2 tips on teaching public speaking to primary school children, and why drama helps.

Recently, a friend messaged me and asked if I knew any resources to teach public speaking to primary school children. She then clarified the question and asked how they should craft a good speech.


In this video, I gave two quick tips. Here on this blog, I would add deeper reflections with more real life examples.

(1) To understand the context

– What is the purpose of the speech?

Giving a speech in front of the school assembly to talk about the benefits of a recycling campaign or getting the student population to vote for them to run for a leadership role in school is very different from a show-and-tell that students often do in English classes. The former tends to be more persuasive in style, but the latter is more entertaining (e.g. what they did last winter during their holidays)

– Is this a speech that rallies up the student population to taking on responsibility for the community (call to action), or is this a speech that is graded for an assignment (formative/summative assessment)? Or is this a speech that appears to be a ‘waste of time’ because the teacher has run out of ideas to engage them in the lesson?

Not only does the child need to know the purpose of their speech, they need to know why you want them to prepare and give a speech.

This may not be at a primary school level, but when I was teaching in a prison institution with mature students but with rather low English proficiency, I told them that we would start our English classes with 2 speakers to speak in front of the class – to practise their speaking skills, to gain confidence in public speaking (also to help them in their final examinations with an oral component), and to inspire the other inmates on what they had learnt or read in the last week. I told them that their grammar and pronunciation would not be assessed and evaluated, if they did not want it. It was then they felt more relieved as they were not judged.

This became the favourite part of the lesson (even though it was a pre-lesson) because my students wanted to stand up and talk – and many gave incredibly inspiring speeches. Slowly, their confidence grew, and so did their written competencies.

(2) To understand the needs of the audience

– What are the audiences’ needs and feelings around this topic?

In the video, I said that if they were to rally up the student population towards a particular campaign, then the speaker would need to identify the feelings around that situation. This is then followed by a strategy to address that issue. In other words, the structure of their speech would be a “problem – solution” structure. There’s an issue to be tackled or a problem to be solved.

But if the speech is about information and entertainment (like in a show-and-tell), then it’s more important to draw the audience in with emotional hooks, get them into your drama, add a few obstacles, conflicts and tensions, and they would be sitting by the edge of their seats waiting to know what happened next, and then, next…

Teacher’s Training

As you can see, there is no definitive way of teaching public speaking to children or getting them to deliver good speeches. I would say, it depends on the context and the kind of training you have as a teacher.

I am drama-trained, so I have a personal bias. I believe that when you get children playing with each other, doing things on their feet, they tap into their creativity and spontaneity, which then allows them to ‘talk’ about the rich experiences they had gone through in that process drama.

Let me give you an example:

“As you can see, boys and girls, the school is infested with rats. You might have seen them crawling and scuttling in the corridors. Many rats have died. You can see them in the toilet, in the classroom. Look, there’s one in the corner there. If we don’t do something about this, it will become a pandemic. I want to know if any of your brothers or sisters has developed a fever this morning.”

“Err… yes, sir, my little brother has a fever today.”

“Did your parents take him to the doctor’s?”


“Call your parents right now. Your brother needs immediate medical attention. If not, he might die. Does anyone else have a similar problem?”

Here, even though it is a hypothetical situation, I would get the students into a drama (role-play, if you like) with heightened emotions, so that they can now realise the gravity of the littering problem in school. They can now, still in role, write a letter or a speech that they need to deliver to the School Advisory Board, or the Ministry of Environment and Health, or the City Council.

You see, this speech (though written in a fictional context) becomes purposeful and meaningful, also because there is an intended audience (whoever can help them solve this rat infestation) – and how they can rally the students to clean up, or be sick.

Some books that use drama-based processes that are particularly helpful in getting children to be in role are:

    1. Drama and Traditional Story for the Early Years, by Nigel Toye and Francis Prendiville.

    1. The Primary Drama Handbook: An Introduction, by Patrice Baldwin.

  1. Learning Through Drama in the Primary Years, by David Farmer.

However, one of the most important books I’ve come across is a book published in 1909 by Robert I. Fulton (Dean of the School of Oratory and Professor of Oratory in the Ohio Wesleyan University) and Thomas C. Trueblood (Professor of Oratory in the University of Michigan). The title is Essentials of Public Speaking for Secondary Schools.

