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Oral Communication

This page is intended to support faculty in undertaking annual PLO assessment with a focus on the Oral Communication Core Competency. Faculty should freely use and adapt the definitions, criteria, and rubrics as they see fit to meet their program's priorities. 


Oral communication includes the abilities to speak and listen  effectively for the purposes of informing, persuading, and/or relating (Morreale, et al., 1998). 

Students engage these abilities in different types of interactions, including 

  • public speaking (e.g. formal presentations) 
  • small groups, and
  • one-on-one conversations.

Proficient oral communication, including in these formats, is important for academic and professional success (Rubin and Morreale, 1996). For instance, students at UC Merced who report being comfortable talking with faculty have substantially higher GPAs than those with lower comfort levels. GPA also appears to be positively associated with participation in discussion section. Student self-report evidence also suggests that co-curricular experiences provide important, additional opportunities in the development of communication skills.

Below you can find brief descriptions of the skills and knowledge associated with public speaking, small group and interpersonal communication and listening together with rubrics and other instructional and assessment tools. 


Factors Affecting Oral Communication Development

Regardless of the context, effective instruction in oral communication needs to address not only what students can do, but also their motivation for communicating and what they know about effective communication.

Motivation - or the desire to speak - is influenced by both apprehension and willingness to initiate a communication (Morreale, 2007).  Apprehension and willingness may vary with the type of communication involved; some people may be reluctant to engage in public speaking but feel perfectly comfortable in small groups.    

Possessing knowledge of basic communication skills is particularly important for translating those skills into new contexts as knowledge provides a starting point for identifying and adopting the communication conventions of different disciplines and professional contexts.

Two simple and useful tools for assessing levels of communication apprehension and willingness in different speaking contexts are the  Personal Report of Communication Apprehension assessment tool and the Willingness to Communicate assessment tool  Scores  can be broken down by communication type - group discussions, meetings, interpersonal communication, and public speaking - providing information useful to understanding classroom dynamics and/or to  plan lessons and assignments.

For instance, results might provide instructors with useful insights into  students' predispositions to participate in class. They might also provide a starting point for developing these key skills through intentional pratice with feedback. 

Public Speaking

Public speaking involves the preparation of a purposeful presentation designed to increase knowledge, to foster understanding, or to promote change in listeners' attitudes, values, beliefs or behaviors (AAC&U Oral Communication VALUE Rubric). Competent public speakers are able to achieve their communication goals through the use of delivery skills suitable to the topic, purpose and audience (Morreale, et al., 1998). 

Specifically, competent speakers demonstrate the following abilities in relation to preparation and delivery ( Morreale, et al., 1998):  


  • Choose and narrow a topic appropriate to the audience and occasion
  • Communicate the thesis or specific purpose in a manner appropriate to the audience and occasion
  • Provide supporting material, including digital or non-digital presentation aids, appropriate to the audience and occasion
  • Use an organizational pattern appropriate to the topic, audience, occasion, or purpose


  • Use language appropriate to the audience and occasion
  • Use vocal variety in rate, pitch, and volume to heighten and maintain interest appropriate to the audience and occasion
  • Use pronunciation, grammar, and articulation appropriate to the audience and occasion
  • Use physical behaviors that suport the verbal message

Advanced speakers, like university graduates, should also be able to

  • Incorporate information from a variety of sources to support his/her message
  • Identify and use appropriate statistics to support her/his message
  • Use motivational appeals that build on values, expectations, and needs of the audience
  • Develop messages that influence attitudes, beliefs and actions

These competencies together with standards of performance are provided in the National Communication Association Competent Speaker Speech Evaluation Form, a valid and reliable tool for assessing public speaking performance. (Rubrics from this resource are available immediately below.)  The National Communication Association's speech criteria are also reflected in the AAC&U's Oral Communication VALUE Rubric, a faculty developed and vetted assessment tools.


NCA Competent Speaker Speech Rubric (Descriptive)

NCA Competent Speaker Speech Rubric (Holistic)

AAC&U's Oral Communication VALUE Rubric

Rubric for Capstone Presentation (UCM Engineering)

Group Communication 

Group communication involves three or more people, and serves to further the specific goals of the group or team. 

