Oral Literacies

When I began listening to the many radio programs delivered 24/7 by our local NPR station, my understanding of human experience, argumentation, and analysis—and my ability to listen and speak more comfortably and analytically—skyrocketed.  Once I explored the approach of Sorapure (an example of visual, audio, and textual layering) and Comstock & Hocks (an example of sonic literacy as a means towards writing), my appreciation for the relationship between oral and textual literacies increased.  What roles do writing/reading and speaking/listening hold in our academic pursuits?  How do these two different methods compare?  What are their inherent qualities—what is the character of each?  How can their dual use in the classroom benefit student thinking?  More specifically, I am interested in how the challenge of translating data from one medium to another affects students’ idea development, organization, route skills (i.e. speaking, writing), and empathy.  I hypothesize that translation work from one medium to another will advance these processes, as well as offer students windows into perspectives that are perhaps different from their own.



Next quarter, I am adding a one week focus on oral literacies to my ENG 102 schedule.  There will be two parts to this focus, which I have scheduled for our first week of class:  The This I Beleive journal entry exercise & The This I Believe written and auditory essay.  I’ve created the assignments as follows:


The This I Believe Journal Entry

This I Believe is a national media project that works to engage people in “writing, sharing, and discussing the core values and beliefs that guide their daily lives.”  Before we write our own three minute This I Believe story, we’ll listen and reflect on the personal belief statements of others.  For Writing Exercise #1, follow these steps:

·         Go to our class’s Blackboard website and click on “Web Resources.”  Listen to (don’t read along!) the five This I Believe essays in the “This I Believe” folder.

·         Select your two favorite oral essays.  Read both essays in their written format.

·         Now, journal about each essay.  Question:  How does the story change when transferred from audio to print?  Do you like the story better in one format more than another?  How is hearing the story different than reading it?  How does the story change when seen on the page?  What is lost?  What is added?  Be sure to cite the titles and authors of the two oral essays you chose.  Length:  One page, single-spaced (with your name in the header).


The This I Believe Essay Assignment

 The Written Essay:  Following the example essays we’ve listened to and read for class, you will write your own This I Believe essay.  Before recording the essay in an oral format, you’ll create a written draft.  Follow the essay-writing tips at http://www.thisibelieve.org/essaywritingtips.html as you write.  Length:  The essay should take about 3 minutes to read aloud.

The Oral Essay:  There is something about hearing the voice of a writer that makes writing more complex, interesting, and human.  Once you create the final draft of your This I Believe essay, you’ll record yourself reading the essay aloud.  This makes it an oral essay.  Length:  3 minutes.   Format:  Your essay must be recorded on a computer using a built-in or plug-in microphone and saved as a Windows Media file.



I am beginning the course with an analysis of the personal belief statement.  Using the format of the widely popular radio program, This I Believe, students will engage in the analysis of belief statements and in the end, write one of their own.  To best facilitate this work, we will read (and listen to) stories from the (very) newly published This I Believe II book and CD.  I am utilizing both the book and the audio CD so that very early in the quarter, we can begin to contemplate the differences in textual and oral narratives.  My hope is to focus more specifically on tone, persona, and reader/listener-perception and analyze how hearing a person’s voice somehow narrows one’s perception of that person.  How might this discovery affect our students’ understanding of voice, tone, and word choice?  To answer this question, I am asking students to complete five This I Believe journal exercises, where they will report on the differences experienced in hearing and reading.  These exercises will enhance their understanding of audience and reader/listener-perception as they begin to write their own This I Believe oral essay.

The purpose for writing such an essay is multi-fold.  By writing a personal belief statement at the beginning of the quarter, the class will begin with the attitude of sharing and caring about each other’s personal beliefs.  I purposefully scheduled one-on-one conferences with the students after the first draft of their This I Believe paper because I believe it will give me a chance to personally relate to my students and encourage them towards revision that includes submission to the actual radio program.  Peter Elbow’s work inspired me to perform conferences early in the quarter, as he believes it establishes an attitude of caring and personal attention to the students’ work.  Matthew Heard’s “What Should We Do With Postprocess Theory?” inspires my choice to encourage—but not force—students to submit their oral essays to This I Believe.  I want to enact the idea that it is through interaction with discourse communities beyond our classroom walls that our compositions gain circulation, and as a result, gain meaning (Yancey).

About taylo206

I am an Assistant Professor of Composition, Rhetoric and Professional Writing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
This entry was posted in Original Digital Projects, Teaching Approaches, Theories of Composition and Rhetoric, Writing Exercises. Bookmark the permalink.

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