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How to Teach Students to OWN that Speech

I don’t remember gleaning much from going up and giving speeches during school, other than that I hated it.  I know it’s the same for my students.  Literally the ONLY thing I remember from my 8th grade social studies class was the nausea I felt as I walked up to give a speech one day.  This traditional method of one-chance speech-giving is not only traumatic, but it’s not effective.  

Before I talk about how I changed the way I teach speeches, I need to tell a little story about how I learned to give speeches in high school.  In high school, a few friends and I became passionate about raising awareness about depression and suicide in our school.  It was a serious problem in our high school, and we were able to convince the powers that be to let us present to the entire student body, each grade level a different day, one class period at a time.  I remember giving my speech 8 times each day that we did this, and by the end, I absolutely rocked that thing.  Each time I gave my speech, I memorized it better, honed my content and delivery, and cut out parts that did not go over well.  

Many of us, especially secondary teachers, do this same process on a daily basis with our lessons.  We teach the same lesson to multiple class periods–our poor first hour getting our first run at it, and our last hour receiving the polished product of practice.  We know that repetitive practice makes our teaching better.

Why, then, is the traditional way to teach speeches a one-shot deal?  Why do we force students to go up in front of a room full of eyes boring into them, tell them we’re grading them on their performance, and expect them to get something meaningful out of it?  We can do a better job teaching speeches.

 My memories of speeches in high school, as well as my teaching experience, was my inspiration in developing the gallery walk speech marathon lesson plan.  I have done it every year I’ve taught, and without fail, it has moved mountains in terms of student anxiety and quality of speeches. You can adapt this lesson plan for any sort of performance-based activity: speeches, poetry slams, presentations, or interviews.  I’ve even used it to help students write fiction–which I will be writing about soon.

Basic Idea of Gallery Walk Speech Marathon Plan:

Students will give their speeches to each other and receive feedback in a “speed-dating” format.  They sit in a circle and half the students rotate each round.  For each round, partners take turns giving their speech, while the other partner listens and marks feedback.  By the end of the class, every student can have practiced their speech 4-5 times in front of just one person, and had a chance to respond to feedback.

Why it benefits students:

  1. It gets students to practice their speech multiple times in front of a real audience, without the intimidation of ALL their classmates watching.
  2. Students internalize the speech checklist and standards we’re working on.
  3. Students anxiety reduces DRASTICALLY–and I know this from their reflections, which I talk about below.
  4. I get way better speeches out of students.
  5. I have a chance to give feedback before the big speech day.
  6. Students can watch their own growth over the class period.
  7. Students that do not come in prepared walk away at the end of class with their speech “written.”  I force all students to participate, regardless of preparation (and this is a MUCH less traumatic way to do that than in front of the whole class). I LOVE THIS. After a few weeks of preparing in class, students can come up with some things to say on the fly, even if they hadn’t written any of it down before class like they were supposed to.  I’ll even give these students notecards after a couple rounds so they can write down points they came up with while they were winging it.  This also makes it so that they have to feel the pain of un-preparedness, rather than throw up their hands and get out of it, but also gives them a last-second chance to prepare and feel comfortable to do it in front of the class and learn something.  Win-win.


Gallery Walk Speech Marathon Lesson Plan


  1. To start, arrange your room in a circle, or in a way that students will have a clear path to rotate.  I have tables and a small room, so usually my room looks something like this:


  1. Also, print out some speech feedback/reflection sheets for kids.
  2. Have a power point visual for gallery walk instructions.  


