Soapbox Speech Workshop

Do you have an opinion? Well, get out your megaphone and step up to the box! This Soapbox Speech Workshop is for those of you who have something to say – whether it’s that you’re sure you have the answer to solving world hunger, if only President Obama would return your calls, or that you’re convinced your block would be a better place if only people learned how to use trash cans. We will help you write and give a speech that inspires listeners to take action.

The lesson plan for this Soapbox Speech Workshop is the outline for a 3-day 826 workshop for high school students taking place across three Saturdays, January 28, February 4, and 11. It is adapted from a longer unit curriculum from the Mikva Challenge program. The final product of this workshop is a performance of the speeches the students have written. If the weather is nice, the students will deliver their speeches outside on the sidewalk in front of the store. We will be video recording the performances so the students can have a copy of their speeches.

Day 1

Today went really well! We have a class of 10 high school students taking the workshop, and they all seem very willing and engaged. My two 826 TAs are really great as well – both have experience teaching high school English, and therefore are quite comfortable chiming in during the lesson.

We began the day by looking at an image of a man standing on a soapbox, giving a speech. Then the students discussed their observations about the image, using them to come up with a group definition of a soapbox speech. They decided that a soapbox speech is “a persuasive public address, delivered in a public space while standing on something that elevates them above their audience.”

Next, we looked at two YouTube clips of bad speeches and two of good speeches, using them to make observations about what makes a “good” speech and to discuss our conclusions about the most effective speech structure. This speech, given by Phil Davison, a GOP candidate running for a county treasurer position in Ohio in 2010 was a student favorite.

Finally, they had time to work on a “Finding a Topic” worksheet to help them start brainstorming topics – ideas ranged from arguing against creating a longer school day for the Chicago Public School system to advocating for better societal treatment of bugs. Students had the last 40 minutes to begin writing their rough drafts. I am thoroughly excited to see the what the students develop over the next two days.

Day 2

Today went well, but the students were less talkative than during the first workshop. A couple people were missing today – that may have had something to do with it. We also didn’t start off with a funny speech clip like last time, which may have helped by breaking the ice. Next time I’m planning to start off with a game to get them warmed up, so hopefully that will loosen up the conversation.

We spent some time talking about how to spice up our speeches by adding rhetorical devices – similes, metaphors, anecdotes, evidence, alliteration, etc. Then we watched several speech clips and identified the rhetorical devices the speakers used.

The better part of the workshop involved giving students time to finish writing and researching their speeches.

I felt like the TAs didn’t have as much to do today. It was nice to have the help to circulate and keep students writing, but the high schoolers were fairly independent workers. I think the TAs will be most important next week when we are revising and preparing to deliver speeches.

Day 3

The final day of the workshop was great, if a little hectic. Today we began the workshop with a funny clip from 30 Rock, the tv show. In the clip, Queen Latifah plays an impassioned senator giving speeches that are delivered so well that she can be speaking patriotic jibberish by the end and her listeners will still follow her with wild applause. Then we played a game where a volunteer stands up on our soapbox (a small Ikea table) and delivers an impassioned round of the ABCs. The idea is that we are saying nothing, but practicing saying it with force and passion. I started the game, giving the example, and then another TA took a turn. But after that, getting the kids to do it was like pulling teeth. I think the problem was that I asked for volunteers instead of just calling on someone. We had a couple people do it and then had to watch a couple speech clips and come back to the activity. We had a couple more, and finally one of the TAs suggested that everyone do the activity at once, convincing the person sitting across the table to believe wholeheartedly in his ABCs.

The lesson of the afternoon was to think about and practice delivering our speeches. We talked about how to deliver a speech well and watched a few more YouTube clips, then spent a half hour or so practicing and critiquing delivery in small groups.

Finally, we had each student stand on our (Ikea) soapbox in the middle of the room and videotaped everyone’s speech. We burned the whole lot to a dvd that each student could pick up from 826 and take home for themselves. The speeches all went very well, and the students seemed to have really enjoyed the overall workshops, judging from their workshop evaluations. The TAs had good feedback as well. I think if I were going to do the workshop again, I might add a 4th day into the mix though. I didn’t think we had as much time as we should have to really practice and get the students confident in their deliveries. Next time I would spend the second half of the 3rd day playing speaking/acting games and getting the students more comfortable about speaking in front of others.

Overall, the workshop seemed to be a success.



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I'm an alternative educator interested in revolutionizing the role that museums and community arts non-profits play in the formal education system. If you'd like to learn more, click on my picture!


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