Oak Knoll’s Sixth Grade Selected for National Oratory Project

Grade 4 is a turning point for students in the overall Lower School Social Studies Curriculum. Up to this point, they have gradually expanded their sense of belonging, pride, and place as residents of the United States. As they move into grades 5 and 6, the social studies curriculum progressively introduces them to more complex issues relating to U.S. History and social issues.

By grade 6, they explore issues such as slavery and the Civil War. This year, Leslie Smith’s social studies class went above and beyond the standard curriculum with a novel approach to acquiring a more profound understanding of what the Confederates called the “war between the states.” They accepted an invitation to partner with Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., to participate in the Lincoln Online Oratory Project.

It is an honor to have been selected for this project, which combines the analysis of great oratorial works with the techniques incorporated by great orators to bring their words to life and persuade listeners to engage with their subject matter.

Grade 6 analyzed President Lincoln’s February 1861 speech at Independence Hall, delivered just after his election. In it, he passionately declared that he would not accept the succession of the Southern States. That refusal ultimately resulted in the Civil War.

The uniqueness of this unit is that students not only learned the historical context of his speech but also the power of oratory and the fundamentals of performance and public speaking. The Ford’s Theater partnership culminated in a video the students created. They memorized and skillfully delivered the speech using all the verbal and physical “podium points” their facilitator at Ford’s Theater taught them.

These “podium points” included pace, emphasis, diction, tone, volume, presence, posture, eye contact, and gestures. In three Zoom collaborations throughout the winter, they complemented their social studies learning at Oak Knoll with oratorial coaching sessions, where they practiced these powerful public speaking skills and received expert individualized feedback from a professional public speaking facilitator.

Public speaking skills at this level are often first encountered in middle or high school. Our students will have a jump start as they graduate grade 6.

At a watch party on Friday, April 19, 2024, the Ford’s Theater YouTube Channel shared the video that resulted from all this blended learning and hard work, along with videos created by other schools that applied for this one-of-a-kind collaboration.