  1. Mini-lesson:
    1. Distribute feedback sheets and tell them to write their names on it (this becomes really important!!).  You can tailor them to what speaking and listening standards you’re teaching to.
      1. I have kids complete the first question of the reflection before class starts–it’s about how nervous they are about speeches.
    2. Explain each feedback category on sheet.
    3. Demonstrate a “good” speech (let’s be real: you’ll always have a student that tops you) by giving your own speech in front of kids.  Ask them to grade you on their sheet.
      1. Afterward, go through each feedback category and ask students to hold up their fingers to represent the rating they gave you–invite the lowest grade to explain their answer, and be humble–this can be so powerful with kids.  It’s important for kids to witness how to take feedback graciously and thoughtfully.
    4. Explain that they will be doing this for each other:
      1. Rotation:
        1. Explain that outside-circle students (I have them raise their hands so they tune in) will always stay put.
        2. Explain that inside-circle students (have them raise their hands again) will be the ones that rotate.
      2. Rounds:
        1. First, students switch papers.
        2. 2 minutes:
          1. Inside circle people stand up, give speech.
          2. Outside circle: mark feedback on THEIR PARTNER’S sheet.
          3. Once done, outside circle give one positive and one thing to work on.
        3. I will then say SWITCH. They switch roles and repeat.
        4. At the end of this round, I say, “Stop. Give papers back. Stand up. Point clockwise to the seat you will go to (I check they know where they’re going), now ROTATE.”
      3. Tip: Since there are a lot of moving parts for this lesson, I make sure that they go through the motions once without giving the speeches as I explain. It tends to go MUCH more smoothly if I do and I save a lot of re-explaining.
  2. Work-time: Now they do it!
    1. As they are going, I watch partnerships carefully.  I will go over to partnerships and give real-time coaching, and look for things that students are struggling with across the board. It’s like a writing workshop for speech-giving!
    2. Half-way through, I give a mid-check lesson about what I notice people are doing well and one thing they should improve upon.
  3. At the end of class, I have them look at their feedback sheet and reflect on how they improved–which you can see on the second page of the feedback sheet here.  I have them think about how the process helped them, and how they’d like to prepare for future speeches, knowing what they know now.

I hope this helps your students hone their speech-craft, and helps save you some head-ache.  If you try it, leave a comment to let us know how it goes.  And if you have other ways of helping students get through speeches, we’d also love to hear from you!

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  1. Hello!

    I was wondering, how have you adapted this lesson plan for slam poetry? What criteria do you have students evaluate for that? How would you do this if some students worked in groups and others worked by themselves? How many days before the actual presentation dates do you do this plan?

    Thank you! 🙂

    • Hi Heather,
      Great questions.

      For slam poetry, I would have a day or two before this where we would study great slam poem videos and make a class anchor chart on good slam poem performance techniques. Then, I give kids time to make notes on their poem about what they’d like to do at different parts (gestures with their hands, talking fast or slow, pauses, etc.). I would definitely model making these annotations on my own poem before having them do it. Then, on the day of performing, I follow this plan pretty closely, just demonstrating my own poem in front of them (if you don’t have your own poem, you could demonstrate with one that’s already written).

      For criteria–entirely up to you and your students. You could make it based on what kids noticed the slam poets doing, which I’ve done before, or write the criteria for them (eye contact was consistent, gestures helped meaning, volume and pace were varied, volume and pace were understandable, etc.). For performance criteria, I try to just make it based on performance, and leave content for later.

      Great question about groups. You could still have them follow this plan, but don’t switch each round–just have inside circle perform, rotate, perform, rotate–then when they’ve done it so many times, have them spread around the circle and have outside circle perform, rotate, perform, rotate. That way you could just have the groups act as individuals when they’re spectators. If that makes sense? You would probably have a few kids “off-duty” each round, but you could have them make notes/plan for their own poem while they’re off-duty–which has been really effective for me in the past.

      I usually do this the day before presentations, that way it’s fresh and they’re well-practiced.

      Good luck! Let me know if you have any other questions. I hope it goes well for you and your students 🙂

  2. Hello!

    I was wondering, do you use the same feedback sheet for all the types of speeches you have your students give/assess?

    Also, how long does this lesson last? I teach 51-minute periods every day.

    Kelsi Clark

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