Celebrate Commencement with Class Presentations

Bring the year to a satisfying close by asking class members to reflect on the year in personalized graduation speeches.

By Noel Woodward

graduation caps thrown in the air

As the school year comes to a close, students will appreciate an opportunity to wrap up the year and reflect on their experiences. This especially applies for those who are graduating, whether they are graduating from elementary school, middle school, or high school; they will be moving on to a new environment and leaving behind a place where they created many memories. Consider asking your class to write graduation speeches to present at the end of the school year. This assignment provides closure and a chance to say a few last words. If you coordinate with your school, you might synchronize this assignment with the selection process for student speeches during the graduation ceremony. 

Preparation Process

To prepare your class members for writing their own graduation speeches, first have them read and watch samples of a variety of graduation speeches. You may have heard a great speech by J.K. Rowling or Steve Jobs. If you are at a loss for ideas, an Internet search will yield a huge list of possibilities. Consider looking at lists provided by TIME Magazine and other reputable sources.

Watching videos or listening to audio recordings of speeches is useful because students can see what speakers do and hear how they speak. Effective speakers use a variety of different techniques, and seeing or hearing those in action will be beneficial for class members as they prepare to give an effective oral presentation. Also, if you do this more than one year, I suggest copying a few examples of speeches from one year to use for analysis the next year. This way, next year’s classes will have an accurate idea of what is expected of them.

As your class watches, listens to, and reads each sample, have them take notes on the features of speeches. Come together as a class and create a class list that you can use to guide the remainder of the assignment and the rubric.

Practice Presenting

After they have drafted their own speeches, have small groups practice the presentation. Many people get nervous when faced with public speaking, and this is one way to scaffold the process. In each group, have one member at a time stand up and give his speech while the other members write notes and feedback for that speaker. Ask them to focus not only on the content of the speech, but also on the mannerisms of the speaker. It might help to provide a notes page or rubric for the listeners beforehand so they know how to offer constructive feedback.

Here are some ideas to guide student feedback:

  • Does the speaker make enough eye contact with the audience?
  • Does the speaker have any mannerisms that distract from his/her speech? (Rocking from side to side, playing with hair or clothing, etc.)
  • How is the volume of the speaker’s voice?
  • Does the speaker vary his/her tone?
  • What is the main message of the speech?
  • What was your favorite line or moment of the speech?
  • What part of the speech do you think has room for improvement?

Since kids are often still learning how to interact politely, it might be a good idea to provide some sentence frames for sharing feedback. Below are a few ideas.

  • I like how you ____.
  • My favorite part was when ____.
  • I feel that you could improve ____.
  • A strength of yours is ____.
  • You might practice ____.
  • One thing that stood out to me was ____.

Practical Assessment

Since the end of the year is hectic and sometimes emotional, speeches are an excellent choice for an end-of-the-year assessment. Instead of collecting a written copy of the speech, base the entire grade off the oral presentation. This way, you won’t be bogged down with excessive grading at the end of the year. Instead, you’ll be able to grade on-the-spot and all you will have to do is note a few comments on a rubric and enter the grades into your grade book.

Additional Resources:

Inspired Speeches

Here is a plan that focuses on inspirational speeches in particular. Class members are asked to analyze a speech and write commencement speeches that include lessons with the purpose of explaining how to succeed in the next life stage.

Powerful Speakers

Aid your class in visualizing a strong public speaker. While originally written for a philanthropic project, this plan could be adapted for more general uses in your classroom.

Presentation Printables

Use the tips for the speaker and the audience handout, the peer evaluation worksheet, and the reflection worksheet included in this resource to help structure your lesson. These printables have thoughtful tips and questions for class members to read and answer.