Blogstitute Week 2: Erik Palmer on practicing speech

Do you ever ask to hear the rough draft?

Yes, you read that correctly. I want to hear my students’ rough drafts. Every day, students are speaking in class. Often, teachers assign some talks with higher stakes than the daily discussions, answers of questions, and the like. We assign the quarterly book report in front of the entire class, the biography project final where students dress up as some historical figure, the report on smoking’s effects in health class, the presentation of the science project, the participation in a mock Congressional hearing, the talk at the DECA competition, and many more. At all grade levels in all subjects, at some point students will be giving a talk to a group. Before we expose the audience of students and/or parents and/or judges to these talks, we need to make sure that the talk is ready for prime time. I tell students to practice several times before presentation day, but occasionally some students do not in fact practice. I am sure this is just an issue I face, and you never have this problem. To avoid that problem, though, I want to hear the rough draft before my students give the final talk. I ask students to send me the rough draft of their talk so I can listen to it and offer advice. Do you ever do that?

Checking the rough draft is common for many writing assignments. The cynical among us may suggest checking the rough draft as a way to make sure students are doing the work they are supposed to be doing. The fear that the paper may not be started until the evening before the six-week assignment is due is real. Less cynical teachers may look at the rough draft as a formative assessment. Discovering mistakes and giving feedback before the final paper is due is more valuable than writing comments on the finished paper. For both reasons, I always asked students to do a rough draft before they handed in a major writing assignment. I collected and commented on the drafts and warned students that I would get quite miffed if those comments were ignored. I want the same thinking to apply to oral assignments—but with a twist. Don’t have students hand in a paper with the words they are planning on saying; require a recording of the talk instead.

There are many ways to record the rough draft. All of them contribute to preparation for the Common Core State Standards, by the way. Speaking standard 5 requires students to use multimedia in presentations. Beginning in second grade, students are expected to make audio recordings of talks; by fifth grade, students should be including multimedia components in presentations. This requirement is probably more daunting to teachers than to students. Far more of them than you realize are already quite adept at various ways of recording and posting audio and video. Today, I want to share some of the simpler ways we can record, and show you how to use digital tools to practice talks. Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology (Stenhouse, 2012) is the source for those wanting to do more.

Every computer/netbook/tablet has built-in audio and video recording. PCs have some version of a webcam—the Dell computer I am using now opens a video recorder by accessing “Dell Webcam Central”— and your students will have no trouble finding it. If students have a computer at home, they can record themselves and attach the movie to an e-mail to send to you. If you have one computer in your class, students can take turns making videos of their rough drafts and leave the files on the desktop of that computer for you to check later. PCs also have Sound Recorder. Windows puts an “Accessories” folder on every PC. It contains a calculator, a snipping tool that allows you take screenshots, and Sound Recorder, among other things. Double-click on Sound Recorder, and a small box appears on the desktop. The red button labeled “Start Recording” couldn’t be more obvious. The blue “Stop Recording” button is impossible to miss, too. As soon as you stop, a screen opens and gives you the option to name and save the recording: “Muffin’s rough draft,” for example. Students who record at home can attach the file to an e-mail to you. Students using the class computer can leave the file on the desktop.

Devices using a Mac operating system have Photo Booth built in. Click on the icon on the dock, and you are ready to record. One option allows you to take a snapshot, but we care about the option that lets you record video. One click and—after a “3-2-1” countdown—you are recording. The recording is automatically saved. More tech-savvy kids may use GarageBand, also on the dock of every Mac device. It is a bit trickier to use, but if they know how, let them use it.

I read that 80% of high school students have smartphones. I downloaded a free app (Easy Voice Recorder) for my phone after a student of mine did a favor for me. I asked him to record something for Digitally Speaking, thinking he would go home to his computer and use a tool I mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Instead, he pulled out his phone, spoke, hit a button, and e-mailed me the recording. It’s in the book. Ask students to send you a spoken rough draft, and they will have ways to do it that we don’t know about. That’s fine with me. I just want to hear the practices.

Can your students get to the Internet at home or at school? Visit There’s no sign-up, no password, no cost—the home page has a big red button that starts the audio recording. When students finish, they can “Listen” to the recording. If the recording is not good enough, they can hit “Retry”; if they like it, they can copy the URL address to send to other listeners or hit a button that lets them e-mail the recording to someone . . . a teacher, for instance.

