Beat the Middle School Mumbles Activity

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Updated on Aug 16, 2012

Want to turn your child into an expert orator, but don’t know how to rid him of the middle school mumbles? Try this at-home activity to get your child thinking about voice modulation, inflection, tempo, enunciation, and eye contact. Confidence is all it takes to make a public speaker out of a bashful tween.


Step 1 Review some key elements in speaking technique. These include:
  • Voice modulation: loudness or intensity of speech

  • Inflection: change in tone or pitch of the voice
  • Tempo: speed of delivery
  • Enunciation: clarity of the spoken word
  • Eye contact: connection between speaker and audience


Step 2 Get some videos of speeches by famous people, or download online. Watch them with your child and tell him not to worry about what the speaker is talking about, but how the speaker is speaking. Make a chart together, on regular paper or poster paper, to rate the speakers:



Speaker 1
Speaker 2
Speaker 3
Voice modulation
















Eye contact





He can give the speakers grades A – F, or write notes for each. However, he wants to rate them on each technique. Pause the video whenever you see a good example (or bad example) of any of the techniques, and point it out to your child. For instance, if you notice a speaker talking too quickly, rewind it and watch it again, and talk about it with your child. Have him tell you why it’s important for speakers to use a moderate tempo. Or if you hear a speaker mumble or not enunciate words clearly, again, pause and watch it a couple of times and have your child explain why it causes a problem if a speaker doesn’t enunciate well.


Step 3 Get a transcript of a famous speech, or use one your child is studying for class, and practice together. Focus on one aspect at a time. Tempo is a good one to start with – play around with it a little. Tell him to read it as fast as possible, and time him. Then tell him to read it very slowly, and time him again. Take the average of the two times and see if he can read it at a moderate enough tempo to get close to that “ideal” time.

Eye contact is a hard one for students, especially if they are reading as opposed to memorizing a piece. If that’s the case, teach him to glance up at the end of every other sentence or so. It’s fine to pause for a couple of seconds in between sentences in order to make eye contact. If he is reciting from memory, tell him to glance around the room as he speaks. If he’s worried about someone making faces or distracting him, tell him to look at the top of the person’s head, or at her neck just under her chin.


Step 4 After you’ve experimented with all the elements of speech technique, encourage your child to practice a school presentation keeping the elements in mind. He can do it in private, or give a preview of his speech at dinner. Give him praise, but feel free to give him suggestions for improvement too. Using the vocabulary he’s learned, he’ll be able to adjust his tempo, inflection, enunciation, and eye contact to give a successful speech, in the classroom, or anywhere!
Kate Smith has been a teacher since 1997. She has taught in New York and California, with experience in all subjects and grades from 1 to 12, but the heart of her expertise lies in middle school, primarily English and Journalism. She has a B.A. in English and a Master of Science in Teaching from Fordham University.

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