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Emerging Voices

Emerging Voices

Throughout its history, The Webb School has placed great importance on teaching students to speak confidently before a large audience. While this requirement has taken many forms over the years, the most traditional assignment is the declamation, a memorized piece of literature with an original introduction written by the performer. 

Each 9th-grade student presents a declamation to the student body during a chapel. In their subsequent years of high school, students build on the foundation of their declamation performance with an oration in 10th grade, a creative public performance in 11th grade, and finally the presentation of their original research in their senior year. This process enables students to leave the Webb School ready to share their ideas and findings with the world with poise and conviction.



[Dating to the founders, The Webb School has placed great importance on its public-speaking curriculum, especially regarding declamations and chapel talks. The Columbia Herald, on June 13, 1873, summarized the commencement ceremonies and makes mention of the speaking program: “The declamations were good, the selections were in the main unexceptionable.” ]



Description and History

Throughout its history, The Webb School has placed great importance on teaching students to speak confidently before a large audience.  While this requirement has taken many forms over the years, the most traditional assignment is the declamation, a memorized piece of literature with an original introduction written by the performer.  Just as small children learn to speak by repeating the words of the “giants” who surround them, Webb students begin to find their public speaking voices by repeating the words of great authors, poets, and statesmen.  Middle School students present a declamation to the middle school each year. Ninth-grade students present a declamation to the student body during chapel. On occasion, new students in the junior year choose a declamation as well (see notes about new Juniors and project selection in the Junior Project section below.)  The expectations for each year increase in length and difficulty.    

Expectations - Upper School

  • Students must first select a piece of literature to declaim.  This selection process will officially occur in the study center during the first week of school, but students may wish to speak to their advisor about their choice as well.  The grading committee must approve selections; approval is based on length, Lexile level, and appropriateness.  Students are encouraged to choose a piece that is both worthy of the attention of the audience and personally significant.  (For more specific information about this, please see the appended student declamation handouts.)
  • After selections are made, students will write introductions to their declamations in their English classes.
  • In the second and third quarters, students will present their declamations from the chapel stage.  

Grading Protocol - Upper School 

  • Students’ seminar grades will be comprised of 25% pre-presentation work (meeting the selection deadline; quality/timeliness of introduction) and 75% presentation.
  • When presenting, students must meet a minimum standard of quality (a score of 75% according to the rubric with at least 85% of the text itself recited), or they will be asked to present again.  Late penalties will be assessed for each time a student does not successfully complete his/her performance at this standard.   
  • Grading rubrics for the introduction and the performance itself are linked below.  


Sophomore Oration


Description and History

To build upon students’ achievements in previous years with the declamation, 10th-graders will write a clear and concise statement of belief in English class and then present their memorized essay before the whole school.  When sophomores perform their oration, they truly become an “emerging voice” as they make a public declaration about something significant to them.  The oration program is based on NPR’s popular "This I Believe" curriculum, itself based on Edward R. Murrow’s 1950s radio program of the same title.  On this broadcast, both well-known and unknown Americans read essays in which they shared their personal stories, beliefs, and values.  The broadcasts and the book they inspired were so popular that a curriculum was later developed to encourage high school students to consider, write, and deliver statements of their own personal philosophies.  This curriculum, available at, forms the basis of our work.   


In the first quarter, sophomores will write two different “This I believe” essays that will count as grades in their English class.  In the second quarter, students will choose a final oration topic and write a revised and highly
polished final oration essay of 500 – 525 words.   In the third quarter, students will accurately recite their oration essays from memory on the chapel stage.

Grading Protocol

  • Students’ seminar grades for the year will be comprised of 50% for the oration essay (first-draft and final draft) and 50% for the oral presentation in the chapel.
  • As per Webb policy, a late penalty of 10% will be assessed for each day the oration essay is overdue.
  • When presenting in the chapel, students must meet a minimum standard of quality (a score of
  • 75% according to the rubric with at least 85% of the oration essay recited accurately) or they will be asked to present again.
  • A late penalty of 10% will be assessed for each time a student fails to perform or if he/she does not successfully complete his/her performance at this standard.  
 The essay assignment and grading rubrics are linked below.

Junior Project and Presentation

Description and History

    To maximize the Juniors’ participation in The Webb School’s Emerging Voices program, the following is a succinct summary of the evolution of the Junior Class’ public speaking requirement.  Faculty who were active in the process of changing the way Webb emphasizes public speaking through a change from each grade level presenting a declamation to each grade level offering a different and “escalating level of public performance” were queried to learn the genesis of this change.  For several years before the 2008 Strategic Plan was adopted, grade level advisors painstakingly sought to find different and more “real world” applications to the Webb tradition of teaching public speaking.  The Junior class level was given the task of crafting a public performance which would allow students to express their individual creativity, to improve on skills they already knew or to learn a new creative endeavor and to share that creativity via a public presentation to include not only their creative project, but also to emphasize the public presentation of that project through effective public speaking.  This new presentation plan was implemented in 2012.  


    During the years of Junior Project Presentations, several revisions have been made to the overall rubric and process of completing the project.  The driving force for many of the changes arose due to the difficulty of “grading” creativity.  Rather than focusing on mastery of a particular creative endeavor, greater emphasis has been placed upon the effort put into the specific project.  Proposal outlines are required to be submitted to the advisor and coordinator early in the Spring. These proposal outlines are viewed for creativity and for an analysis of the work involved in the creative process.  Each proposal is individually evaluated for elements which will comport with the rubric.  For example, finding a video of someone doing something similar to what the student plans to do (making a duct tape bridge versus a failed duct tape hammock) would not satisfy the creative element.  On the other hand, writing a movie and videotaping and editing it the video satisfies the creative element.  

