How to Develop Public Speaking Skills and Confidence in Young Students

Oratory is quickly becoming a lost art. Certainly, people talk too much. Public speakers ramble on and on.

But true elocution, with diction and delivery, is growing hard to find. Those who possess this skill will rise quickly to the top. Everyone loves to follow a good communicator: in business, in politics, and even in daily life.

What can schools do to revive this important discipline? Practice! Practice! Practice!

1. Bring back spelling bees. Students used to line up and spell words out loud. This exercise not only hones their verbal skills, but also gives children a chance to hear their own voices. The competitive spirit kicks in, and most kids forget their shyness for a moment.

2. Dust off debating. In the past, schools had debate teams, mock trials, and other forensic activities. Students prepared and presented arguments for opposing points of view.

3. Schedule speech meets. Some schools still host such events. Students memorize poems, important quotes, and famous speeches (such as the Gettysburg Address). They deliver their speeches for panels of parent judges or their peers.

4. Offer oral reports. Even kindergartners can tell their classmates about their favorite book, stuffed animal, or TV show. Give students opportunities to present their ideas individually in front of the class. If they are allowed to employ visual aids (like show-and-tell), they will be more comfortable doing so.

5. Count class participation. Teachers used to mark students for their contributions to class discussion. In some schools, they still do. Even today, grades can be significant motivators for kids to pay attention and even speak up in class.

6. Set up small groups. Some students simply are shy. Employing small groups or teams for certain class projects will offer such kids a chance to shine for a smaller audience. When groups do their presentations, they can all stand up together, offering more reticent students the comfort of reinforcements.

7. Resurrect reading aloud. As children learn to read, invite them to read out loud together and as a class. Every time a student speaks before the group, even from his own chair, he gains confidence in his public voice.

8. Do drama. Even in the classroom, skits and short plays can enrich the curriculum. Rotate speaking parts, so every student has a turn.

9. Make it musical. Many schools no longer offer music programs. Whether your school has formal classes or not, music can be a part of classroom life. If children learn to sing out loud, even alone, they will soon get over their fear of doing so. I know a dear music teacher who instructs her students, from kindergarten on, to answer roll call in song. She taught them a simple tune, so they can respond with their own names. None of her students fear solos. If they can sing in front of others, they need not fear speaking as well!