I am not sure if Essentials of Public Speaking for Secondary Schools is out of print, but Amazon
seems to hold some copies. While this may not be for primary school children, it is a very technical book that breaks down public speaking to its elementary basics. They talk about the following in great detail, with specific exercises:

  • vocal apparatus (lungs, trachea, pharynx, nasal cavities, mouth, diaphragm, etc);
  • pronunciation (phonetics, vowels, articulation, syllabication, accents);
  • emphasis (emotion, pulsation);
  • time (pause);
  • movement (slow, moderate, rapid);
  • quality (orotund, nasal, falsetto, guttural, pectoral, aspirate);
  • stress (final stress, compound stress, radical stress);
  • pitch (cadence, melody, inflection);
  • action;
  • body and gestures (supine, clasped, reflex, prone, averse, clenched)

Hope this helps.

If you have any questions on public speaking, storytelling, education, personal development, branding and marketing, business and academic presentations, drop me a note on www.facebook.com/EdChowCoaching and put a #AskEd hashtag.

Or you can comment below.

Till then, speak well… because your voice matters.


PS. If you do not have a public speaking and storytelling coach, you should find out how having one can expedite your business growth.


Edmund Chow is a drama educator and a three-time award recipient in public speaking. He has just completed his PhD in Drama at the University of Manchester. He trains and coaches corporate executives, public speakers, educators, and entrepreneurs through strategic storytelling.


The Most Valuable Currency According To Jim Carrey Is…

Some people say the biggest currency is money. Some would argue it’s time. Some would go to lengths to secure freedom. But I like Jim Carrey’s answer when he gave his commencement address at Maharishi University of Management in 2014.

Jim Carrey, 2014, MUM
Jim Carrey, 2014, MUM


Here’s the video, and a short transcript to what I think is the crux of the matter:

I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

It’s not the only thing he taught me though, you know.

I watched the effect of my father’s love and humor and how it altered the world around me and I thought: That’s something to do, that’s something worth my time.

It wasn’t long until I started acting up.

You know poeple would come over to the house and they’d be greeted by a 7 year old throwing himself down a large flight of stairs.

They’d say: What happened, and I’d say: I don’t know, let’s check the replay.

I’d go back to the top of the stairs and come back down in slow motion. It was a very strange household.

My father used to brag that I wasn’t a ham, I was the whole pig. He treated my talent as if it was his second chance.

When I was about 28 after a decade as a professional comedian, I realized one night in LA that the purpose of my life had always been to free people from concern, just like my dad.

And when I realized this, I dubbed my new devotion “The Church of Freedom From Concern” – the Church of FFC.

And I dedicated myself to that ministry. What’s yours?

How will you serve the world? What did they need that your talent could provide?

That’s all you have to figure out.

As someone who’s done what you’re about to go and do, I can tell you from experience, the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is, because everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart, and all that is left of you is what was in your heart.” [about 13:40 in video]

– Jim Carrey, Commencement Address in 2014 at Maharishi University of Management

I have to say Jim’s really a buffoon, a satirist, a slapstick all joined in one. I don’t think I will take him seriously when I meet him in person.

But in the video above, Jim explained what his comedy was all about — and he went on to deliver one of the most powerful speeches I’ve ever heard him speak.

And I finally understood him. And his humour.

And then I melted… and fell in love with the way he has used his craft to impact the world.

As a teacher, coach, public speaker, and now, a scholar (I am completing my PhD by January 2016), I have always been reminded that my knowledge counts for nothing, if what I do with it has no other impact in the world. In the classroom, my students wouldn’t care if I had a PhD, but they can smell a genuine teacher from afar. This is the quote by Theodore Roosevelt, a source I cannot verify though:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

Till then, find your passion… fuel it with a strong reason… and change the world.

For me, the biggest currency there is, is LOVE.



Tapping Into Metaphors

One great tip that speakers know how to efficiently and effectively use is the judicious utilisation of everyday metaphors. Let’s see how speakers have used the car, for example, to bring home a learning point:

(a) a vehicle to get you from Point A in your life to Point B (desired goals);
(b) are you driving in circles? do you have a map, or a satellite navigation device?
(c) is your car running out of fuel?
(d) who is in the driver’s seat? you or someone else?

Brass Tap

Try to visualise the metaphor and break down all the attributes and characteristics. Be inventive. I have not seen someone talk about servicing the car, or sending it for maintenance checks, or having road taxes paid, or getting the authorities to approve it, or having a manual vs automatic gear stick. What about a car with a sunroof? Or the passengers with and without a seatbelt? Or a traffic fine? There are many ways of using metaphors, and the more creative you are, the more memorable your speech will be in your audience’s ears.

Turn on the tap to your imagination now.