Your preschooler may already be doing this in kindergarten. But come Primary One, it will actually be part of the markable syllabus and woe betide the child who cannot perform! Yes, we’re talking about the Show And Tell. Elly Sim, the Director of Jan & Elly English Language School — which has been a programme partner of the Speak Good English Movement since 2011 — tells us what we can do to help our kids ace this (often ) knee-trembling test of nerves.
Flushed cheeks, clammy hands, and dry mouths. Sound familiar? Fret not, we’re all well-acquainted with these feelings. That’s because most of us possess this immense fear of putting ourselves in front of a group of people to wax lyrical about a topic that we’re usually not even confident about. Most of us carry this fear with us all through our adult lives, without really acknowledging ways or techniques to quell this problem.
However, it is never too late to start learning. It is important to start young and let our children study and practice their public speaking skills in a nurturing environment so that they can become confident orators in the future. Here are 8 simple and effective ways to help our children improve their public speaking skills.
Get Creative with Terming It
Try not to call it public speaking. This places an unnecessary significance on speaking to a large crowd. Additionally, kids feel that they are graded on their ability to speak eloquently in public.
So how can we take away the emphasis? Simply put, we need to get creative with how we term this. Why not try ‘We are Movie Stars’, ‘Playing Presidents’ or ‘Let’s be Actors!’? By doing this, we take away the negative connotation of speaking in public. We shift the emphasis towards playing a character (easier for children, with their boundless imaginations) instead of standing in front of a large crowd to speak.
Ease into Story-Telling
Avoid throwing kids into groups and asking them to come up with a presentation based on one generic topic. Instead, use ice-breakers to get them used to the idea of brainstorming their ideas first before telling the others about it.
Some fun ice-breaker techniques include:
Drawing a Picture: Get the children to draw their favourite animal and describe their animal in detail. Encourage them to talk by prompting them with questions about their animal.
Building a Stage: This is a fun activity that all the children can participate in and take ownership of. They can help with the designing, making and crafting of the stage. They can pitch in with their suggestions and work together to come up with the best stage they can. They will also start to get a sense that they can be little performers up on that stage!
Playing Social Scavenger Hunt: This is a game to help children who are intimidated by adults or who cannot look people in the eye. It requires them to approach adults, look them in the eye and ask for whatever the game requires – directions, information and signatures – to win the hunt.
Like Riding a Bike
Remember the first time you learnt to ride a bike? It wasn’t easy, was it? Everyone has a different learning technique but there’s one thing we all have in common – practice, lots of it! Just like learning how to ride a bike, there is no set rubric or one-size-fits-all rule for learning how to speak in public. Focus less on studying the techniques and more on getting out there to practice. Practice does indeed make perfect. With practice, kids get more confident and excited to show off their end goal – in this case, showing off their chops as a star performer!
Think On The Spot
Play impromptu games that will help kids learn to think on the spot. The fear of speaking to a group of people comes from the fact that we are scared that we will make a mistake and not know how to recover from that. By helping kids to learn how to think on the spot, we aid them in getting over that fear of making mistakes. They will become more accustomed to the practice of engaging themselves to come up with ideas or solutions to a proposed situation in the game.
Create impromptu games to build confidence. Get into more challenging games as the children become more proficient. Try these:
Word Association: Come up with a theme like animals, for example. All the kids sit in a circle and come up with an animal based on the last letter of the previous animal. If A says ‘elephant’, B should come up with an animal that begins with ‘T’. The game goes on for a few rounds. You can change the theme after a few rounds.
Hangman: A simple game that can be played on the board. Students can take turns offering a suggested letter until they can finally solve the puzzle.
Higher grade games like Charades and Pictionary are also useful. These would require the children to come up individually to the board with their own suggestions and try to act it out or draw it for their friends to guess.
Build Confidence in Everyday Life
Parents should nurture and encourage confidence in their young ones to communicate independently to adults in real-life situations. Let them speak to the wait staff at a restaurant or fast food joint to place their own food order (remember to remind them to use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and to smile). Remind them to look people in the eye when speaking to them. Let them speak to their parents’ adult friends during gatherings or outings.
Give Lots of Positive Feedback
Just like everyone else, children require a lot of positive feedback in order for them to build their confidence. Speaking can be a fun activity to learn and practice if you want to do it over and over again. The only way a child would feel the desire to practice is if he or she gets a lot of encouragement.
If there is a need to give constructive criticism, it is best to sandwich it between two positive comments. For example: “You spoke brilliantly! You were really good when you told everyone that story about how you helped someone in need with expression. Maybe you want to look at the crowd a little bit more and project your voice a little louder? I’m sure they would love to hear your interesting stories! The way that you ended your speech was awesome too. Keep it up!”
Make Use of Technology
In this modern day and age, we should utilise the benefits of technology to our utmost advantage. Record kids speaking and play it back to them. Get them to participate in their own review by asking them which parts of their speech they liked best and why. The same goes for which part of their speech would they like to improve on and how.
For children who are more visual, you can take a video and perform the same analysis with them watching themselves. Draw their attention to details like gestures, eye contact, voice projection and so on to get them to be aware of all the different facets of delivering their message.
Reward their Hard Work
As with most children, it is always valuable to have a carrot-and-stick approach. After a few rounds of practice and when you can see them starting to build their confidence, there is no better way to raise their awareness to their progress by giving them a little reward. Similarly, for their final product, there should be an even bigger reward for putting all that they’ve learnt to good use. This will spur them on further to do better and practice their skills on a regular basis.