Think of the possibilities. Students can watch/listen to the recordings, critique themselves using a PVLEGS rubric, make adjustments, and improve. Audio and video can be shared in a group: each group member shows his or her rough draft and gets feedback from other group members. Recordings can be viewed by a teacher who can give important tips to improve a presentation before the due date. A Reader’s Theater team could record parts and send them to teammates as a way to improve before performing the book selection in class. The Poetry Café presenters can listen to themselves before getting up in front of classmates and parents. The recordings of a “This I Believe” speech could be useful formative assessments on the way to the final talk. And, of course, you have your own great ideas.

Why wouldn’t you want to do this? Improving speaking skills, avoiding dull presentations, updating instruction, and meeting Common Core State Standards can all be accomplished by asking to hear the rough drafts.

Erik is the author of Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology and Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students.

Check out last week’s post by Debbie Miller and don’t forget to leave a comment. Last week’s winner of a free book is Katie Whisner. 

26 comments June 26th, 2013

Read & Watch Books are here!

Imagine reading a description of a teaching technique in a book and then watching a video demonstration—without having to turn the page. Or reading about an effective digital tool and then watching a tutorial where the author shows you how to use it. Or reading how an author used technology to enhance students’ speaking skills and then listening to the students’ presentations. That’s the concept behind the Read & Watch books: to bring together text, graphics, audio and video materials on a single page.

We are excited to launch this new line of books with three titles — all available now for a special introductory price of $18! Click on the links below to check out the books and view a sample chapter from each title.

In Reading Amplified: Digital Tools That Engage Students in Words, Books, and Ideas, you can look over author Lee Ann Spillane’s shoulder at her computer screen or into her classroom as she guides students to deeper reading and engagement with digital tools, ranging from the Google Book search concordance feature to comic strip software. Lee Ann seeks to take the “tedium out of routine tasks we need to teach.” Her instruction is infused with technology that energizes students, but her focus is always on deep learning that motivates them to become passionate and independent readers. “It’s about the teaching, not the tool,” she reminds us. “I do a lot of learning right beside my students.”

With a traditionalist’s respect for word knowledge and an adventurer’s spirit for discovering new routes to learning, Lee Ann Tysseling shares an exciting array of technology-assisted resources that can boost students’ literacy skills and encourage wide reading. In Word Travelers: Using Digital Tools to Explore Vocabulary and Develop Independent Learners, Lee Ann explores engaging resources such as animated semantic networks, instant etymologies, audio pronunciation guides, and word games that battle world hunger. Beyond vetting the best digital resources for vocabulary instruction and assessment, she provides embedded video tutorials and classroom interviews to help you and your students use the same tools tomorrow.

In Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations, author Erik Palmer shows teachers how to turn almost any lesson into an opportunity for students to practice creating and performing a speech with the assistance of technology. All teachers at all grade levels and in all subject areas assign speaking activities — for example, read-alouds, book reports, class discussions, lab results, research presentations, and dialogues in a foreign language. Effective communication is an essential skill in modern society, and the Common Core State Standards place particular emphasis on teaching students to deliver messages well orally and through a range of media. Building on his previous book, Well Spoken, Palmer previews websites and Internet tools that are easy for students and teachers to use and offer a variety of possible classroom applications.

More questions about Read & Watch books? Watch this brief video that shows you their main features:

Add comment November 5th, 2012

“Old” skills for a new century

Visual literacy, technology savvy, and keeping up with new technologies are all necessary skills for students. But Erik Palmer, author of Well Spoken argues that in the meantime we should not forget the traditional skills of reading, writing, and speaking, as skills that are vital to success in and out of the classroom.

He just published an article in the Colorado Reading Council Journal, where he writes that “new skills are needed in the 21st century, but few students will succeed if they don’t master letters—reading, writing, and speaking them. Of those three, speaking has become far more important as technology has advanced. If you ask people what skills they consider to be “cutting edge,” it is unlikely anyone would mention speaking skills. Yet in the new decade and beyond, a seemingly retro skill like verbal communication actually is cutting edge and is becoming more crucial to success.”

Read the full article here, and then check out two other pieces by Erik in AMLE’s e-newsletter and in the CATE journal.

3 comments January 31st, 2012

Speak, like, proper English

A+ Advice columnist Leanna Landsman turned to Stenhouse author Erik Palmer’s book Well Spoken recently to answer a question from an anxious parent. Read her column and advice below.

