How to Judge a Middle School Speech Competition

Middle school speech competitions help students develop public speaking skills.
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Create a rubric and assign point values to each requirement to effectively judge a junior high or middle school speech competition. Focus on each participant's organizational methods, presentation style and use of evidence to support the topic. Limit speeches to three to five minutes each and encourage students to memorize the material or use note cards sparingly. Some male junior high students are going through puberty, so don't take off points for uncontrollable voice inflections.

1 Organization and Topic Relevance

Examine the student's thesis to see if it's well-structured and purposeful. The speech should engage listeners, encouraging them to consider the presenter's viewpoints and angles. Even if the speech is about a historical event or a proven scientific principle, the speaker should explain why the event, situation or argument is still relevant today. The content should flow smoothly from one point to the next, including transitional phrases that lead listeners from the introduction, through the body to the conclusion. Deduct points if the student doesn't have a strong thesis, neglects to credit the source of a direct quotation, strays from the thesis or expresses disorganized thoughts.

2 Evidence and Emotional Appeal

Give high scores to students who incorporate logos and pathos -- reason and emotion -- into their speeches. Judge how well the speaker supports her argument with reliable data, logic, facts and concrete examples, without sounding as though she's reading from an encyclopedia. For example, a student might use reason to back her primary points but develop an emotional conclusion that motivates listeners to act. Or, she might open her speech with an emotional story or anecdote and close with a logical list of pros and cons. Always evaluate the presenter's sources to ensure they sufficiently support the evidence. Deduct points if the speech is dry or boring and doesn't challenge or intrigue listeners. Middle school students should have a compelling delivery without sacrificing the credibility of their content.

3 Originality

Evaluate the originality of the speech. Even though students might choose well-known topics, they should showcase their individuality. Give high scores for creativity, imagination and interesting twists, such as data or illustrations that support less common perspectives on the topic. A student might use song lyrics, famous quotes or a personal experience to support his speech. Or, he might interview relatives or business professionals and use the content to support his topic. If the rules for competition allow for visual aids, give high scores for interesting photos, creative illustrations and engaging hands-on examples. Junior high students should be able to incorporate their own viewpoints and ingenuity into their presentations.

4 Body Language

Assess the speaker's body language and presentation style, such as hand gestures, tone and eye contact. Some students participate in their first speech competition in middle school so expect some fidgeting, stuttering and unnatural hand gestures. Give high scores to students who use body language effectively, such as raising their hand to stress important issues or pausing briefly between points. Deduct points when a student speaks in a monotone voice and neglects to use pitch and volume to add interest to his speech. Evaluate the student's ability to pace his content and use the designated amount of time productively.

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.