There aren’t many school projects for which you get an entire year to prepare. However, members of the third grade class have been preparing to deliver their first Fay speech since last spring, when they sat in Harris Theater as second graders to watch this event. They observed the students nervously awaiting their turn to speak. They saw students conquer the butterflies of addressing a full theater. They listened to the students’ scary, touching, and often-humorous stories and witnessed their expressions of satisfaction and relief at the end, as they were greeted with enthusiastic applause. They saw all this...then had a whole year to think about getting up there themselves.
The public speaking program is one of the signature elements of the Fay curriculum. Starting in grade three, students go through the process each year of writing, practicing, and delivering a speech in front of a large audience. Through this process, Fay students develop the skills and confidence to express their ideas and become effective public speakers.
The third grade speeches take place during the first week of June. Far from daunted by the prospect, the students are raring to get started. “When we get back from March break, the anticipation is already building,” says third grade teacher Katie Frazzette, “and by May 1, they are bursting with excitement.”
The speech topic is tailored to pique the interest of a nine-year old: it’s all about them! Students begin by choosing three character traits that describe them and a life experience that exemplifies that trait. Students delight in the brainstorming process as they share stories of being “sneaky,” “adventurous,” “curious,” or “disobedient.” Eventually, students choose just one trait to focus on in their speech.
One character trait that many third graders seem to share is blunt honesty. Knowing that they have to get up in front of parents, teachers, and school administrators has the interesting effect of ratcheting up the frankness. “This is when the truth really comes out—which is nice, because the students are being authentic,” says Katie.
The speech topic also connects to the third graders’ literacy work. Each student identifies a literary character from a picture book who also shares their trait, and in a festive twist, the students dress up as their literary characters to deliver their speeches. The front row of Harris Theater on speech day can look like a veritable rogues’ gallery of mice, explorers, dragons, pigs, and ballerinas.
The speech writing process is highly structured. Students use “story strings,” which are sets of yarn threaded with visual cues like beads, hearts, and pom- poms to represent each story element. From the top of the string to the bottom, students are prompted to include character, setting, and a kickoff to the action, such as, “I was fast asleep in bed when I heard a loud “BOOM!” A heart-shaped bead reminds students to describe how they felt, and a hand- shaped bead reminds them to stop and plan before moving on to the action beads that represent the resolution to the problem. The bottom of the string is tied up in a bow—as every good story should be—with a heart bead reminding third graders to tell the audience how they felt at the end. The story strings allow the students to lay out the elements of their speech so that when they sit down to write, they have all the pieces they need in front of them.
Once the speech is written, students run through their speeches in the classroom and at the theater podium with the microphone. They practice making eye contact, using their voices to express emotion, and speaking clearly. “We remind them that no one is going to have a copy of their speech,” says Katie, “so if they make a mistake, nobody will be the wiser.”
When third grade speech day finally arrives, it is a capstone to the first year in Lower School. The students’ celebration of their chosen literary characters is also a celebration of the unique characters in their midst as, one by one, third graders share memorable moments from their lives: surviving their first campout, the jitters of the first day of school, or their very first Fay speech.
Excerpt: “To the Dark Side…”
My Sunday was about to take an exciting turn! In order to make my plan happen, I had to carry my X-Wing LEGO spaceship from the living room to the piano room.
I grabbed a few LEGO First Order Storm Troopers. I grabbed my LEGO Poe Dameron’s X-Wing fighter. Then I ran like I was about to win the Boston Marathon. That’s where it happened.
I had slipped a small slip. Apparently, it wasn’t such a small slip. CRASH!
I crashed down on the hardwood floor. My right arm banged against the floor.
It hurt so much. And for my toys? The storm troopers went flying like they had wings. My X-Wing? It had flown through the air. When it hit the floor, it shattered into all 384 pieces. I couldn’t believe it. All that time that I had spent building it. All the effort that I had put into it while building it. And here it was, shattered into pieces.
My sister and dad saw it all. They stared for a few seconds, then burst into laughter like a pack of hyenas. I was boiling with rage. My face turned red with anger. If it were Star Wars, they’d say this was the path to the dark side...
-Cayden, third grade