One approach I’ve seen many professors use is having the students write topics on little slips of paper, and then having the students draw one of the topics. Give the student a few moments to prepare, and then have the student get up and speak. The plus side of this is that it doesn’t require much work for the professor. The down side is that some students draw topics they have little or no knowledge about, which puts them at a real disadvantage over the students who are familiar with the topics they draw.
This semester, I took a new approach. I brought a board game to class with me, and we played Would You Rather . . .? together. On each card in the game, you’ll find four categories, each with one question. The questions are fun and thought-provoking. Below is a copy of one of the cards.
For our first and second round of impromptus, I had each person draw a card and choose which question he or she wanted to answer. I encouraged them to use the PRSR (say it like “pressure”) format, where they first state their point, offer their reason, provide support, then finally restate their main point. I went first for each round so they could hear what I was looking for.
For the final round, student could choose the category (orange, blue, green, or yellow), and a classmate would read a question to them. They had so much fun with this, we took turns going through the box and answering questions after we were “done.”
Additionally, before we even played Would You Rather . . .?, I helped them to relax a bit by watching some video clips of impromptu speeches. Well, sort of. We watched a few clips from Whose Line is it Anyway, focusing mostly on the Scenes from a Hat segments.
NOTE: Earlier in the semester, I showed them Miss Teen South Carolina’s answer to why some Americans cannot find America on a map. (This was a classic example of now NOT to do an impromptu speech.)