Incorporating Oral Assignments

Every teacher wants to enhance student learning in class.
Including oral communication activities in the classroom can help.
Here's how.

This page provides the rationale for including communciation activities in classes throughout the liberal arts curriculum. Also included are some things to consider when planning to incorporate oral activities in class.

Why should I incorporate oral communication activities in my class?

Incorporating oral communication activities in classes across the curriculum allows students

-to become active participants in the learning process
-to exert more control in the classroom
-to increase their motivation in class
-to achieve a better understanding of the material in the course

(Mary Washington College Speaking Center Website, 1999)

"The oral articulation of ideas has been shown to influence the development of critical thinking, problem solving abilities, and general learning outcomes. Furthermore, students have the opportunity to become more competent communicators."

(Palmerton, Patricia. "Talking, Learning: Oral Communication in the Classroom."
Hampden-Sydney College Faculty Workshop. 1991)

Cronin and Glenn offer this summary of current research in the rationale for including oral communication activities across the curriculum:
"Business and education leaders nationwide have noted in recent years that college graduates do not possess adequate communication skills. Communication skills, written and oral, are best developed if emphasized in a variety of courses. Except for students majoring in communication, most undergraduates take at most one course emphasizing oral communication skills. Those students who take one oral communication course may have little or no opportunity for additional structured practice with competent evaluation to reinforce the skills learned in that course. Furthermore, although active oral communication represents a fundamental mode of learning (Modaff & Hopper, 1984), it often is underrepresented in lecture-oriented college courses. Since 'the art of creating and communicating a message is at the heart of the educational experience' (Steinfatt, 1986, p. 465). it is essential to improve the quality and expand the application of meaningful oral communication activities to enhance learning across the curriculum."

Cronin, M., & P. Glenn. "Oral communication across the curriculum programs. Assessment, recommendations, and implications for the Speech Communication discipline." International Communication Association, Dublin. June 1990.

Modaff, J., & R. Hopper. "Why speech is 'basic.'" Communication Education. 33. (1984).

Steinfatt, T. "Communication Across the Curriculum" Communication Quarterly. 34. (1986.)

Faculty interested in learning more about the importance of oral communication across the curriculum are invited to contact Prof. Claire Deal in the Ferguson Center For Public Speaking for a bibliography of current research in the field.

How do I start? Some things to consider:

1. Consider the purpose of the assignment as it relates to your course curriculum. Assignments should clearly help the student learn the course material; instructional objectives must be specified so that students do not view speaking assignments as "add ons" or busy work.

2. Consider what course material is to be learned and what type of oral assignment is most suited for that objective:

For example: Students are studying the first "Three Wierd Sisters" scene in Macbeth. A student led (with prior preparation, of course) class discussion of the setting, characters, and prophecies would be an appropriate means of exploring the literature.

Another example: Students are investigating the formal and aesthetic qualities of particular artists' work. After completing their research, students may present the information to the class in mock interviews with individual artists or in mock panel discussions with several artists at one time.

Types of Oral Assignments and Corresponding Oral Communication Competencies

Presentational Speaking

Objectives: Content comprehension, Narrowing a topic, Organizational skills, Logical arguments, Listening skills, Research and analysis skills

Types:Oral reports, Debates, Oral exams, Role play and interview presentations, Film or book reviews, Traditional speeches, Scenes from literature, Reading aloud

Class Discussion

Objectives:Discussion skills, Student responsibility, Questioning techniques, Critical listening skills, Discovery through talk

Types:Student led discussion, Peer reviews, Study groups, Laboratory groups, Instructor led discussion

Task Group Projects

Objectives:Problem solving, Strategy /Action plan, Collaboration, Conflict management, Group interaction

Types:Research teams, Analysis of case studies, Laboratory groups, Panel and symposium presentations

Interpersonal Communication

Objectives:Interpersonal skills, Listening skills, Content mastery to teach, Interview skills

Types:Role-play, One-to-one teaching and tutoring, Interviews

3. Consider how the assignment fits into the overall semester. Can you continue to build on the skills learned? Can you allow students opportunities to improve?

4. Consider which oral competencies (see list above) are important in your discipline. Students in the natural sciences may stress the use of evidence and reasoning; political science majors may focus on organization and public speaking skills.

5. Consider the elements of a good assignment by reviewing the following questions:

A. Is the task clearly defined?

B. Do you have a clear idea of what an effective response might look like? (Can you show your students - through modeling or a video?)

C. Are students given a clear idea of what steps to follow in fulfilling the assignment?

D. Can students at all ability levels find some success? Can a student who is weak in oral skills find success in other areas of the assignment?

E. Will this assignment interest the student?

F. Is this a credible speaking situation students are likely to find in the "real world"?

(Adapted from Richard Larson's Considerations in Making Assignments
Hampden-Sydney College Rhetoric Workshop, July 1999.)

6. After considering the instructional objectives of the assignment and the oral competencies you wish to build, create the oral assignment. You may wish to include the following:

A. The objective of the assignment

B. A detailed description of the assignment

C. Suggested approaches the student can take in carrying out the assignment

D. A model of a successful assignment (a video on reserve, a copy of a good outline, your own modeling in class of the oral presentation, etc.)

E. Instructions in the oral presentation itself (time limits, delivery style, visual aid required or not, use of handouts or notes, etc.)

F. Suggested timeline for the student or due dates for parts of the project

G. Your criteria for evaluation of the oral project

H. A note about the Ferguson Center For Public Speaking's tutoring services for students. You may choose to require your students to do a practice run of their presentation in the Center.

Many examples of all types of oral assignments are available for examination in the Ferguson Center For Public Speaking. Professor Claire Deal (extension 6988), director of the Ferguson Center, is available to assist you in designing oral communication activities appropriate for your discipline.