Novel & Unit Projects: Day Four

Ah the dreaded oral presentation.  Hmmm.  I feel as if I’ve used that line before.  Oh wait I did, on Monday.  Oral presentations have been end-of-unit assignments from the beginning of time, or at least since my time, which feels as long.  I understand the appeal, but I can remember the terror.  Students aren’t kind to one another, especially when it comes to being “bored.”  Presentations have lots of room for “boredom.”  They are however an expectation.  See the common core standards for further reminding.
So, how do you approach them in a way that isn’t terrifying or tedious for all parties?The answer lies within how you set the parameters.  Speeches should be short.  Expecting them to fill 3-5 minutes can be difficult for everyone involved.  So today’s end-of-novel/unit project is something that utilizes short student speeches.It takes time to construct a meaningful speech.  As a teacher I speak everyday.  But I have a captive audience.  They can’t leave.  That doesn’t make me a good speaker.
An end-of-unit speech should require students to look at good speeches as models and then try to emulate those qualities in their own.  Several weekends ago Where the Classroom Ends posted a link to multiple UPenn 60 seconds lectures.  That’s a great place to begin.  Requiring that students do something in a “small” space is a great exercise in condensing student thought.  The website American Rhetoric also has an extensive list of speeches from the 21st century that are useful. Nikki Giovanni’s “We are Virginia Tech”  is an especially good example for students.

In Defense of…
The actual final project itself is an “In Defense of” speech, meaning students need to defend a certain element of the book or unit. Think about defending Myrtle from The Great Gatsby or Willie Stark from All the King’s Men or Balram Halawi from The White Tiger.  You may even want to encourage students to read/review some of Clarence Darrow’s speeches.  You may choose to steer away from overtly political topics depending on whether or not your students are capable of making informed and non-inflammatory speeches.  Here are some other options:

  • Create a list of characters or events.
  • Create a list of author characteristics or writing patterns(repetition, long passages of description, favorite rhetorical devices)
  • Create a list of chapters.
1.  Assign students to elements, characters, events, etc.
Task them with the following:
You are to create a speech in defense of the character Gertrude from Hamlet.  Reference elements from the text to prove your expert status on this topic.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:  Convince an audience (including me) of her worth as a character or a symbol within the text.  

2.  Ask that they include certain rhetorical elements-anaphora, metaphor, allusion, etc.

3.  Ask that they draft a proposal for their speech (title, topic, description, etc.)

4.  Ask that they draft a speech.  Provide feedback on the speech.

5.  Discuss public speaking tips.

6.  Consider allowing students to evaluate and critique speeches when they are presented, with parameters, of course. You can do this by creating a simple checklist/rubric for students or asking them to SOAPSTone each speaker.  Offer several categories for winning:

    • Most Convincing
    • Cleverest Title & Topic
    • Best Line

Ultimately, this should be practice for everyone.  Students who aren’t presenting should assess their peers.  It forces them to be evaluative instead of being silent observers.


  1. Laura Lensgraf says:

    I was just thinking along the same lines – having my students record 60 minute speeches about their argument paper – What is your argument in 60 seconds?

    Yet, my question is the logistics of uploading the speeches? Where and how? Any suggestions? Laura

    • Aubrey & Emily says:

      I love the idea of having students make 60 second speeches about their argument essays. Can you have them upload them to VoiceThread? Here is the link:

      Students should be able to then comment on each other’s speeches via audio comment as well.

  2. [...] this as a constant exercise much like journaling.  You can use it          to produce a 60-second speech or a research driven [...]

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