Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Some Splainin to Do": Exposition and the Speaking--Writing Connection

What can expository speaking contribute to our understanding of expository writing?

Since I started my career as a speech teacher, speech has defined my approach to teaching English. Last week my speech classes presented their expository speeches. It's a time of learning for us all.

2011-04-19 13.36.01.jpgI'm often amazed by the efforts students make to complete this assignment. Here Sidney explains her teratoma tumor. She actually talked the hospital into giving her a copy of the scans. I and her classmates sat riveted to our seats as we learned the definition of a teratoma tumor, the differences between mature and immature teratomas, how the tumor manifests itself in men compared to its form in women, and that teratomas can have teeth and hair!

Listening to students' expository speeches affords me an opportunity to know my students. I'm honored when student trust their peers and me enough to tell personal stories. Sidney shared that her teratoma necessitated the removal of an ovary, that kids gossiped about her before her surgery because they thought she was pregnant. But she also adopted a very light tone in her speech as she revealed the tumor's weight: 12 lbs!

I have students of all grade levels (9-12) in speech classes. Sidney is a senior whom I also taught in English. She and her fellow seniors bring maturity to the class as they often model a higher standard of classroom decorum and academic preparation for the younger students.

2011-04-19 13.57.15.jpgStudent topics range the gamut from ordinary to odd. Nathan asked if he could bring chickens to class and use them as his required visual aide. His family raises chickens as a side business, and Nate chose to inform us about it. That's Red in Nathan's hands.


The chickens did misbehave a little: They made a deposit on a desk and clucked during the speech that followed. Afterwards, the class had a short chat about chickens in literature: Chicken Little, the chickens in Chicken Run, Chanticleer and Pertilote in "The Nun's Priest's Tale," to name a few.

Lately I've been thinking often about the similarities between expository speaking and writing. Ideas and organization are the most important components of an expository speech, just as they are in an expository essay.

The mode of exposition depends on the topic: definition, process analysis, comparison/contrast, cause/effect, and a combination of modes. Nathan's speech evolved through process analysis while Sidney's conflated the various modes, beginning with definition.

In English students workshop their essays in writing circles and through peer evaluation as they rewrite and refine their ideas.

Speaking workshops offer informal opportunities for students to practice designated parts of their speeches as they mill around the room delivering their attention getters and preview steps to their peers and receive a thumbs up when the speech works for the listener.

The Moral of the Story: Taking time to talk and presenting an expository presentation is required in speech, but it might be time to consider talking exposition a bit more in English. More thoughts about this forthcoming.