Question of the Week:

To listen to my 16-year-old daughter, Alicia, you’d think she had a vocabulary of three words. She says “like” constantly in a valley-girl voice. She has a summer job as a receptionist and should speak more maturely. She’s a good student who sounds like a sitcom character. How do we change this? Help!


Mom, I hear you! I always ask teens I meet where they go to school and what they are studying. Do they plan on college? What inspires them? What is their dream career? I’m often shocked at how inarticulate they are. Shyness? Probably not. Those same kids in a high school hallway talk up a storm.

Denver, Colo., educator Erik Palmer, says students’ communication skills are weak because we’ve not made speaking a curriculum priority. “Oral communication is an essential 21st century skill but we don’t teach it,” says Palmer. That may change now that Common Core State Standards include “Speaking and Listening.”

Start by making Alicia aware of her job’s importance. A receptionist is often the first contact people have with a company and part of her job is to project professionalism, competence and maturity. Have her practice by making some calls (such as scheduling appointments, gathering information, purchasing or returning products, troubleshooting a technical problem). Have her rate her experiences for quality of service, clarity, ease of completing the transaction. Give her additional practice by role-playing callers she might encounter.

Palmer, author of “Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students” (Stenhouse, 2011), a terrific book for teachers and adaptable for parents, says good speakers have mastered six traits. Introduce these to Alicia:

  • Poise: Good speakers appear calm, confident and avoid distracting behaviors such as tugging on hair, or repeatedly saying, “um” or “like,” says Palmer. Videotaping can help develop poise.
  • Voice: They speak every word clearly with appropriate volume. “Compare different voices we are exposed to every day, from jazz radio announcers to infomercial hustlers to from PBS’s ‘The News Hour’ to ‘Top Chef,'” suggests Palmer.
  • Life: “I use this term, rather than ‘inflection’ because it resonates with students and gets them to put passion and emotion in their voices,” notes Palmer.
  • Eye Contact: This engages the listener. Good receptionists make eye contact with each person they greet. “If speaking to a group, make eye contact with each person in the audience,” advises Palmer.
  • Gestures: This means matching words to motions. Hand, face, and body movements can add to the message.
  • Speed: A compelling speaker paces well; not too fast or two slow and uses pauses for effect. Alicia will want to speak slowly when giving out a phone number but more quickly when inviting someone to have a waiting room seat.

For more practice, try demonstrations: Ask Alicia to show and describe the steps in making a recipe (a Food Channel skill!). Make a podcast about something she’s interested in. Skype an adult relative or friend regularly with family news.

When school restarts, encourage her to join a debate, forensics, or theater club, or other activity that will increase her confidence and skill as a speaker. Some schools have radio and TV stations that students run; still others have students do the morning announcements.

Do you have a question about your child’s education? E-mail it to Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.

Copyright 2011, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

Add comment May 18th, 2011

Can you, like, speak well?

The same skills that we use for public speaking also apply to a wide range of oral communication—interviews, discussions, meetings, and presentations. So why is the teaching of speaking skills often limited to public speaking class?

In this short video, Erik Palmer, author of the new book Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students, explains why speaking skills are so important, both academically and in life, and introduces six essential skills using the mnemonic PVLEGS:

1 comment April 20th, 2011

Um, well, like how well do your students speak?

There are scores of business books about speaking, making presentations, and other essential oral communication skills, but when it comes to teaching the art of speaking, resources for the general classroom teacher are lacking. That will soon change with the arrival of Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students.

Erik Palmer came to teaching after a career in the commodity brokerage business, where oral communication was a crucial part of the job. When he moved to the classroom, he incorporated speaking in all the subjects he taught because he saw the lasting impact it had on students as a real-world skill.

In Well Spoken Erik convincingly argues that developing effective speaking skills is worth more time than it usually receives in classrooms, and concisely sets out a framework for teaching speaking that can be used from elementary to high school.

You and your students will find practical strategies for crafting, delivering, and evaluating speeches, with applications beyond formal presentations—from interviews and discussions to debates and answering questions in class. Each chapter includes a list of ideas for discussion or practice and a concluding chapter provides 17 practical lessons that engage specific skills.

Well Spoken will inspire you to elevate speaking as a critical lifelong skill in your classroom, and give you the confidence and knowledge to do so. Preview the entire book now; the print version starts shipping in early April.

Add comment March 21st, 2011

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