Speak up!

Sheela Ramakrishnan

The most common refrain one gets to hear in any classroom is that of the teacher – “Keep quiet and listen”, or if we go a step lower to the kindergarten then we can hear the classic, “Put your finger on your lips” and all 25/45 fingers go across the lips thereby imprinting on the young minds that “speaking” in class is not a virtue!

Cut to when the same student is around 22, out of college, facing an interview where group discussions are more often than not part of the recruitment process – and we have a nervous clammy friend barely able to croak some sensible replies or points – hangover of years of being driven to silence. And then after a few rejections and disappointments, begin the rounds of “personality development” and “public speaking“ classes to help speak better and be more confident! How ironical that we spend the crucial developmental years in school training children to be silent and then send them off to classes to decondition them from the very same malaise! If only we could accept that some “productive noise” in the classroom is healthy and desirable vis à vis a “pin-drop silent” classroom.

Developing speaking skills is therefore as important or more than the emphasis we place on developing writing skills. To send out confident individuals who can articulate clearly and express opinion in front of a group is a skill that we need to teach our students early on in life.

Here are a few ideas on activities that are easy to do in class and provide opportunity for structured focused forums to speak – you can tailor them according to your class level and abilities. All of these have been tested in regular classrooms with over 35 children. It may be a good idea to let the children initially speak amongst themselves while you go round the class. Once the ice is broken and the children are more comfortable, you can structure the activity in a way to give the children an opportunity to speak before an audience.

The author is a partner at Edcraft, Hyderabad, a firm engaged in making teaching-learning materials, conducting workshops and providing consultancy services. She can be reached at edcraft94@gmail.com.

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