After two decades teaching, Erik Palmer has coached countless students through the basic steps of forming a good argument. Drawn to debate in high school, his fascination with spirited discourse propelled him from the debate stage to law school. Later, he moved into business and helped grow a commodities exchange firm. When he became a father, he needed a more family-friendly schedule. “I loved playing with my kids. As a single dad, I wanted to be on the same schedule as my boys and was drawn to teaching.”
Early on, Palmer decided to bring his love of presentation and debate into the classroom. He quickly realized that kids didn’t speak well and was surprised at the lack of materials to teach it. “The limited information on speaking well was focused on esoteric, hard to understand jargon like ‘elocution,’” Palmer said. So he created his own curriculum that became known as The Palmer Method.
His eleven-step process (shown below) covered the two phases of speaking: what you do before you open your mouth and what you do as you are speaking.
Erik’s method became popular within his district and at professional development conferences. After becoming known as the “guru” for this topic of teaching kids how to speak, he was asked to write a book about it.
When researching the book, he found the speaking and listening standards required integrating and evaluating diverse media and formats. “That was my lightbulb moment,” Palmer said. “Wait, kids will need to be media literate to do that!” Listening standards also required the ability to evaluate arguments and reasoning skills.
Maintaining civility through heated debate is tough, especially when parties are anonymous on social media and debates are limited to 140 characters. One teacher of gifted students in Mississippi reported becoming reticent to discuss politics in the classroom, after moderating fights among her students during last year’s presidential election. “We have a bad model right now with tweeting and public name calling,” Palmer said. But we can teach students “don’t attack the person, attack the idea.”
In his classes, Palmer always assigned a “public defender” during student discussion and debates. The public defender knew to stop conversations that became heated and say, “You need to rephrase.”
“Over time kids learned to express an idea passionately without ever having to attack another individual,” Palmer said.
Building a talk (what to do before you begin speaking):
Performing a talk (what you do as you speak):
These steps were given the catchy acronym kids could remember “PV Legs.”
(From Erik Palmer’s Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students)
How do you teach civil discourse in your class? Share your experience in the comments. We’ve also gathered additional links and resources to help you make the most of Media Literacy Week.