Section Activities

J201 sections run on the active participation of students. The speeches, discussion and writing students do also qualify the course to fulfill Communication B requirements. In this class, each student will give one prepared speech, one response speech, and lead one discussion at some point during the semester. Each of these activities will take place in the context of a specific reading from the required readings.

In the case of the prepared speech, response speech, and discussion leadership, students will be assigned a reading based on their personal section number. On most weeks, two students give prepared speeches, two lead discussion, etc. The syllabus and schedule denote which student is assigned to which activity for each week.

Descriptions of each assignment follow.

Prepared speech

You should devote the first part of your presentation (2 minutes) to identifying the main arguments of the reading, outlining the author’s claims, reasons, and evidence. You do not have to go into great detail (your audience will have read the article) but you do provide an accurate summary.

The rest of your presentation (2 minutes) should deal with your reaction to the reading. You need to make your own claim and your reason for that claim, providing evidence to support it. Like a good paper, your talk needs a short introduction and a satisfying conclusion.

Do not read your presentation! You may speak from simple notes that keep you on track, but allow the words to emerge spontaneously and conversationally. The key to a good speech is practice: it will help you get your timing right and plan what you want to say and how to say it. A good strategy is to practice your presentation in front of a mirror, a voice recorder, or for a friend.

While you are making your presentation, your TA will designate a fellow student to record you using your smartphone (or another student’s smartphone).  You are required to view your performance and perform a self-critique: email your TA with one specific way that you could improve your delivery next time. This email is worth 1 point and is due within one week of the speech. After that time, 1 point is deducted from the speech score.

Make sure to turn in a one-page written outline of your speech.

Response speech

The response speech is a two-minute response to another student’s prepared speech. This is both “easier” than the prepared speech in that it is only two minutes, and “harder” because you have to listen really closely to what your peer is saying.

The good news is that you know what reading your response speech will be on. So your best bet is to know that reading very well. Then listen carefully to your peer, and respond.

Your response speech should summarize and acknowledge what the other student said about it (1 minute), then offer your own thoughts. Explain whether you agree or disagree with the student’s assessment, and why. Or you may suggest another way of understanding or interpreting the article. You should critique both the article and the other student–but remember, ‘critique’ does not mean ‘criticize.’ You should be both complementary of the other student and constructive, whether you agree or disagree.

Response speeches are not recorded.

Speech evaluation criteria

TAs will use the following evaluation criteria for prepared and impromptu speeches.


  • Accuracy – Do you accurately capture what the article’s author (or the speaker) was saying?
  • Clarity – Is your own claim (or response) clear?
  • Reason and evidence – Do you present reason and evidence for your claim? Are they convincing?
  • Organization – Is your content well-organized and structured? Is it easy for the audience to follow?


  • Eye contact – Do you maintain your eye contact with the audience? Are you reading from your note cards?
  • Projection – Do you project enough for everyone to hear you?
  • Inflection and emphasis – Does your inflection and emphasis help convey your meaning (as in normal conversation)?
  • Speed – Are you talking too fast or too slow?
  • Filler words – Are you avoiding the use of slang and all those crutch phrases like “like,” “um,” and “basically”?
  • Time management – Have you kept to the time specified?
  • Overall engagement – Do you seem to be enjoying yourself (even if you aren’t)? Do you seem to be engaging with the audience?
Discussion leadership

Once during the semester, you will lead a ten-minute discussion on one of the two readings for that week. This means you are responsible for posing some interesting points or questions, getting people talking, calling on your peers, and managing the conversation. For example:

  • pose a question about the reading (and give an example of how you might answer it)
  • ask students to connect the reading to their own experience (and give an example of how it connects to your own)
  • identify one or two key terms from the reading (that might show up on an exam) and ask students to define and give the significance of them
  • pose a challenge or critique to the reading and ask students to defend it

Not later than the night before section, send an email to your section with 3-5 starter questions. Then, in discussion, you will lead a 10-minute discussion on your reading/s. Encourage students to respond to your starters. Then, ask constructive follow-up questions that help the class make something new of the reading. This is a challenging assignment. Your goal is to help make the conversation productive and interesting, while not being the person who talks the most.

Discussion leadership evaluation criteria*

  • Preparation – Have you arrived fully prepared?
  • Listening – Do you actively and respectfully listen to your peers?
  • Impact on discussion – Do you help move discussion forward?
  • Quality of contribution – Are your questions and comments relevant and reflect understanding of assigned reading(s), previous remarks of your peers, and insights about assigned material?

(* adapted from

Research report

This assignment is about getting beneath the surface of readings. The speeches about each reading will focus on what each reading says; your job as research report writer is to help us place what the reading says in context.

This means learning more about where the reading came from—who created it? Why? When? Who did they create it for? This means getting to know who the author is, the medium in which the message appeared, the time in which it was written, and why the author chose to write it.

Answering these questions requires a little bit of detective work. You might begin by learning about the author. What is their occupation? Where have they worked in the past—and doing what? What else have they written, and what have other people said about those writings? Give us a sense of where this person fits in to the bigger media/conversation landscape—and reflect on how we should interpret their writings in light of that information.

You also should consider the publication in which the article appeared. Most written material is the product of an extensive editorial process, starting with the editor’s decision to publish the article at all. What does the publication, and its history and goals, tell us about the final product? What is the audience for this publication? How might that impact the way that the publication selects and presents its material?

You should also think about the time in which the article appeared. What was happening at that time? What events or concerns was the author likely responding to? What information was known or unknown at that time?

Your research report should be a 500-word essay describing what you found. Make a case for how we should interpret the article based on your results. Should we be cautious in interpreting it and view it as a provocative article? Or be confident in the details it describes? As the member of section who did the research on the article, you should also have important insights to offer during discussion.

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