Monday, April 18, 2011

An Oral Report? Don't Let Your Child Shake in Their Boots

Just because a student has the words down on paper doesn't mean that he or she's ready for that oral report. Reading what's on the page--even if your child is a good reader--still doesn't make giving the report easy. Work with your child to prepare and improve in these five ways:

  1. Practice until almost memorized.
    • When I direct a 30-minute play, I have 1500 minutes (25 hours) worth of rehearsals. That comes out to be 250 minutes for a 5-minute play...or report. In general, a child may not have to practice quite so much for an oral report, but there needs to be plenty of time put in before the report is due.
    • Your child needs a live audience when practicing for the report. That's you! Sit on the couch and let the child walk to the "front of the room" and practice. Now have them do it again...and again. Find the little details to praise ("You made eye contact at this part" or "Your posture was good when stood up front") and the little details that will help ("You were a little quiet sometimes; try it again and be louder" or "The word you were having a hard time pronouncing is ______")
  2. Vary the inflections.
    • Help your child read the report with feeling. No, they don't have to be totally dramatic, but they shouldn't be monotone either. If the student will be turning in the report, print out a second copy so they can write on their copy. For instance, they can underline words or phrases they want to stress, make little happy faces next to sentences where they could smile, or put a squiggle under a phrase where they want to speak slower.
  3. Make eye contact or at least look up often.
    • Looking up from the paper helps in a couple of ways--the child looks and feels more confident and his or her voice isn't muffled by the paper. It's not easy looking out upon a group of classmates who may be distracting; that's why at least looking up is the key. I tend to look right over the top of people's heads, instead of directly at someone. It makes me less nervous. The only way to be able to look up often though, is to practice until almost memorized (see #1).
    • And so the child doesn't lose their place when they're looking up, there are several tricks: print or highlight the paragraphs or sections in different colors; if the paper is on a podium, the child can move their fingers slowly down the page as they speak so a quick glance will help them know where they are (this is what I personally do); enlarge the font size so there's fewer words across.
  4. Pronounce the words correctly. 
    • It just takes practice (see #1). It might also take a phonetic spelling of the word. I"ll make marks and notes to help me pronounce words correctly, when needed.
  5. Good posture.
    • When it's time for the oral report, the child should sit up straight in their seats. Nothing says "not ready" to a teacher like a child trying to hide by slouching. As the student walks to the front of the room, he or she should walk with good posture--not stiff, but not slumping or clumping along. (This is one of those things your child should practice in front of you.) And as they stand to read their oral report, it's good posture again. Standing up straight is not as easy or natural as it sounds. Most of us fold our arms or put them in our pockets when we're just standing around waiting or talking. Kids might also twiddle their hair or the bottoms of their t-shirts. So even standing straight (but not stiff) is something that needs practice.
With these five focuses, your child's ability to give oral reports will improve. Mostly, it takes a lot of #1...a lot of #1! The benefits of these simple tips will outlast the memory of what the report was about.

Break a leg! (Theater term for "Good Luck!")

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