Student speeches have many benefits. First, they are a way for Newcomers to get to know each other and to build community. Next, they are a unassigned writing and grammar task. Many students will write down their speech and check it for correct grammar. In addition, student speeches are a great way to develop pronunciation and reduce accents. English Language Learners strive to pronounce each word clearly and accurately. Lastly, speeches are great for listening practice. Speeches are a common curriculum component in many European and Asian schools.
A successful student speech has four critical elements. First, the topic must be familiar and interesting. Second, the length must be limited. I recommend three minutes. In addition, students need something to hold or point at to calm their nerves stay and on topic. Lastly, their classmates must be engaged and encouraged to ask questions. Class participation encourages the speaker.
I assign a three-minute speech each term. One of my favorite speeches is the 'Name Speech'. I demonstrate by using a poster board with my full name and the meaning and origin of each name written on it. In addition to this information, I explain why I received each name and who gave it to me. I also mention notable people with my name such as Rebecca in the Bible and the book/movie Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
Students are given one week to prepare. They sign up for a day to give their speech. There are always a few few brave souls who choose to go first. Two or three students give their speech each day. Listeners ask questions at the end. Because each culture has different customs for giving names, these speeches are fascinating and informative. I recommend students from different nations speak on the same day.
Another favorite speech is the 'Three Items Speech'. I demonstrate by bringing a paper lunch bag with three small items. First, I take out a small toy and talk about my family. Next, I show a golf ball and talk about how I like outdoor activities such as golf, hiking, camping, and canoeing. Lastly, I show a coin from another country and talk about how I like to visit other countries and try new foods. My students usually have very few possessions which they brought to America, so each object is a representation of their topic. I do not allow pictures,phones, or computers as items.
I am always surprised by my adult ESL students. Some are bold while others are timid. When you least expect it, a student will be a comedian and cause the whole class to laugh uncontrollably. Another will be vulnerable and elicit empathy and compassion from their classmates. Students ask very perceptive questions and really engage as listeners. I highly recommend student speeches for beginning to advanced Newcomers.