A unit on communication isn't complete without a speaking and listening component. In fifth grade, I'm amazed at how many of my kids are either shy when asked to present, or really hard to hear as they make the attempt. I must thank my mother for introducing me to community theater when I was in elementary school because it may be the reason I'm not inhibited in front of an audience.
One of the goals I set for my fifth graders is that they will be confident people. I model this each day and do my best to bring those reserved kids out of their shells as the year progresses. Assigning specific presentation times is paramount. When I say specific, it is in contrast to the day to day opportunities the students have to share their writing or volunteer to read our news magazines. I frequently allow the "pass" to occur realizing that comfort levels are as different as night and day. However, if the child is aware that they will be expected to present their state report, or recite the Preamble to the Constitution in front of the class, they can work up to this and find success.
During the course of our "Communication Nation" unit, I mention that a report about communication will be researched and written...then presented. There is time enough for those wary students to become comfortable with the idea.
An activity I used in my classroom is called "Minute Speakers." I came across this in a book in my first year of teaching, and it's still a hit every year. I instruct the kids to think of an opening prompt such as, "What if my hair was made of spaghetti?" or "My favorite thing to do after school is..." and write these on a 3x5 card. I collect all of the cards and place them facedown on the table. Picking a classroom stick, the first child comes to the front of the room, selects a random card, and reads it. I give them about ten seconds to scan its meaning. As soon as I say, "Go!" they must begin talking about whatever topic is on the card for one full minute. They don't need to speak continuously, but shouldn't have long pauses. They can opt to do the 1/2 minute version, as well. Most kids like to attempt the whole thing, but it's a good idea to give the option. The first time we do this, I allow the "pass," if a child is too nervous, but let them know that they'll have to participate at a future date. Again, once the expectation is set, the kids will rise to it.
The librarian and aides at our school are willing to pull books on a specific topic, and send to the room, if requested. This may be one of the times when that's a great idea. I'm all for spending time in the library as a researching experience, but this particular topic will lend itself better to staying in the classroom and sharing the books selected.
The kids will be writing short reports (in the interest of presenting the material) about communication. They may choose to focus on the history of our alphabet, written communcation vs oral communication, the complexity of the English language, etc. As long as the topic relates to communication, they're good to go.
The irony of this report is not lost on all of the kids...communicating a paper about communication. I like to use it as the topic for this reason. It also strays from the typical research themes.
Choose the method of presentation best suited to your class and time allowance: whole class presentation, just to a small group, videotaped by the teacher...it doesn't matter as long as each child gets the opportunity to be on center stage.
As a fun closing activity that will involve them "Just Talking About It," I pass out cards with numerous magazine pictures glued on them. The pictures are somewhat related, but obviously not from the same source. The idea is that the kids (individually or as a small group) will use the pictures to create a logical story sequence that they'll stand and present to the rest of the class as another opportunity to display confidence in front of their classmates. Due to the fact that all of the kids have to use magazines or catalogs, the stories will be atypical. This may be a real bonus to the child who really doesn't enjoy the thought process that goes into creative writing.
I have many pages of these magazine pictures already cut out left over from a totally different activity of long ago, but part of the activity could be the kids bringing in magazines and catalogs, then using them to find their own pictures to cut out and sequence. The students enjoy this method of creating their story, and the various pictures spark completely different storylines than what may have come to mind if I told them to brainstorm some story ideas.