Bunthorne's Blog

Stewart McGowan's blog

Dodging the ‘essay on legs’. The speaking task question.

I’ve stolen the phrase ‘essay on legs’ from Sam Schroder, who used the term on the ETA facebook page. I like it because it’s a great summary of the problem: since the introduction of the new senior syllabus at the turn of the century we’ve been looking for decent alternatives to the highly formalised, analytical speaking task.  

Even as someone who has spent a lot of their career as a public speaking and debating coach, I have to say that I’m glad to see teachers looking for a range of engaging and relevant ways of delivering speaking tasks. I don’t have all the answers here. I see value in the live presentation and in the recorded one, the one with audiovisual support and the one without, the collaborative and the individual…

What I can do, though, is share my school’s response to the speaking task question. At our place, the speaking task is part of the Area of Study. This gives us the opportunity to assess the formal presentation at the end of Term 4, when there’s more flexibility in the timetable.

The task we do gets students to read out three hundred words of their original writing and then comment on how it reflects their learning about ‘Belonging’ It’s a common task across Advanced and Standard, delivered in panels of about eight students. Visual presentations – PowerPoints, Prezis – are recommended as a strategy to increase audience engagement. Students not only get the task, they get a model presentation. Here’s the task: AoS Speech Belonging Creative HSPA

How do they go? Well, here’s a sample. English sample AoS creative speech. This student chose to do a PowerPoint with their speech and it was a particularly good one. It’s here: Imp writing Belonging speech pp. Lastly, when I worked with this student we talked about what he needed to do to lift this work towards a top band response, so here’s some ‘feed forward’ work: Feed forward practical example English. (This was written with a view to working with staff so it includes a copy of the task and my notes as well as the improved response.)

I’m looking forward to Sam’s presentation at ETA to see what else is happening out there in terms of moving speaking tasks into this century. But in the meantime, there for your consideration is what we do. We have found this much more engaging than the former ‘essay on legs’ practice – and much more engaging. Students seem to enjoy hearing each other’s writing! Who would have thought, eh?

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