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"We Shall Overcome" Delivery Activity

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In this light-hearted activity, students take turns delivering the same short passage using a different (exaggerated) mode of oral or embodied delivery.

Activity Title: "We Shall Overcome" Delivery Activity

Author: Christine Alfano (originally by Shay Brawn)

Course: PWR 2

Activity length and schedule: This activity takes at least 40 minutes to complete

Activity Goals:

  1. To have students practice oral delivery and become even more comfortable speaking in front of an audience
  2. To have students understand how different delivery choices influence their audience's reaction to and understanding of their argument
  3. To help students identify best practices for delivery that they can apply to their own presentations

Activity Details:

We do this activity in PWR 2 on a day when we've been talking about how to compose writing that is designed for a listening audience.  We've worked through other examples of this -- I often use the Christakis example at the beginning of this handout (saving the rest of the handout for a different day) as a way to analyze changes people make in style to accommodate the shift to a live audience. 

Then, to move toward the delivery activity, we do a brief rhetorical analysis (focus primarily on style) of this Lyndon Johnson passage from his March 1965 address to Congress on voting rights:

In our time we have come to live with the moments of great crisis. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues -- issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression. But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, or our welfare or our security, but rather to the values, and the purposes, and the meaning of our beloved nation.

Then we start to discuss the difference between reading some and hearing something and what voice and embodiment add to our understanding of an author's message.  We don't dig into this too deeply. Instead, I give each student a piece of paper that assigns them a particular delivery style (see handout).   

I encourage them to annotate the document in a way that might be helpful for them and then to practice in pairs for 5-10 minutes -- and to be playful with it (they can leave the room to practice if they want).  The idea is to exaggerate the delivery style since others in the class will have to guess what they're modeling. 

After the practice session is over, we go around the room, each person delivering the passage in his/her/their assigned style, and then the class guessing what they're trying to model.  At each point, we talk about how that particular mode of delivery influences the audience's understanding of the passage, tracking the conversation on the board by generating a set of best practices for delivery.

The last person (or pair) is supposed to model "ideal" delivery.  This is sometimes stressful for students, so sometimes I cut it, ending just on a humorous example.  Other times, I try to ensure that it lands on one of my strongest speakers in the class, and even then I take them aside and tell them not to worry to much about perfection - just do their best.   As we go into that "ideal" final example, I also always preface to the class how difficult a task this is, and that the presenter is really trying to implement, on very short notice, so many of the best practices that we've identified.

We then look over our list of best practices, discuss, add others that we've overlooked, and then post it to our website for use in relation to their final presentations.

As part of our final debrief discussion, we sometimes listen to the audio file of Lyndon Johnson's actual delivery of this speech (we only listen to the passage we've been discussing) though, to be honest, I think the students sometimes deliver more powerfully than he did!

Additional notes:  I've long wanted to change out the Lyndon Johnson passage for a different one -- perhaps one more meaningful for students -- but so far I haven't been organized enough to do so.

Many years ago, I believe that I got this activity from Shay Brawn (though she said recently that she thinks I'm mistaken). In any event, it was passed down to me by PWR wisdom, and I'm happy to pass it down to others.