Department of Communication

About Speaking in the Disciplines

Speaking in the Disciplines, or Speaking Across the Curriculum, is part of a larger national movement in higher education, Communication Across the Curriculum.  The goal of Communication Across the Curriculum is to incorporate oral and written (sometimes also visual and electronic) communication assignments and activities into courses across disciplines. From science to math, through English and history, communication across the curriculum enhances the educational environment for students, promotes their communication skills, while at the same time helping instructors to meet their teaching goals.

Study after study has shown that students perform better in their courses, and they have a stronger handle on the material they are learning, if they have opportunities to write and speak about that material on a regular basis. More so, opportunities to speak and write in the classroom improve the communication skills of students, and better position them for their professional careers in the future. By speaking and writing to learn, and learning to write and speak, communication across the curriculum enhances the educational environment for students in the classroom, and beyond.

Writing in the Disciplines

Speaking in the Disciplines at Pitt has a long history of collaboration with the Writing in the Disciplines Program. Please visit our friends and collaborators there for more information about writing in the disciplines

Speaking in the Curriculum

Oral communication fulfills a number of general and discipline-specific pedagogical functions.

Speaking to Learn

On the one hand, oral exercises in the classroom aid in the uptake, retention, and critical understanding of the information and content taught in various fields. Oral communication assignments, from stand-up presentations to one-on-one discussions and oral examinations, are all useful ways that instructors can help students use speaking to learn. Speaking assignments aid students in formulating their thoughts more clearly, testing what they know and do not know, and synthesizing material sufficiently to communicate to others. They also provide opportunities for students to display cognitive skills of organization, analysis, argumentation, and critical thinking. And, they represent a way for students to help teach themselves and their classmates and to engage in problem solving and other active learning techniques.

In all of these ways, oral communication helps to ensure that students are not simply exposed to course material and forms of disciplinary thinking, but instead that they move toward a deeper understanding of their field.

Learning to Speak

In addition to speaking to learn, learning to speak is an important goal in itself. Speaking well equips students with a set of skills they can use for the rest of their lives. Speaking is the mode of communication most often used to express opinions, make arguments, offer explanations, transmit information, and make impressions upon others. Students need to speak well in their personal lives, future workplaces, social interactions, and political endeavors. They will have meetings to attend, presentations to make, discussions and arguments to participate in, and groups to work with. If basic instruction and opportunities to practice speaking are available, students position themselves to accomplish a wide range of goals and to be useful members of their communities.


Both speaking to learn and learning to speak are important, and both can be incorporated into classes of any size in any discipline. An advanced degree in communication is not required to help students become more adept speakers. Instructors can learn to develop speaking assignments that meet course- or discipline-specific goals, offer students basic guidelines for those assignments, and evaluate them fairly and productively. In the process, instructors often find their own oral communication skills improving as they teach students basic concepts and evaluate their efforts. While becoming an outstanding speaker requires years of practice, students can improve their communication skills during one course if oral communication is a regular feature.

Our Site’s Resources

This Web site has a number of resources for anyone who would like to incorporate oral communication into their classes: short explanations of basic principles, assignment ideas, easily modified evaluation sheets, and links to useful web resources.We hope the material you find on this site helps promote speaking activities across the curriculum as well as serves as launching pad for further research in this area.

Thank You

Many people contributed to the content on this website. This project could not have been accomplished without the support of these people.