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Calming the Speaker with Movement

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Public speaking is a fear many people face.  There have been multiple moments in my teaching career when I have encountered a terrified student sweating about giving a presentation, whether it was a presentation meant to be delivered individually or as a group.  In some cases, the student spoke so softly hardly anyone could hear the presentation.  In other cases, the student claimed to have forgotten what he or she was supposed to talk about, so an awkward silence would fill the room.  There were times where a one-on-one presentation opportunity was given to alleviate the burden of public speaking.  Yet, there were also moments (more often than not), when the presentations went smoothly with little hint of anxiety present.

Using physical movement can help reduce stress and anxiety public speaking tends to build in students.  There are multiple ways to add physical movement before public speaking moments.

  1.  Rubric Gallery:  Before starting the presentations for the day, post the rubric around the room.  Ask students to walk around the room to remind themselves of the expectations. As they do so, inform students to generate a goal they have for their presentations. Their goal should include a plan and an indicator to measure their success.
  2. Main Point Tableau:  Students take notes of the main points a speaker is making during his or her presentation.  At the end of the speaker's presentation, students should stand.  On the teacher's signal, the students should freeze in a body position that represents a main point of the presentation. The teacher may ask a couple of students to explain their poses and a brief review of the speech can take place.
  3. Wall to Wall Practice:  Students line up on one side of the classroom.  On the signal, students slowly walk to the other side of the classroom reviewing the main points of their presentation. When they get to the other side, they turn around and return to the other side of the classroom.
  4. Speaking Ball Toss:  In groups of five, students toss a koosh ball around the circle.  When they toss the ball, they say a main point of their presentation.  They can also orally state the main components of their speak outline.  For example, they might state a three-word reminder of the hook of their introduction during their first toss.  On their second toss, they might state a phrase from their thesis, and so on.
  5. Small Group Walk:  Journey outdoors (or into the hallway) and have students complete a walk and talk presentation.  In groups of five, one of the students delivers his or her presentation to the rest of the group (and the teacher). The student can walk during the entire presentation or pause as often as he or she feels the need to do so.

Public speaking is scary for many people, but it doesn't have to be the beast it is perceived as being. By listening and observing the feelings of students as they prepare for and anticipate presentations, teachers can counter some of the fear and anxiety students are expressing. Adding movement is just one way teachers can begin to address this fear.  Providing students with the appropriate skills they need can help them conquer the fear and feel a bit of success.

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John Helgeson is a Secondary ELA Curriculum Specialist in the Northshore School District in Bothell, Washington. John has been in education for 18 years teaching middle school and junior high students English, Social Studies, and Drama. He has experience teaching in low-income settings, co-teaching with special education colleagues, and teaching pre-AP/IB honors classes. He has enjoyed teaching in Minnesota, Washington, and Japan. 


John has presented at several local and national conferences including WERA/OSPI Annual Conference, AMLE Annual Conference for Middle Level Educators, ASCD Annual Conference, and the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education Biennial Convocation. Topics have included using physical movement in the classroom; effective reading, vocabulary, and writing instruction strategies; flipping the ELA classroom; and exploring literature circles in a mixed-grade/mixed-ability setting. In addition to presenting these topics, John has written several articles on literacy instruction and physical movement in the classroom. John currently sits on the Executive Council for Kappa Delta Pi. 


In his free time, John enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, reading a good book, running and participating in triathlons. 

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