Department of Communication

Six Types of Oral Communication Activities

There are six broad types of oral communication activities that might be incorporated into curricula in many fields of study. Most are conducive to either formal or informal assignments. Some are realistically possible only in smaller classes or recitation sections, while others are appropriate for large lectures as well.

On their own, any of them can help students learn course materials or ways of thinking (speaking to learn). Incorporated more systematically into a broader curriculum or major, they can together help move students to become more proficient speakers by the time they graduate (learning to speak).

1. One-on-One Speaking (Student-Student or Student-Teacher): Can range from moments punctuating a lecture, where students are asked to discuss or explain some question or problem with the person next to them, to formal student conferences with their instructor.

2. Small-Group or Team-Based Oral Work: Smaller-scale settings for discussion, deliberation, and problem solving. Appropriate for both large lectures and smaller classes and allows levels of participation not possible in larger groups.

3. Full-Class Discussions (Teacher- or Student-Led): Typically less agonistic, argument-based, and competitive than debate and deliberation but still dialogic in character. Often times has the quality of creating an atmosphere of collective, out-loud thinking about some question, idea, problem, text, event, or artifact. Like deliberation and debate, a good way to encourage active learning.

4. In-Class Debates and Deliberations: A structured consideration of some issue from two or more points of view. Debates typically involve participants who argue one side throughout, while deliberation allows for movement by individuals within the process. Both feature reason-giving argument. Can be applied to issues of many kinds, from disputed scientific facts to theories, policy questions, the meaning of a text, or the quality of an artistic production. Can range from two participants to a lecture hall.

5. Speeches and Presentations: Classically, the stand-up, podium speech delivered by an individual from an outline or script. Also includes group presentations or impromptu speaking. A strong element of monologue, but dialogue can be built in with question and answer or discussion with the audience afterward.

6. Oral Examinations: Can take place in the instructor’s office, in small groups, or before a whole class. Range from one oral question on an otherwise written exam to an oral defense of a written answer or paper to an entirely oral quiz or examination. Difficult with very large groups, but an excellent way to determine the depth and range of student knowledge and to stimulate high levels of preparation.

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