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Oral Presentation Assignment Ideas for CTL 120*

Please also refer to the learning outcomes for oral communication in the Catalyst curriculum.

Preparation: Topic Selection

Professors should carefully define and explain the parameters of the assignment. What are you attempting to have the students accomplish? We will refer to this as a general purpose. Are they primarily fulfilling an informational purpose (teaching the audience about a particular concept, etc.)? Are they attempting to change audience opinions, beliefs or attitudes? Are they advocating that people change their behaviors on a personal level? Or do you want the students to develop a pragmatic policy that could be implemented at the appropriate level (city, county, state, nation, etc.)?

Then, students should brainstorm topic ideas that fit within those purposes to develop their specific purpose. This could be done in class or could be assigned as homework. It also could be done as an entire class, with the instructor recording all of the students’ ideas. Allow students as much flexibility in selecting their own topics as possible within the learning goals of the course and the purpose of the specific assignment. The more interest and ownership the students have of their topics, the more they will learn. At the same time, instructors can certainly help guide this process, in particular by providing examples of topics that might be either too broad or too narrow.

If possible, have students submit short topic proposals (these do not need to be graded to be effective, but providing feedback on them is necessary). Ask them to state clearly their specific purpose, such as “I want my audience to understand how a graduated income tax works.” “I want my audience to recognize that systemic discrimination exists in our legal system.” “I want my audience to floss their teeth daily.” “The United States should implement policies to significantly reduce its carbon output.” And so forth. This will help prevent many problems later and will help the instructor identify any students who might be misunderstanding the purpose the course, the oral communication assignment, or what can reasonably be achieved within those boundaries.

Note: a specific purpose statement is not the same as a thesis. A thesis represents the central idea or argument of the speech but should not be determined until the students have more knowledge of the topic.

Sample Assignment Ideas

For all of these potential examples, remind the students that, ultimately, our goal is to understand meaningful uses of numbers. Therefore, they need to evaluate the research with the following questions in mind: What was counted? Who counted, and why? How did they count? What are the sources trying to tell the audience, and what might they want people to think or believe?
Also, remind the students that they are to assume a general audience. In other words, they should adapt material to be understandable by a diverse group of people from many disciplines, backgrounds, etc.

These are meant only to be offered as general starting points for more specific assignments. For the criteria of the oral presentation itself, please refer to the oral communication rubric for the Catalyst curriculum.

Take a position on a social problem that seems to rely heavily on numbers in the public’s mind. Expose, and possibly correct, a commonly held myth based on something numerical (an important ranking, how frequently something allegedly occurs, a “guesstimate” about something significant, etc.) that many people believe to be true.

  •  Are there really 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States? What about the other statistics about illegal immigration? Do the numbers even matter? How?
  • Is there really an obesity/autism/crime/etc. “epidemic”?
  • Is voter fraud actually a problem? How much so?
  • Are wind farms safe? Are they worth it?

Persuade the audience that are we are significantly underestimating or overestimating the severity of a particular, stated problem, and what should we do about it?

  • Does the public accurately understand income inequality?
  • How bad are “achievement gaps” in our school system?
  • Is binge drinking common among college-age students?
  • How big of a problem is teenage suicide?
  • How many deaths are caused by obesity?
  • How reliable is eye witness testimony? Should we continue to allow it as evidence in court?

*The specific topic ideas that could be pursued are virtually infinite and can be adapted to the particular topic and disciplinary approach to the specific section of CTL 120.