A lot of history falls through the mental floorboards of students who don't care about names and dates. But even the most bored student will find it hard to forget Patrick Henry once they find out he's the one who said, "Give me liberty or give me death!" Why? Because he was eloquent, able to present his ideas and convictions in unforgettable phrases.
Authors Teresa Moon and Michele Ganev envision a generation of students able to use the tools of good communication to speak publicly on topics that matter. Their book The Art of Platform Speaking: Learning from Great Orators is designed as a manual for teachers to train students on their way to being that generation.
How Does This Work?
Teachers and students will both use the same book, which is divided into 16 lessons requiring about one hour of in-class time each; students will need more time outside of class to complete the homework assignments. The text is addressed directly to students and written in a conversational tone, which sometimes works very well and sometimes not as much.
Each lesson moves students further along the process of creating their own platform speech. Platform speaking is a public speaking form in which speakers attempt to affect or change their audience's minds about an important topic. In this book, spreading the truth of the Christian faith is seen as the most important topic anyone could speak about.
The first lesson is about "Showing People You Care." From there, students learn how to pick a topic, support their ideas, make their audience laugh, use body language, know their audience, etc. The authors spend as much time discussing presentation as they do using logic and constructing their speech.
Before each lesson there's a homework assignment with Learn It, List It, Look Closer, and Live It sections which tell students what to read (including a famous speech), give them some written work, and guide them through one stage of writing and delivering their own speech.
Next is a speaker profile based on the historical figure who delivered the speech students read in the homework section. These historical figures include Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Ishmael Beah, and many others (including Charlie Chaplin—a film clip is used to demonstrate communicating without words).
In the speaker profile, students read some facts about the figure including accomplishments and famous lines. More importantly, kids read a paragraph discussing why that individual is important to learning to speak well. This serves as an intro to the actual lesson, in which the authors delve into the details of the topic being studied.
Sample lesson plans are included in the back of the book for teachers, as well as in-class activities for each lesson to be led by the teacher and performed by the students. Between the actual content of the lessons and the activities, teachers won't have to do anything beyond reading through everything beforehand; you will need access to the Internet, but no other books.
Since students will need to do research and spend time thinking up a speech topic, writing an outline, developing nonverbal skills, and much more, it's probably best to do one lesson in the classroom per week, allowing the rest of the week for study and preparation. The final lesson allows students to present their platform speeches. This schedule is good for one semester.
Our Honest Opinion
This book is very helpful, clear, and well-organized. The authors write well, which helps us to put confidence in their instruction—if you're going to use a manual for improving communication skills, the authors of that manual better be good communicators themselves. What is expected of both students and teachers is clear and able to be accomplished.
It is a bit problematic that "platform speaking" is never clearly defined. Also weird is the use of Adolf Hitler as an example in Lesson 14 (confident delivery). The authors say Hitler is a good example of just how much power effective speaking has, and while that's true, we wonder why they didn't find another example. Still, the authors don't condone his ideas or actions.
In fact, just the opposite. The whole point of this course is to produce young people who are Christians and good communicators, ready to bring the message of the Gospel to the world around them. Students will certainly need more knowledge and experience than this text can provide if they're going to become eloquent, but this is a great place to start.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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