An element of performativity pervades all oral expression in the classroom, and turns learning into an active and full-body experience, rather than merely a passive and cognitive affair. Oral activities like role-playing, panel discussions, debates, deliberations, employ drama as pedagogy and performance as a means and motivation to learn.
Here are a few examples of oral activities that can be tailored for the purposes of your class (or any class in any discipline). Most of these oral activities can be adapted for individual or group completion.
|Case studies||News casts|
|Chapter/Article reviews and summaries||Oral exams/quizzes|
|Demonstration lessons||Poster presentations|
|Discussion questions and subsequent||PowerPoint presentations|
|Individual/group presentations||Reporting of research findings|
|Interviews||Role playing activities|
|Mock trials||Roundtable discussions|
|Mock conferences||Sharing and pairing exercises|
It is important to set the right tone for discussion in the classroom early on in the semester, and to establish a rapport with your students. Studies have shown that students who contribute to class conversations early on in the semester are much more likely to continue contributing to class discussions throughout the semester than those students who remain quiet during the initial few weeks of the term. Therefore, it is imperative to find ways to involve all students in the formative discussions of the course.
What Makes for a Good Discussion?
Good discussion is like art. It may be hard to define it, but you know it when you see it. Think back to a good discussion you once had, either as a student or an instructor. What made is enjoyable? What made it educational? What made it lively?
Often cited characteristics of a good discussion:
Accessibility: Students feel comfortable engaging in the discussion.
Non-combative: There is a cordial and pleasant tone to the conversation and no hostility.
Diversity: A variety of opinions and points of view get articulated.
Cohesion and focus: Discussions should be about "something," with a pedagogical goal.
Trust: Environment should allow students to take intellectual risks.
What Makes for a Bad Discussion?
Conversely, think about your experience in a bad discussion. What troubled you about the discussion? Were there too many participants? Too few? Was it educational? Was it too combative? Too passive?
Limited discussants: Only few students participate.
Limited perspectives: Students echo instructor's thoughts and limit diversity of opinions.
Lack of focus: Discussions go off-topic and miss the pedagogical aim.
Tips for Classroom Discussions
As an alternative or supplement to lecture, classroom discussions offer students the opportunity to actively participate in the education process. Studies and experience suggest that when students are more involved in class, they retain more information and hone their critical thinking skills. Although many instructors wish to increase classroom discussion, integrating and evaluating student discussions can be difficult, but need not be as time consuming as some may suggest.
Suggestions for increased classroom discussion:
Some additional methods for improving discussion:
Effective Questioning Techniques Improve Discussion:
Effective Nonverbal Questioning Habits:
"Encouraging Student Participation in Discussions" from Barbara Gross Davis' Book, Tools For Teaching http://teaching.berkeley.edu/bgd/participation.html
Teaching Topics: Class Discussion
How to Lead an Effective Class Discussion
Guidance for Instructors Concerning Class Discussion about the War in Iraq
Organizing and Conducting a Class Discussion or Review
Fostering Effective Class Discussions
Encouraging Student Participation in Discussion
Oral presentations can be among the best part of a class, or they can be the absolute worst. While there are few guarantees in the world of teaching and learning, here are some tips to make success a more likely outcome for you and your students.
Deliberation is the collaborative process of discussing contested issues by considering various perspectives in order to form opinions and guide judgment. Effective deliberation incorporates sustained and appropriate modes of argumentation. Deliberative practices can take many formsfrom discussions, to role-playing exercises, to formal debates. All of these activities lead to exploring differing perspectives and informing various decisions.
What are the basic components of argument and deliberation?
Contest issues. Deliberation involves a controversy or unsolved problem in need of resolution.
Exchange opinions. Deliberation is not individual monologues, but a substantial consideration of ideas by multiple group members who advance different perspectives.
Reflect. Deliberation encourages members to acknowledge others' viewpoints and consider them in relation to their own viewpoint. The inability or unwillingness to consider opposing viewpoints leads to uninformed, and often indefensible, resolutions.
Synthesize. Deliberation combines and builds upon individual contributions to create intellectual activity greater than the sum of its parts.
Reform opinions. Deliberation between individuals sparks deliberation within themselves, challenging and expanding their opinions on issues.
Judge. Deliberation fosters conclusions on critical issues.
What can one argue about?
Facts. Rarely are interesting and non-trivial facts so obvious that they invite universal agreement. We do not argue over the location of the Pacific Ocean or the temperature that water boils, for a resolution to such issues is easily reached. However, not all scientific or "factual" issues are beyond dispute, such as the effects of global warming and the cause of AIDS. However, deliberation provides ways to expose the areas of contest and to compare and provide alternate views on competing facts.
