Classroom speech technique

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This page describes general strategies for instructors in terms of how they speak in the classroom. It is a component of classroom instruction as performance.

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Accent

In general, the closer the accent to the accent that students speak and are generally familiar with, the better. However, in some cases, the accent may be unsuitable to clear diction of the specific terminology that is in use in the course, or may be unsuitable to instructional contexts. Therefore, the other guidelines on clear speech help.

Some of the following generally help if people have trouble with your accent:

  • Speak more slowly (this is recommended for other reasons as well).
  • Write important phrases as you speak (this too is recommended for other reasons).
  • For words where you think there are accent differences in pronunciation, check with students how they'd pronounce those words.
  • Speak at an appropriately high and uniform volume. Different accents trail off in different ways, and the choice of trailing can be a major cause of lack of clarity (some accents trail off at the end of sentences quite dramatically). If you're tempted to trail off at the end of a sentence, make a conscious effort to clearly say all the syllables of the words at ordinary volume.

Speed of speech

Instructors should speak slower than in normal conversation, in the following ways:

  • Speak key technical terms clearly and slowly.
  • Insert adequate pauses before and after technical terms.
  • To the extent possible, synchronize speech with writing (note that this makes one speak slower than conversational speech). This is particularly important for mathematical or symbolic writing where it's important that students know how to verbalize the symbols being used.
  • Avoid extremely long-winded or run-on sentences. Separate ideas cleanly into sentences. Pause between sentences.

There are many reasons for speaking slowly:

  • It is helpful if students have difficulty with your accent.
  • It reduces students' cognitive load, considering that they may be trying to understand and write. The pauses between sentences help students catch up.
  • It allows students to clearly hear and understand technical terminology.
  • If synchronized with writing, it helps students learn how to verbalize symbolic expressions.

Emphasis

Although it is not necessary, it can be helpful to use inflections in speech to place emphasis on key ideas. Roughly, you can translate from your use of bold face or emphasis in writing to appropriate speech patterns (such as speaking a word louder, changing pitch, or elongating a syllable). This is better if synchronized with how you write. However, emphasis is less important than clarity of diction and speed of speech.