From Healthcare to Antisemitism: Public Speaking in HLA


Mena Ziegler’s notes for her speech on abortion on May 16, 2023.

Public speaking can be scary, but an important skill to have. It can help you land a job or just feel more comfortable communicating with others. 

The 9th graders in Honors Language Arts (HLA) had to write and perform a persuasive speech in front of the class as a big chunk of their final. They had to keep it to a time of three to five minutes, have credible sources and use ethos, pathos and logos, but otherwise they had the freedom to choose how they wanted to go about it.  They got to choose their own topic, so long as they could find evidence to back up their argument, they could pick anything. 

In Ms. Phelps period 1 HLA, topics ranged from transgender rights to music being a language to the effects of climate change on impoverished communities. They had roughly two weeks to write and memorize their speech, performing them throughout the week before finals. 

So, how did people feel about giving these speeches? Layla Breese, a freshman and speech giver in Ms. Phelps HLA period 1 said, “I have lots of anxiety about it. This time wasn’t really that bad I found, I don’t know why…”. Breese also said, “…I think it’s good to learn how to do speeches…you’re going to have to have that skill of knowing how to give a speech and have confidence…”. 

She performed a speech on abortion, focusing on the pro-choice aspect. Her opinions were, “I’m not arguing that abortion is right or wrong, I’m just arguing that they (people who want or need abortions) should have the right to make that choice for themselves.” Breese also stated that, “I’m not trying to change anybody’s mind I’m just trying to get them to look from a different perspective.”

To create her profound speech she, “did the rubrics that Ms. Phelps put out…Kara [O’Donnell] revised it…and I made it more impactful…I memorized a lot and [used] repetition…”.

Layla Breese, giving her speech on abortion in Ms. Phelps 1st period HLA class, on May 16, 2023. She was focused on a pro-choice standpoint for her persuasive speech.

When speaking in front of a large class she struggles the most with, “The nerves beforehand, I’m worried about what people think of it…the judgment part of it…once I’m up there…I just want it over with…”. 

Madelyn Agre, a student who gave a speech in Ms. Edgar’s 4th period said she felt, “…a bit nervous, but excited…”. 

Agre’s speech was on antisemitism and she, “…wanted to make people understand the pain, and notice how they can help the injustice.” 

“I started by writing down all of my ideas, and then doing further research, and then organizing my thoughts and research into a persuasive speech,” she said of her process for creating her speech. 

Ms. Phelps, who is one of the HLA teachers this year, was asked about whether she enjoyed watching students perform their speeches. She stated, “Public speaking units are one of my favorite units ever just because I feel like it’s the culmination of everything that we’ve done throughout the year and it’s so fun…you just get to sit back and enjoy the hard work.” 

“We truly believe in autonomy and individualism, like we try to work that…into every year, and especially with the speech unit. If you have something that you are passionate about, it’s much easier to speak to that topic rather than if the teachers gave you something they were passionate about,” Phelps stated on why students get to pick their own topics. 

In Ms. Phelps 1st period HLA class, Mena Ziegler gives a speech on abortion on May 16, 2023. She was focused on a pro-choice standpoint and the government not representing the American people (Liam McAllister watches).

When asked about her public speaking experience, she said, “So, growing up I was super shy…public speaking was one of the things I absolutely loathed…however I have learned the importance of public speaking in my life as I grew up and I had teachers push me to public speak in a safe setting that now I love it…it’s what I do for a living.”

She also spoke about students who struggle more than most with public speaking, saying, “Not a lot [of students] this year, which is kind of surprising to me…[if they can’t do it] they can come in and give it to me one on one, [as] they are still practicing those skills and I would eventually love to have everyone speak in front of everyone, but I do recognize that there are some barriers that you can’t get through…”.

Whether you are petrified or enthusiastic, we can all learn things from public speaking and its challenges and triumphs.