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Designing an O Focus Course

Acceptable class assignments 

Instructors of O Focus courses can use a variety of assignments to meet Hallmark 1 which states that students in O courses will "conduct or participate in a minimum of three oral communication assignments or a comparable amount of oral communication activity during the course. . . ."

Here are examples of acceptable class assignments:

  • Informative presentations or speeches, whether formal or informal

  • Persuasive or influence appeals (e.g., sales presentations, motivational presentations, appeals for policy changes)

  • Chapter or section presentations to the class (e.g., presenting course content, presenting journal articles)

  • Group presentations (e.g., presenting results of a group project to class)

  • Panel discussions (e.g., several students speaking with one another on a topic in front of an audience of peers)

  • Debates (individual or team)

  • Interviews (e.g., mock job interviews, research interviews, interrogations)

  • Facilitation and participation in class discussions, group discussions, community gatherings

  • Participation in outreach or service learning activities (e.g., tutoring, teaching, coaching, presentations)

  • Press conferences

  • Creative or aesthetic performances (e.g., storytelling, performance of literature, oral interpretations or readings)

  • Oral critiques of othersí performances or presentations

Issues for faculty members to consider when designing O assignments

Answering these five questions will help you effectively design O assignments. You can then translate your answers into assignment guideline sheets or into parts of your syllabus so that students will understand the purpose of the assignment and how they can succeed. 

1. What is the purpose of the assignment? What are you trying to accomplish?


  • Help students learn the course content

  • Have students find and present supplementary course materials (to the class or a small group)

  • Improve students' communication skills

  • Give students opportunities to practice professional skills (e.g., interviewing, presenting at business meetings or academic conferences, performing for an audience)

  • Add variety to class sessions

  • Evaluate students' mastery of course content

2. How will my students, the physical environment, available technology, etc., affect the assignment?

Consider these items:

  • Students' prior experience with oral assignments; students' class standing

  • Small room vs. large room; moveable chairs vs. stationary chairs 

  • Available technology (PowerPoint, television, VCR, video camera, overhead projector)

3. What do my students need to know to succeed?

Consider adding a statement or two about each of these items:

  • Purpose of the presentation (inform, persuade, entertain)

  • Assigned or choice of topic?

  • Types of topics that are allowed (if choice is given)

  • Speaking time; date of presentation

  • Individual or group presentation?

  • Question/answer section (discussion session) included?

  • Visual aid requirements 

  • Materials required in addition to the oral presentation notes, outline, paper, citations) and their format (e.g., typed, APA style guide)

  • Peer review of classmates' presentations

  • Videotaping of presentation

  • Grading criteria (see #4 below)

4. How will you give students feedback and grade/evaluate the presentations? [The O Focus Board will look to see how you meet Hallmark 3 in your proposal, "Each student will receive specific feedback, critiquing, and grading of the oral communication assignments or activities."]

Consider these:

  • Percentage of course grade [The Focus Board will also look at how you meet Hallmark 1: " ...at least 40% of the final course grade will be a function of the studentís oral communication activities."]

  • Letter grade; credit/no credit; +/-; etc.

  • Evaluators (self-evaluation; peer evaluation; instructor evaluation; non-class audience members)

  • Grading criteria

    • features evaluated (content, delivery, additional materials such as an outline, etc.)

    • forms or checklists for self-evaluation, peer, instructor, audience

  • Format of feedback

    • written, oral, conference, etc.

5. How will you help students prepare? [When the O Focus Board reviews an O proposal, it will look for how Hallmark 2 is satisfied: Each student will receive explicit training, in the context of the class, in oral communication concerns relevant to the assignment or activity.]


  • Student-teacher conferences

  • Handouts, guidebooks

  • Demonstrations of oral communication techniques

  • Guidance in choosing and developing a topic, help with drafting the presentation, etc.

  • Class time for peer discussion and peer assistance




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