CTL Guide to Oral & Signed Communication

This guide explains the learning outcomes for the oral and/or signed communication Hub area, provides guidance for faculty designing assignments and activities, and supplies resources for students.


BU students should be able to communicate information in a clear and coherent formal oral and/or signed presentation, to engage responsibly with others, and to make use of a range of disciplinary-appropriate informal oratory.

Learning outcomes

Oral and/or signed communication courses and cocurricular activities in this area must have all outcomes.

  1. Students will be able to craft and deliver responsible, considered and well-structured oral and/or signed arguments using media and modes of expression appropriate to the situation.
  2. Students will demonstrate an understanding that oral/signed communication is generally interactive, and they should be able to attend and respond thoughtfully to others.
  3. Students will be able to speak/sign effectively in situations ranging from the formal to the extemporaneous and interact comfortably with diverse audiences.

If you are proposing an OSC course or if you want to learn more about these outcomes, please see this Interpretive Document. Interpretive Documents, written by the General Education Committeeare designed to answer questions faculty have raised about Hub policies, practices, and learning outcomes as a part of the course approval process. To learn more about the proposal process, start here.

Resources for faculty

Resources for students

Overcoming anxiety

      Assignment ideas

      The following are assignments that faculty have developed for this Hub area:

      • Guided activities help students to transition from simple to complex oral communication tasks.

      Seeing and hearing others speak (in person, videos, etc.), and engaging students in a discussion on the effective use of organization, gestures, pacing, etc., can oftentimes be more memorable than simply explaining what makes for a strong presentation. In this way, exposing students to models (through TED talks, speeches, or other genres of formal and informal communication) can allow them to recognize and evaluate the components of effective communication; for instance, what makes for an effective persuasive argument?

      To help students transition to drafting their own speeches and arguments, you may choose to expose them to different rhetorical models. These include ethos, pathos, and logos.

      Having reflected on what makes for effective oral and/or signed communication, students may then practice developing their own skills though informal or low-stakes activities before speaking in a formal, high-stakes situations. For example, students could practice presenting in pairs or small groups before doing so in front of the whole class.

      Incorporating such scaffolded assignments allows students to receive feedback and explicit training at each step of the process.

      • Debates challenge students to speak clearly, succinctly, and persuasively. In addition, students learn how to select evidence that will be most compelling to their audience and to listen carefully to others so that they can offer targeted counterarguments.  Some faculty wait to assign viewpoints until the day of the debate so that students need to prepare to represent both sides.
      • Speeches and presentations also serve as effective cumulative assignments.
      • Additional sample assignments and assessments can be found throughout the selected Resources section located above.

      Course design questions

      As you are integrating Oral &/or Signed Communication into your course, here are a few questions that you might consider:

      • What framework/vocabulary/process do you use to teach the key elements of oral and/or signed communication in your course — such as argument structure, genre, and audience?
      • What assigned readings or other materials do you use to teach oral and/or signed communication specifically?
      • What assignments — both graded and ungraded, high- and low-stakes –are you developing to evaluate students’ communication skills?
      • Do students have opportunities throughout the semester to apply and practice these skills and receive feedback?

      Other resources

      • Chan, Vincent. (2011). “Teaching Oral Communication in Undergraduate Science: Are We Doing Enough and Doing it Right?” Journal of Learning Design 4:3,  71–79. Offers a number of simple, practical suggestions for integrating “learning tasks for training oral communication” into undergraduate science courses.
      • Cleveland, Lacy M., Reinsvold, Robert J. (2017). “Development of Oral Communication Skills By Undergraduates That Convey Evolutionary Concepts to the Public.” Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education 18:1. Outlines a three-phase activity that aims to develop and assess students’ ability to communicate key concepts in evolutionary science to an audience of non-experts.
      • Dannels, Deanna P., Palmerston, Patricia Ruby, & Gaffney, Amy L. H. (2017). Oral Communication in the Disciplines: A Resource for Teacher Development and Training. Anderson, South Carolina: Parlor Press.  A practical and comprehensive guide to designing oral assignments in a wide range of courses by leaders in the field of oral communication across the disciplines.
      • Gunn, Joshua. (2018). Speech Craft. Bedford/St. Martin’s.
      • Keith, William M. and Lundberg, Christian O. (2017). Public Speaking: Choices and Responsibility. (2nd ed.) Boston, MA.: Cengage Learning. An in-depth textbook focusing on writing and delivering formal speeches and presentations. Though intended for students, it can also serve as a helpful resource for instructors.
      • Lucas, Stephen. The Art of Public Speaking. (2012). Boston: McGraw-Hill (12th ed). A leading and comprehensive textbook on public speaking, covering a wide range of rhetorical situations.
      • O’Hair, D., Rubenstein, H., & Stewart, R. (2015). A Pocket Guide to Public Speaking. Bedford/St. Martin’s.  
      • Palmer, Eric. (2011). Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
      • Quigley, Brooke L. (1998). “Designing and Grading Oral Communication Assignments.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 74 (1998): 41–49. Though two decades old, this remains a succinct and practical guide to the basics of oral assignment design and assessment and includes an outline of key principles and a sample grading rubric.
      • Sprague, Jo, Stuart, Douglas, & Bodary, David. (2019). The Speaker’s Handbook. Boston, M.A.: Cengage.