Rally Speeches for Coastal Optimism

Laura Guertin (guertin@psu.edu), Annie Jansen, and James Berkey, Penn State Brandywine
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Initial Publication Date: October 12, 2020 | Reviewed: August 4, 2022


Storytelling is an effective way to communicate what is happening along our local-to-international coastal zones. However, most of the stories students hear are ones of "doom and gloom." Therefore, students are assigned to take storytelling to the next step and write/record energizing narratives that capture examples of adaptation and resilience along the coast.

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This assignment was developed for and implemented in an introductory-level Earth science course (oceanography/coastal issues) for non-STEM majors. There are no prerequisites for the course, and the course satisfies the university's interdomain general education requirements for natural sciences and social/behavioral sciences. The general education learning objectives include effective communication, critical and analytical thinking, integrative thinking, and social responsibility and ethical reasoning.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

There are no prerequisites for the course and no areas of mastery expected of students before beginning the assignment. The assignment is designed for first-year university students with no prior coursework in Earth science or instruction in library/research skills, narrative writing/storytelling, or audio recording.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is scaffolded throughout the semester, involving instruction in information search strategies and source evaluation, writing as narrative storytelling with peer review, and audio recording and editing. Students learn the science content from the geoscience instructor, information literacy from a reference and instruction librarian, narrative writing from the campus writing center, and digital literacy and training from the emerging technology staff. Students submit project components throughout the semester as checkpoints and for grading. The assignment can be scaled to be implemented during half a semester instead of a full semester.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

For Part A of the assignment, the information literacy piece, goals for students include:

  • To learn more about a coastal science issue of interest
  • To learn how to evaluate online sources for currency, reliability, authority, and purpose/point of view
  • To learn how to generate an annotation of a source by summarizing and analyzing content

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

For Part B of the assignment, the audio narrative/script writing piece, goals for the students include:

  • Writing skills development - To learn how to write about coastal science in a storytelling format for listeners from a particular target audience
  • Critical thinking and research skills - To learn how to evaluate sources and how to critically analyze existing podcasts to determine how well a podcast covers the topic, to assess what information is missing, and to evaluate to what extent a podcast is effective in accomplishing its objectives
  • Collaboration – To learn how to collaborate with a community of active volunteer editors (your peers) in the development of science content

Other skills goals for this activity

For Part C of the assignment, the audio recording piece, goals for students include:

  • Media and information literacy - To learn how information is both produced and consumed, and to reflect on available sources and their appropriate usage
  • Listening skills - To learn how to evaluate existing audio files to determine how well an audio narrative covers the topic, engages a listener of the target population, and to evaluate to what extent a podcast is effective in accomplishing its objectives
  • Technical skills – To learn how to use GarageBand (or any audio recording program) to generate an engaging audio narrative, as audio training is growing in both educational and corporate settings

Description and Teaching Materials

Students were challenged to write and record a non-fiction rally speech around a coastal topic of their choosing, targeting their speech writing and delivery for an audience of their peers. Students were assisted with their research for reliable sources from sessions with a faculty librarian and an online library resource guide. Library instruction was conducted in a library computer laboratory so students could engage in the library space and be shown where to seek assistance online and on-site when necessary. Students were led through practice exercises on how to evaluate websites and sources using the IF I APPLY tool. Recommended library database and public access sources for students to utilize for researching their topic were placed on a digital library guide.

Next, students attended individual and group peer-review sessions with the campus writing center to first learn how to format their story in the framework of the COMPASS Message Box , then moved on to write the speech (in this case, a 5 minute speech which is approximately between 4801 and 8500 characters). Group peer review sessions were held during a class period with professional and peer tutors coming to the classroom to provide an overview of the process of peer review, how to conduct a useful review and to provide constructive feedback. Within small teams of 3-4 students and one tutor, students read their stories aloud and followed a review form to discuss this first draft of the rally speech. Each of the students listening to the speech filled out a blank template of the Message Box to help with focus and clarity of the required speech format. The form included with the supporting materials on this page was for the student reading the speech to complete after the group discussion to improve their first draft. The instructor collected this worksheet when students turned in the final assignment.

Finally, technical training was provided by a Media Commons trainer (staff at the University) to assist students with their recordings during a class period. Students were introduced to recording facilities available on campus and microphones available for check-out. Students were allowed to use any software they were most comfortable with but were shown the free audio software available through the university and online tutorials, as well as the technology help line for assistance. Part of the instruction included an overview of the Creative Commons licenses and a list of sources that could be used as sound effects to ensure there were no copyright violations in the audio recordings.

Students were required to turn in an audio file (MP3 format) and a script of their rally speech with an APA-formatted reference list at the end of the document.

IF I APPLY worksheet for evaluating sources (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 22kB Sep28 20)
Group peer review worksheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB Sep28 20)
Grading Rubric for Rally Speech (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 15kB Sep28 20)

Teaching Notes and Tips

During the semester-long project, students reported challenges of selecting a topic and finding an optimistic spin for the story they were trying to tell. Some students were unsure what would be considered "coastal" versus a topic that would be more of an ocean or river subject. Examples needed to be given by the instructor, such as a short list of possible topics provided to students to select from.

The students also expressed a lack of experience listening to a rally speech, and needed several examples provided and reviewed as a class. Examples included ones found in YouTube to showcase different styles of speeches, such as ones given by President Obama and one by Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria about racism at the Air Force Academy in 2017. The instructor (Guertin) also shared with the students a written copy and performed her rally speech she gave at the March for Science/Rally for Science in Philadelphia in 2018.

If a student has a speech impediment (stutters, is mute, etc.), they may not feel comfortable or be able to record their voice. In this case, the instructor has allowed students to perform all the steps up to the script/speech writing, have someone else record their voice reading the rally speech, then the student in my class is required to do the final editing. Permission is always obtained in writing from the student that does the speaking (typically via email to the instructor).

For students whose first language is not English, they may feel more comfortable recording in their own language. The instructor can require the script be turned in typed in English but allow the student to record the audio in another language. This has yielded interesting class discussions when the file is played back in the classroom, noting how pace and emphasis varies between languages.

At the conclusion of the semester, students reported a sense of pride and accomplishment in completing their coastal optimism rally speeches, with many students expressing a desire to share their audio files beyond their instructor and fellow students enrolled in the course. Some students were asked to share their audio files at the campus end of the semester Student Digital Showcase, and others were asked to share during the following semester's campus International Podcast Day celebration. Students recording in a language other than English have also self-reported sharing these files with family members to showcase the science content being learned. Instructors may want to consider offering in their course a more structured opportunity and venue for all students to have the opportunity to share.


Students are issued grades after submitting each component of the project. How much each component is worth of the final grade can be determined by the instructor. One example of the percentage distribution is for the first stage (evaluation of information sources and completion of the Message Box) to be worth 10%, the typed rally speech to be worth 15%, and the audio recording 5%.

An example of how each component was evaluated is included in the attached documentation.

References and Resources

The COMPASS Message Box, a tool for science communication - https://www.compassscicomm.org/leadership-development/the-message-box/

Phillips, K., Roles, E., Thomas, S. (2019). Navigating the Information Ecosystem: Getting Personal with Source Evaluation, IF I APPLY. LOEX 2019. https://doi.org/10.26207/9z0c-7955

See also - Student-Generated Earth Science Podcasts for a Community Partner