Communication Currents

Instructor's Corner: Nursery Rhymes and Folk Literature for Public Speakers

February 1, 2016
Instructional Communication

Nursery rhymes and folk literature serve as great ways to promote communal bonding while inculcating prosocial values in young members of communities. The values promoted in these genres reflect cultural expectations and societal norms through emotions and mythical elements that express cultural, historical, and societal nuances.

A new single-class activity from Ivan Gan of Texas A&M University expands upon the idea that childhood tales stimulate public speaking. It can be used early in the semester to help students gain confidence when speaking in front of a group, or later in the course as a warm-up before speech days.

“This exercise came from my other professional identity as a lawyer,” says Gan. “As a lawyer, I know first-hand how details are essential as evidence.” 

The Activity 

  1. First, print out the activity worksheet and ask students to write the title of a nursery rhyme of their choosing at the top of the sheet. They should choose English nursery rhymes that are familiar to English-speaking communities.
  2. Students should imagine that a friend just recited the rhyme as a first-hand account of what he or she witnessed.
  3. Students should list 10 questions that will provide more information about what the friend saw.
  4. Students should create their own answers to the questions.
  5. Students should share their account with the class. They should make their story interesting. Remind them that good storytellers engage their audiences with concrete details.
  6. After the student delivers his or her account, ask the class to guess what the nursery rhyme is.


At the end of the class, the instructor could spend some time discussing question 7 on the worksheet:

  1. Name one Communication theory/concept that you used to create your story. Answer could be: “I reviewed the… essential components of Communication: source/sender, message, interference/noise, channel, receiver, and context.”
  2. What specific verbal strategies did you use to engage with your audience? Answer could be: “I used vocal inflection.”
  3. What specific nonverbal behaviors/strategies did you use to engage with your audience? Answer could be: “I delivered my story extemporaneously, maintaining eye contact and using appropriate body language such as hand gestures.”
  4. Give specific examples for why you believe you successfully/unsuccessfully engaged with your audience. Answer could be: “My audience listened attentively and I maintained eye contact with them throughout my speech.”

About the author (s)

Ivan Gan

Texas A&M University

Doctoral Candidate