Values. The clash of values is a defining marker of contemporary society. Deliberation can raise questions about the tensions between and within value systems that guide decision-making. Most Americans support free speech and the freedom of religion, but when these values come into conflict (such as posting the Ten Commandments outside a courthouse), it is the deliberative process that attempts to resolve these conflicts.
Policies. The range of possibilities for action is almost limitless. Deliberation about policies encourages in-depth analysis of possibilities for change. These debates inevitably incorporates issues of facts and values, but policy deliberations center on legal or legislative changes.
Definitions. Much conflict is ultimately definitional. Deliberation forces advocates to defend their definition against the scrutiny of others. For example, what constitutes "freedom" or what determines "life?"
Interpretations. Competing interpretations of texts or data are prevalent in a complex society. Deliberation can compare interpretations for correspondence to truth, authorial intent, or social productivity; essentially, what someone or something "means" and why that is important.
Research. Studies, data, and articles offer many issues for deliberation. Deliberation can involve issues about methodology, findings, conclusions, or the implications of research. They say statistics do not lie; but the way one uses statistics in an argument or how the statistics were developed are clearly open for debate.
Criteria. The process of decision-making always involves criteria for judgment. Deliberation about criteria assists in making judgments that are satisfactory and legitimated. There are criteria for determining the admissibility of evidence in a courtroom or the viability of a scientific finding; however, the standards themselves are often the subject of intense deliberation.
Theories. Theories are hotly contested in science, social science, and the humanities. Deliberation tests the strengths and weaknesses of theoretical paradigms.
Benefits of Teaching Argument and Deliberation
Deliberation as a teaching strategy has increased due to the variety of its pedagogical benefits. Deliberation improves critical thinking by providing a constant consideration and synthesis of other viewpoints. The emphasis on conversation in deliberation improves students' critical listening skills, reflective capacity, and ability to incorporate other viewpoints into their own opinions. Synthesizing multiple opinions often offers a heuristic spark for students' innovation energies.
Promotes active learning. Deliberation depends upon the consistent participation of students in classroom discussions. As such, it is an alternative to, or supplement to, lecture-style teaching. The incorporation of student voices through deliberation provides an exciting opportunity for students to involve themselves in their own education.
Enhances communication and listening skills. Deliberation is an inherently communicative exercise, as opinions based on knowledge are shared with group members. Students must develop the ability to express their own opinions to other group members while remaining sensitive to others' experiences to form collective judgment.
Facilitates social interaction. Deliberation relies on teamwork instead of individual effort. Students must learn how to respect each others' opinions while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of each others' experiences. This small group work provides students with cooperative skills. Students learn to respond to diversity in opinion and resolve conflicts, both of which are important in a society marked by difference.
Invents new modes of thinking. Deliberation encourages innovation and invention of new ideas and solutions. Conversation and reflection challenge students' opinions and encourage a synthesis of analysis, criteria, and judgment that often reveals new and unique approaches. Diversity of experience is a strength that encourages a wide variety of alternatives to be proposed and evaluated. Students often create new self-understandings as they listen to other experiences. This process can be crucial to generating individual and collective knowledge and forming nuanced opinions on critical issues.
Strengthens democratic decision-making procedures. By opening arguments, ideas, and opinions to discussion, students can participate in a democratic method of judgment. Judgment is naturally more legitimate when the process of arriving at that decision is open to discussion, rather than passed by decree. Instructors who move the deliberative practice beyond the classroom, by engaging actors outside of the academy, can also have the potential to influence decision-making agents.
Possible Ways to Conclude Deliberative Practices
Like the diverse types of deliberative exercisesfrom discussion to dramatization to debatethere are equally diverse means to conclude these activities. Any of the following activities can serve as a way to wrap-up deliberation exercises. While there are both advantages and disadvantages listed for each activity, the exercises proposed can prepare students for future participation in deliberative forums.
Voting. Students can vote at the end of a deliberative exercise, endorsing or refutting particular viewpoints.. Disadvantage: Some students might be alienated if they are in the minority. Voting may also give students the impression that "the issue is decided" and they need not continue their deliberation. Advantage: Students get a clear picture of who supports what ideas.
Consensus-building. Students could be asked to come to a consensus on the problem diagnosis, the judgment criteria, and/or a final decision. Consensus could mean "complete" consensus with every person assenting, or could mean a "super-majority" of group members assenting. Disadvantage: Consensus is oftentimes impossible to develop. Teachers facilitating consensus often have to be very skilled at finding points of agreement. The more aggressive or gregarious students can suade classmates into consensus. Advantage: Encouraging students to find a common ground that they can all agree upon, and teaching them about alternative ways in which they can make decisions can provide useful models for future action.
