A row of children dressed mostly in white shirts and black pants stand in a line on a stage.

How to Host an Oratory Festival in Your School

3 min read

In February and May each year, wonderful things happen on our historic stage when our student oratory performances take place. Students embody historical figures to speak their famous words or  write and deliver powerful words of their own. At every performance, I get choked up, and I’m amazed and inspired by their words.

Photo by Gary Erskine.

You may have been there too, feeling similar emotions. At some point, you may have thought, I wish EVERY student had the chance to speak on a stage. We at Ford’s have thought the same thing. We’re working on it! But in the meantime, why not host a student oratory performance at your school?  Maybe you’ve toyed with the idea but felt unsure about where to start? Here are some tips to help you plan and implement a student oratory performance in your school or community. 

Why do a performance?

What do you most want your students to develop and demonstrate? Their public-speaking skills? Skills to understand a text or primary source? Their own point of view or skills for argumentation? All the above? Whatever your goals, a performance serves as an authentic assessment for student learning, and an opportunity for your students to feel engaged and successful. Students may feel nervous leading up to the performance, but will feel proud and happy of their accomplishment in the end. 

What will they perform? 

What is your content area? Whether it’s English Language Arts, history or science, there is a public speaking opportunity just waiting for your students to give it voice.

Thembi Duncan coaches a student at his school’s performance.

How will you do it?

Ford’s has a number of resources available, including our identified elements of public speaking, the Podium Points, and lesson plans that support teaching all things oratory in the classroom. Plan practice and rehearsal time for students. They can practice their performances in class (which is a great way to incorporate Warm and Cool feedback and peer review protocol) at home, or both.

A performance doesn’t have to be complicated!

Venue: Pick a venue that is big enough to meet your class and potential audience needs. School spaces may include the library, cafeteria, multipurpose room or gym. Community spaces include a recreation center, local theatre or museum, or restaurant, coffee shop or bookstore. Practice in this space at least once before the performance.

Let students shine by encouraging them to write and perform their own speeches. (Ford’s Theatre photo.)

Sound: If the school has a microphone, is it on a stand, or is it a hand held? If it is a hand-held microphone, be sure to use a prop during rehearsal that represents the hand-held microphone. If you don’t have a microphone or don’t want to use one, make sure that your audience is small enough and close enough to the speakers that they will be able to hear the performers.

Post “Quiet please, performance in progress!” signs, select a location free from foot traffic, or pick a performance time when your space will have the fewest interruptions.

Audience: Invite colleagues, your administrators and Central Administration representatives and/or community stakeholders. Send a parent letter home early in the process, so they can support practice at home AND invite their friends and colleagues. Think about available social media avenues in addition to email or printed invitations. 

Printed programs: Student names and speech titles are the most important part of a program. Everything beyond that is icing on the cake. You might consider thanking the other teachers and staff who helped make the performance possible. If you have fewer students, they love to have their “bios” printed in the program.

Archive/record: If you want to record the performance, consider where you will place the camera in relation to the performance and the audience. Consider how well the sound will be picked up when deciding the location.

We’d love to hear your tips for hosting a student oratory performance! What worked for you, and what didn’t?

Cynthia Gertsen is Associate Director for Arts Education. She’s also the lady in the neighborhood that will plan the talent show or play for all the neighbor kids to be in.

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Cynthia Gertsen is Associate Director for Arts Education.

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