At the beginning of each school year, I inform fifth-grade students that by the end of the year, they will all write a persuasive speech and say it aloud to their friends and family. Most students are already aware of this ten-year tradition, but many still give me a look of shock and disbelief. During the year, students work on speaking in front of their peers during daily student-run morning meetings and throughout the day when they share their ideas, knowledge, and questions with their peers. Using a microphone they learn to stand up, speak aloud to their peers, and over time develop confidence with this skill.
Throughout the year, my students participate in Mystery Skype. Using Skype, students collaborate with other classes around the USA and the world as they try to guess the location of the other class. After each class guesses the location, students share facts about their school, community, and state. When we do Mystery Skype I assign five student leadership roles and the other students work in teams to try to solve the mystery. It is completely student-run and their problem solving, communication, and collaboration skills greatly improve through these virtual collaborations. It is not uncommon for the shiest students to beg me for a leadership role.
We also use Flipgrid, a social learning platform that allows students to make videos and share them with their peers, families, and friends around the world. Some of our Flipgrid projects include self-evaluation videos, book talks, sharing facts about Wrangell and Alaska, and videos that are directly linked to a specific project, like a timeline about Alaskan civil rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich. We often share our Flipgrid videos with other classes around the USA.
Through Flipgrid, Mystery Skype, and simple daily routines that allow students to speak in front of their peers, their listening and communication skills greatly improve, and their confidence drastically increases. By April, they are ready to write their persuasive speech, a project they once thought would be impossible. In a normal school year, this is a month-long project with a lot of specific instruction and guidance.
This spring, I was unsure if the fifth-grade students would be able to pull it off without being physically present in school. However, through Google Classroom and Google Meets, several phone calls with students, and support from parents, the majority of students wrote their persuasive speech. This was the most successful project that I did during remote learning. Several students even made videos of themselves saying the speech and most students recorded their speeches for our wonderful local radio station, KSTK. The speeches were aired twice in May for listeners near and far.
Public speaking is an important skill. If more people felt confident to share their ideas and do it in an effective and appropriate manner than the world would be a better place. I want my students to know their voice matters, they have the power to make a change, and be heard. Without meaningful practice I don’t know that we would have been able to pull this off during remote learning, however, they were adequately prepared thanks to all of our daily practice throughout the year, Mystery Skype collaborations, and Flipgrid projects.