Minority/Majority reports. Much like the Supreme Court, this process of concluding a deliberative exercise would split the class into two parts: a majority and a minority where each group assembles a report to summarize their conclusions. Students can then agree with part of the majority report, part of the minority report, or reports in their entirety. Disadvantage: Necessitates a fair amount of class time to implement. Emphasis on individual response sacrifices collective decision-making. Advantage: Provides students with a complicated model of decision-making that is not necessarily either/or, but explores the shades of grey inherent in all decisions. Encourages small group work and facilitates self-expression of individual viewpoints.
Question and answer. Critical issues can be turned over and further scrutinized by an in-depth question and answer session, either between instructor and students or among the students themselves. This provides an opportunity for some people to involve themselves in the conversation in a way that does not require them to take a defined position on the issue. Disadvantage: Students might not have quality questions to contribute. Students' answers might display evasiveness or ignorance. Advantage: Encourages further class participation. Increases public scrutiny of specific issues through direct interrogation.
Deliberative writing. The task of reflecting on critical issues and translating student thoughts to the written page could be a valuable exercise for students. Students could write about the ways their opinion changed or remained the same, what they found most persuasive, and what decision should be made. This promotes individual, instead of a group, decision-making. Disadvantage: Writing is generally more time-intensive than oral processes. Writing does not usually facilitate oral delivery competencies, though could be used as a starting point for future oral exercises. Advantage: Rewards students who might not have excellent oral competencies but excel at the written word.
Meta-reflection. The reflective turn can be an appropriate conclusion to deliberative activities. Questions can be asked about process (standards of argument, clash of competing perspectives, style, raising of hostilities, whose voice in the classroom was not heard, whose perspective on the issue outside the classroom was not heard) and content (what information is needed to make a decision, what are the critical points of contention. Disadvantage: Fails to provide "practical judgment." Advantage: Encourages consideration of the process of deliberation and assists in improving future deliberation practices.
Benefits to Oral Examinations
Allows direct, dialogic feedback. Oral exams provide instructors with an excellent opportunity to immediately diagnose and correct any major misconceptions. The face to face dialogue, through which this occurs, as well as the high-level, holistic nature of well written oral questions, creates an intense experience conducive to breakthroughs in student understanding of material. For this reason, oral exams are well suited for final exams, giving instructors one last chance to greatly affect student knowledge.
Encourages in-depth preparation. The unique anxiety associated with both public speaking and testing can provide a powerful impetus for student preparation, especially because good oral examination questions will center on synthesis and overall evaluation of material.
Demands different skills. Students are tested frequently, yet those tests are almost exclusively either written essay exams or standardized tests. Rarely do those students more skilled at making an oral argument than a written one get a chance to display their mastery of course content in the format where they display the most acumen.
Valuable practice for future professional activity. Whether they apply to graduate schools or try the job market, most students will find their futures heavily influenced by brief, stress-filled oral interviews for which they have received little preparation. Oral exams can help students to develop the necessary ability to remain collected while cogently answering difficult questions.
Reduced grading stress. Oral examinations can require severe schedule juggling and the sacrifice of some additional time by the instructor so that each student has an available time to take the test. However, as long as time is taken beforehand to carefully choose grading criteria and design a rubric, these exams offer many of the advantages associated with essay exams, such as developing skill in organization, synthesis, evaluation, and critical thinking, with much less grading hassle.
Oral Communication Assessment Links
Bibliography of Assessment Alternatives
Large Scale Assessment in Oral Communication
The Basic Communication Course in U.S. Colleges and Universities
Say it plain: A Century of Great African American Speeches
Speeches of Abraham Lincoln
History Channel's Great Speeches Archive
The History Place Great Speeches Collection
Fidel Castro Speech Database
American Leaders Speak: Recordings from WWI and the 1920 Collection
Earliest Voices: A Gallery from the Vincent Voice Library
Speeches of Federal Reserve Board Members
Fireside Chats of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Televised Debate History
History and Politics Out Loud
Inaugural Addresses of Presidents of the United States
Speeches of Lyndon B. Johnson
Speeches of John F. Kennedy
Abraham Lincoln Speeches
Malcolm X: His Words Written and Spoken
The Media Institute's Luncheon Speakers
National Press Club Speeches
OYEZ (Supreme Court Arguments)
Pope John Paul II Speeches
Pope Benedict XVI Speeches
The Pacifica Radio/UC Berkeley Social Activism Sound Recording Project
Speeches and Speechmakers from University of Iowa
Speeches on Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (US)
Tips for Preparing and Delivering Scientific Talks (The Oceanography Society)
Book from Amazon.com
The Craft of Scientific Presentations (a book with illustrations)
Ten Secrets to Giving a Good Scientific Talk
The University of Pittsburgh Oral Communication Lab
National Association of Communication Centers
University of Richmond Speech Center
Hampden-Sydney College Speaking Center
The University of North Carolina Greensboro Speaking Center
Academy of Art University Speaking Lab
Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication
University of Colorado at Colorado Spring Oral Communication Center