You are about to read a report of an annual public speaking contest. It appeared in, The School Review > Vol. 13, No. 1, Jan., 1905. More than a century ago, educators were diligently devising ways to motivate students to become good public speakers.
More than a hundred years later, we are still concerned with helping students to express themselves well in the public speaking situation. Nowhere is this more true than for me, here in Chile, a nation that is making snail-like progress in the teaching and learning of English as a Foreign Language (EFL).
To become a bilingual nation, we will need to become innovative and creative in order to increase the access to, and use of, English in increasingly higher amounts. Two or three hours weekly is not enough to become bilingual.
Therefore, as teachers, we need desperately to find ways to increase the students contact with, and use of, English. Again, two or three hours a week simply is not enough time to develop proficiency in English. We are therefore looking in the past for innovative ideas to increase student contact time with English.
This report, “The Department of Public Speaking“, although outdated by treating boys and girls differently (poetry for girls and prose for boys) is still potentially a source for inspiration. As you know, some of our students will willingly participate in debates, but not all. Others will willingly participate in Spelling Bee competitions, but not all. What else can we do?
An annual contest, in “Oral Expression” of a written text may be worth considering, since it is based on a student’s dramatic reading of a text chosen by the student. As the teacher, you are left to work out the task of selecting appropriate material, the length of the text, and the time allowed for the reading. Of course, the criteria used for evaluating the student’s performance need to be determined before hand, and provided to all students…
“About twenty-five teachers and principals were in attendance at the conference held by the Department of Public Speaking. Great interest was shown in the discussion of the annual contest, and the general subject “Oral Expression in the Secondary Schools.”
It was the opinion of all present that in the future more care should be exercised in securing uniformity in the selections presented at the annual contest. It was agreed that the young women should all give standard poetry, and the young men, oratorical prose.
It was requested that the Department of Public Speaking of the University of Chicago send to all competing schools notice of these restrictions, together with a list of authors from whose works selections might properly be taken. The Department of Public Speaking agreed to do this at an early date, in order that the best possible results might be expected from the next contest.
In considering the subject of oral expression in the schools, it came to light that some schools have regularly organized departments of public speaking; some have the work correlated with the work in English; while some have no training whatever, save possibly a little coaching given a representative just before the annual contest.
All agreed that equally good results should not be expected from these different systems. It was the general desire that oral expression might be given a large place in the English departments of all the schools.”