Here’s To Practicing Public Speaking With Toasts

Teaching Speech Skills with ToastsIt’s a pretty good bet that everyone will give a toast at some point in their life, whether it be at a wedding, a birthday party, or a retirement party. In my freshman English class, we use toasts to practice speaking skills.

It all started during our unit on Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. While I think it’s important for students to know the content of that speech, it’s also a perfect opportunity to study how to write an effective speech. We examine MLK’s use of simile and metaphor, his terrific use of repetition of words and phrases and sentence structure, and his allusions to historical events and founding documents.

Once we’ve done that the students apply what they’ve learned to a toast they deliver in class. They can choose whomever they want and whatever occasion they want. I encourage students to think of events in the future, like their younger brother or sister’s wedding. The only requirement is that it has to be for someone they know – it can’t be a celebrity. It has to be for an occasion they could see themselves actually giving a toast.

The Process

We start by reading this website that addresses how to give an excellent toast. Lots of good suggestions here.

Then I give them the requirements:

  • It must be between 30 seconds-one minute. In real life if your toast is too long people will stop paying attention.
  • It cannot be read (you can have notes, but can’t read them). No one wants to hear someone read a toast. As the website above says, a toast is a gift and if you don’t memorize it, you’re not putting forth the effort to show you care. 
  • It must have repetition in two places (both phrase and sentence structure)
  • It must have an allusion. Many students choose song lyrics are references to television shows. 
  • It must have either a simile or metaphor
  • It must have an anecdote. They need to keep this short (and of course it can incorporate repetition, allusion, etc.

I give them a few days to rehearse before the actual day. On the day that we give the toasts, I buy clear plastic cups and some soda because I do require them to hold up their glass and say “To ________” at the end. Three two-liters was enough for my freshman class of 24. The nice thing about these short toasts is you can get through them all in a period if you’re moving them along.

Although the toast has to be memorized, I do ask that students write down their use of repetition, similes, metaphors, and the other requirements and give it to me beforehand so I can listen for them. Since I’m not recording them and they are delivered from memory, there’s no way to know if they used them or not after the fact. If they have them written down for me to look at beforehand, I can listen for them during the delivery.

This has been a lot of fun every year. And I’ve actually had people deliver the toasts they’ve written. One student delivered hers at her sister’s graduation party. One student this year prepared one for a friend’s confirmation.

If you’d like a copy of the toast assignment that you can use in your classroom (including a rubric) click here.

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