Skilled group communicators build upon their interpersonal communication skills to effectively navigate the dynamics of a group interaction, including team projects in and outside of the classroom. Teamwork requires students to use their communication skills to collaborate, manage conflict and build consensus.

In addition to the interpersonal communication skills, competent group communicators will be able to (Morreale et. al., 1998):

  • Identify and manage misunderstandings
  • Ask relevant questions
  • Answer questions concisely
  • Give concise and accurate directions
  • Keep group discussions relevant and focused
  • Understand and adapt to people from other cultures, organizations, or groups

Students skilled in group communication also need to give and receive constructive feedback about their ideas. Giving constructive feedback requires focusing on ideas and behaviors, instead of individuals, being as positive as possible, and offering suggestions for improvement. Receiving feedback requires listening well, asking for clarification if the comment is unclear, and being open to change and other ideas (University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence).

Rubrics and Resources

AAC&U's Teamwork VALUE Rubric

University of Waterloo: Methods for Assessing Group Work

University of Waterloo: Tips for Helping Students Give and Receive Feedback

Interpersonal Communication (One-on-one)

Interpersonal communication faciliates relationships between two individuals in social and professional conversations through the appropriate use of verbal and non-verbal behaviors. 

Through effective interpersonal communication students can build and maintain personal and professional relationships, fulfill their own interpersonal needs, and manage conflict while respecting all interactants' rights. Students can also respond to others' attempts to build relationships and reciprocate by self-disclosing, focusing on the other, empathizing, and displaying affinity (Morreale et. al., 1998).

The National Communication Association's Conversation Skills Rating Scale offers a valid and reliable rating scale to assess students' interpersonal communication skills that can be adapted for classroom use. 

Advanced students should be able to:

  • Approach and engage in conversation with new people in new settings with confidence
  • Maintain conversations by taking turns, managing the interaction, reciprocal conversation, self-disclosure, and altercentrism
  • Feel and convey empathy to others
  • Identify conflict situations
  • Assert themselves while respecting others' rights
  • Allow others to express different views and attempt to understand them
  • Describe others' viewpoints and differences of opinion
  • Be open-minded about and receptive to another's point of view
  • Provide and accept constructive feedback


Interpersonal Communication Rubric (descriptive)

Interpersonal Communication Rubric (holistic)


Listening is the ability to receive, construct meaning from, and respond to spoken and non-verbal messages. Effective listening involves literal and critical comprehension of the ideas and information being communicated orally  (Morreale, et al., 1998).

Competent communicators must first master basic listening skills, including being able to recognize main ideas, identify supporting details, recognize explicit relationships among ideas, and recall basic ideas and details. These skills lay the foundation for the more advanced skills expected of a university graduate, which enable them to meet their communication goals in diverse contexts, whether it be in interpersonal and small group interactions, or in attending to a public presentation or address.

Advanced listening skills include:

  • Attending with an open mind
  • Perceiving the speakers purpose and organization of ideas and information
  • Discriminating statements of fact from opinion
  • Distinguishing emotional from logical arguments
  • Detecting bias and prejudice
  • Recognizing the speaker’s attitude as reflected in verbal and non-verbal messages
  • Synthesizing and evaluate by drawing logical inferences and conclusions
  • Recalling the implications and arguments
  • Recognizing discrepancies between a speaker’s verbal and non-verbal messages

For additional descriptions of these abilities see, Speaking and Listening Competencies for College Students. Morreale, Rubin, and Jones. 1998. PDF pp. 10-12. 


Additional Resources

Harvard Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, guide and resources for working in groups. 

University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning Centre, guide and resources for group communication and teamwork.

Engineering Specific Resources

Free ebook from Georgia Tech, with input from executives who hire engineers and scientists.

IEEE Professional Communication Society, Resources for Educators page has podcast series, as well as a service learning database for communication projects.

ASME business communication resources


Morreale, S., Rubin, R. B., and Jones, E. (Eds.) (1998). Speaking and Listening Competencies for College Students. National Communication Association.  Reviewed and reaffirmed by NCA's Educational Policies Board in the Spring of 2012.

Rubin, R B. (1996). Setting Expectations for Speech Communication and Listening. New Directions for Higher Education, (96), 19-29.