    Once the project is approved, the students are given a strict timeline during which they must complete various aspects of their project.  A survey of all students presenting their projects in the winter of 2014 yielded the same response:  the single most helpful aspect all advisors required was adherence to the deadlines.  While the dates specified by individual advisors are left to the advisor and their group, specific due dates are triggered by the actual performance schedule.  Two weeks prior to the performance date, the student must have an informal run-through of their performance, including the technology they plan to use.  They must also inform Mr. Pryor of the exact technology they will need at this two weeks prior date.  Three days before their presentation date, they must have completed their first chapel rehearsal.  Whether the student needs additional rehearsal time is at the discretion of the individual advisor.  


    Many students struggle with deciding on what project they should attempt.  The goal is for the student to either attempt a new creative endeavor, such as learning an instrument, attempting a new art medium, or to physically make something creative such as pottery, clothing, furniture, elaborate cuisine and the like or to advance a creative skill already known. 


  • Selection and approval of project: check-in with on-campus expert in that field, prepare and submit a proposal.  Approval determined by the advisor and grade level supervisor if necessary. 
  • Creation of project:  must be documented and finished at the beginning of the 1st quarter.
  • Schedule of performances:  alphabetical by students last name as outlined above
  • For students new to The Webb School for their Junior year: these students may select to perform a junior project, an oration, or a declamation.  Orations and declamations will be performed as noted above. Students choosing a junior project will likely be scheduled to perform following orations and before Senior Symposium, according to chapel availability.  
  • Technology:  All technology must be sent to and verified to be correctly working prior to first chapel rehearsal
  • Timing of performance:  5 to 8 minutes, no more than 2 minutes of video or power point unless the creative project is a movie or other video project
  • Live performance vs. videotaped:  if a performance project such as playing an instrument, choreographing a dance, writing a play and that performance can be performed on the chapel stage, it needs to be performed live rather than presented via video.  Certain performance pieces cannot be performed in the chapel for logistical reasons, and those may be displayed via video. 

Grading protocol

  • Creation:  the elements necessary to create the project (including proposal submission, summer schedule completion) will comprise 50% of the total project grade.  If the student arrives on campus without the project being finished, the student will receive a zero in the gradebook until the project is completed.  Webb late policy of 10% deduction per day is adjusted for this project to be instead a 10% deduction for each seminar meeting the student has not completed their project.  These grades are to be determined by the student’s individual advisor.
  • Performance:  the performance aspect of the project will also comprise 50% of the total grade broken down as follows:  10% for successful, timely completion of the necessary presentation script (advisor determined) and  40% for the successful chapel presentation (to be determined by the Junior Performance grading team). 



Senior Research Paper and Presentation

Description and History

With the Junior Project, students begin to explore their passions and creativity. We want to continue this work by contemplating the question “On whose shoulders are you standing?” Although it is essential to create works of your own, it is equally important to realize and research the works of others. Even Isaac Newton acknowledged, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."  The Senior Capstone Project is the culmination of all of the previous Emerging Voices projects with the addition of in-depth research, accountability, and reflection.  ​In both, the paper and the presentation seniors should explain the research question or thesis statement, show extensive research and critical thinking, provide appropriate and supportive details, and remember to keep language academic and appropriate for the audience.


  • Selection and approval of the project - Choosing a topic is a process.  You will conduct “pre-search” to ensure that your topic is viable.  Choose a thesis that is neither too broad nor too narrow.  Make sure that enough scholarly material is available on the subject.  
  • Research Tasks - The Annotated Bibliography helps seniors organize their research and is graded in the English class.  Students can begin submitting these immediately.  Some things to include in your annotations include the summation of the source. Focus on what is unique about the source. A brief evaluation statement(s) - is this a "scholarly" source or not.  How the work is relevant to your research - How, specifically, do you intend to use the source (e.g., as evidence to support a claim, as a counter-argument, etc.)  Some teachers like to use the GIST summarizing strategy. 
  • Writing the Paper - The paper and all drafts are to be written in current MLA format with in-text citation, and an alpha-order “Works Cited” page.  The paper is to be submitted electronically. It is essential to label the Google Doc - Surname_202X  (example - Smith_202X)
  • Schedule of performances - The seniors will present in concurrent sessions in venues across campus. 
  • Technology - The symposium is a more intimate, less formal set-up and seniors are expected to be technically savvy and troubleshoot when there are technical glitches.  
  • Timing of performance:  8 to 10 minutes, no more than 30 seconds of video 
  • Question and Answer

Grading Protocol 

  • Research - Six Quiz grades in English
  • Paper - English paper grade - quarter two or three
  • Performance - Quarter three and four - must pass with a 70%


Middle School Declamations

Middle School and Freshman Declamation: Guide

All Middle School students memorize and declaim a speech.
Sample Declamation Timeline
  • Declamation chosen by October 24 (copy to teacher and adviser)
  • Introduction written by October 31
  • Introduction memorized and said in front of class by November 14
  • Introduction and 1/3 of declamation memorized and said in class by November 28
  • Introduction and 2/3 memorized by December 5
  • All of the declamation memorized and presented to class by December 12
  • Student needs to say it on stage to adviser twice before Christmas break
  • Student needs to get adviser to sign the form documenting practice
  • All students should say their declamation daily over break
  • Declamations begin January 9, 2019. We hope you will come join us and stay for lunch.
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