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A WORD TO TEACHERS
THE principles set forth in this book are the result
of a number of years spent in teaching oral composition. During the year 1913-14 the writer had the difficult task of attempting to instruct freshmen of a technical college in the theory and practice of written composition. They disliked the theoretical side of the subject and looked upon written work as a drudgery, principally because of their inexperience
writing and their inability to speak correctly and fluently. After struggling unsuccessfully for three or four months in the effort to improve their English, he hit upon the idea of having the students approach the subject through the more common, practical means of expression—just plain connected, informal talk. They were asked to tell the plots of stories, novels, moving pictures; to give the substance of magazine articles dealing with subjects they were interested in; to explain how to select seed corn, how to dip cattle, how to weld iron, and so on. All the while there was an attempt to interrelate and interwork oral and written speech. The students soon discovered their rapid improvement in oral expression; then they took an interest in their written work.
Such was the beginning of the informal oral composition discussed in this text. After three years of work on the subject, he evolved the three-form system
dealt with here. This method has been tested among different kinds of students,-- American and foreign born, boys and girls, high school and college students, students in technical and academic institutions. During the number of years that he and his friends have employed it among various classes of students, it has, so far as he has been able to judge, greatly assisted in bettering both oral and written work.
Although this book may serve as a basis and guide for classes which are to devote their entire time to oral composition, it is primarily designed to be used as a companion class-text along with any of the many excellent standard books of written composition now before the public. It is suggested that the oral work be employed in close connection with the written. It is advisable to have the students do some two or three weeks of writing before the oral work is taken up. By this method the teacher will become acquainted with their ability or the lack of it.
The following two plans have been found to work well.
(1) The part-oral composition recitation: Under this plan only a part of the recitation is given to oral themes, preferably the first portion. Four or five oral compositions to the recitation will be a sufficient number for a basis of comparison, and yet not so many as to become monotonous through successive class periods. (2) The full-oral composition recitation: This plan demands that one entire period a week be devoted to oral work, if there are three recitations a week; or two periods a week, if there are five recitations.
Owing to the fact that oral composition is a new, difficult, and misunderstood subject, the first two chapters are intended to clear the ground and lay down general principles. This obviously means that the students will do no real oral composition work while going over these chapters. But the ingenious and resourceful teacher will discover many methods to set the students thinking and to keep them busy with problems growing out of these chapters. A few
exercises” are set down here and there, which will assist in this matter, some calling for written work and some for oral discussion in class. The latter should prove useful as a preliminary to the more independent and extended talks that are to be required later. It would be well for the teacher in the three subsequent chapters to have the students write out their oral compositions after they have given them-never before. The students, of course, will be expected to be more accurate as to facts, order, and language in their writing than in their talking. This dual-natured composition has the unique advantage of inciting the student to compete with himself; for if he shows deficiency in one form of composition and does pretty well in the other, it is an easy matter to stimulate him in the attempt “to catch up with himself' —make his written work measure up to his oral, or vice versa, as the case may be.
Make your assignment from the text brief, Discuss in class with the students each assignment. In a new subject of this kind, it can hardly be expected that they will master the details without regular assistance from their instructor. See that they read the illustrative material. Question them as to the good and bad qualities of each specimen.
Every teacher will discover an unlimited field in oral composition for variety and interest. Local, national and world problems and events from papers and magazines will furnish frequent live topics for class discussion. In the second form (for definitions of the three forms, see section 21), for example, he may require all the talkers to treat one subject. If his time is limited and the students have done satisfactory work in the first and second forms, he may begin the third form with the third exercise. And, again, he may in the third form make a combination of it and the first form, that is, have the students retell in their own words something they have heard or read. Of course, no student is to know that he is to be called upon for a particular selection. The instructor, either through the aid of his questionnaire (see section 68) or through his acquaintance with the student otherwise, may know that he has read a certain book, magazine article, or heard a given lecture.
The author wishes to acknowledge his obligations to many texts on oral and written composition, to articles, and to lectures and discussions on the subject For many helpful suggestions and correction in the manuscript, he is especially indebted to two of