayed their speeches with the volume muted so they could focus on their body language. Did they look confident? Did they make eye contact? Did they have dramatic flair?

Windows Movie Maker crashed often. The NMG webcam software that came with the laptops was more reliable (and saved the entire 3-5 minute speech as a single wmv file.)

Assessing the Speech: Peer feedback using clickers

Our school is fortunate to have a class set of eInstruction’s Classroom Performance System (CPS) clickers.

Very cool. We would rather invest in a class set of clickers over a SMART board or interactive whiteboard any day of the week and twice on Sunday. As cool as a SMART board is, you’re still limited to having only one student (or teacher) interact with the board while the rest of the class watches. With a class set of clickers, every student can be engaged simultaneously.

It took a little bit of time to set things up: installing the software, creating our class list, and setting up the test questions. Once the initial work was done, using clickers in the classroom was very quick and easy.

In the past, we had the student pick a few people in the audience to peer-evaluate their performance. Students would put their marks on a post-it note and submit it to the teacher, in addition to the teacher evaluation.

With a class set of clickers, all of a sudden, you have an easy way to get the entire class providing a peer mark. Clickers are assigned, which means you can set it up so you can see every mark that gets sent in. That way, if someone gives their best friend a perfect score, you can have a conversation with them afterschool. Like wise, if someone gives a student they don’t like an unusually bad mark, you can have a similar conversation.

Clickers also provided a reason for students to pay attention during the presentation, as well as something to do between speeches.

Also, since the clickers send the information right away, you can display aggregated bar graphs to the presenter so they can see how they did. Immediate feedback. Even though the clickers are assigned to specific students, the software allows you to present the data to protect the confidentiality of the class.

2 thoughts on “Integrating Technology into your Language Arts Public Speaking Lesson”

  1. This is a great way to show how technology can really help students in the future. for their speeches. Google docs is an easy way to make revisions and an easier way to have other students peer edit. Google docs is able to have the revisions before the student makes them, so the writer can double check and compare if they believe that is what they should do or not. Great job! 🙂

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