After two decades teaching, Erik Palmer has coached countless students through the basic steps of forming a good argument. Drawn to debate in high school, his fascination with spirited discourse propelled him from the debate stage to law school. Later, he moved into business and helped grow a commodities exchange firm. When he became a father, he needed a more family-friendly schedule. “I loved playing with my kids. As a single dad, I wanted to be on the same schedule as my boys and was drawn to teaching.”
Early on, Palmer decided to bring his love of presentation and debate into the classroom. He quickly realized that kids didn’t speak well and was surprised at the lack of materials to teach it. “The limited information on speaking well was focused on esoteric, hard to understand jargon like ‘elocution,’” Palmer said. So he created his own curriculum that became known as The Palmer Method.
His eleven-step process (shown below) covered the two phases of speaking: what you do before you open your mouth and what you do as you are speaking.
Public Speaking and Media Literacy
Erik’s method became popular within his district and at professional development conferences. After becoming known as the “guru” for this topic of teaching kids how to speak, he was asked to write a book about it.
When researching the book, he found the speaking and listening standards required integrating and evaluating diverse media and formats. “That was my lightbulb moment,” Palmer said. “Wait, kids will need to be media literate to do that!” Listening standards also required the ability to evaluate arguments and reasoning skills.
Restoring Civility in Debate
Maintaining civility through heated debate is tough, especially when parties are anonymous on social media and debates are limited to 140 characters. One teacher of gifted students in Mississippi reported becoming reticent to discuss politics in the classroom, after moderating fights among her students during last year’s presidential election. “We have a bad model right now with tweeting and public name calling,” Palmer said. But we can teach students “don’t attack the person, attack the idea.”
In his classes, Palmer always assigned a “public defender” during student discussion and debates. The public defender knew to stop conversations that became heated and say, “You need to rephrase.”
“Over time kids learned to express an idea passionately without ever having to attack another individual,” Palmer said.
Building a talk (what to do before you begin speaking):
- Audience. Understand the people you are talking to. “There are differences between a group in Manhattan, New York and a group in Manhattan, Kansas.”
- Content. Include relevant material that connects with the audience.
- Organization. Have a strong opening, good transitions and a powerful closing.
- Appearance. Make sure you look your best for the group you’re speaking to.
- Visual Aids. Incorporate graphics that support your overall message.
Performing a talk (what you do as you speak):
These steps were given the catchy acronym kids could remember “PV Legs.”
- Poise. Appear calm and confident and get rid of odd tics.
- Voice. Make sure every word is heard.
- Life. Add feeling, passion and emotion to your voice.
- Eye contact. Look at each member of the audience.
- Gestures. Use hand motions, facial expressions, and body motions to enhance your words.
- Speed. Pay attention to pace and adjust it during your talk.
(From Erik Palmer’s Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students)
How do you teach civil discourse in your class? Share your experience in the comments. We’ve also gathered additional links and resources to help you make the most of Media Literacy Week.
- Join us to see HMH thought leader Erik Palmer’s presentations at the upcoming NCSS conference November “Fake News! Teaching Students to Live in a Post-Truth World” and “Moving Discussions from Spouting Random Opinions to Sharing Intelligent Arguments”.
- Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students (Stenhouse Publishers)
- Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Reasoning, and Persuasion (Stenhouse Publishers)
- Our Channel One News Team has curated a list of media literacy resources.