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The VCAA Plain English Speaking Award

Plain English Speaking Award (PESA) is a public-speaking competition for students aged 15-18 years. It provides an excellent opportunity for students to build self-confidence and extend their skills in oral communication, speech writing and research.

Plain English Speaking Award 2024: State Final

The Plain English Speaking Award 2024 State Final will be held at The Wheeler Centre on Friday 26 July 2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm.

Bookings to attend the State Final are now open on The Wheeler Centre website.

The Victorian state finalists in 2024 State Final are:

This table describes the student name, school and speech topic
Student NameSchoolSpeech Topic
Finnian ArmstrongOvernewton Anglican Community CollegeTell the truth
Connor RogalskyGippsland GrammarThe importance of increasing the focus on primary care in regional Australia
Anika NicholapillaiSt Monica's CollegeClimate change
Kayla JohnstoneHaileyburyThe domestic violence epidemic
Lucy EalesLoreto College BallaratYarning
Bayley MackiePhoenix P-12 Community CollegeThe power of words
Roshyna AttwalBacchus Marsh GrammarAustralia's shame: unveiling the youth justice crisis


Contact for further details.

Plain English Speaking Award 2024: Semifinals

The PESA Semifinals took place on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 June 2024.

The Victorian semifinalists in 2024 were:

This table describes names of semifinalists, school name and speech topic
SemifinalistSchool nameSpeech topic
Aaditya ThakurSuzanne Cory High SchoolThe Nature of Beauty
Abbie CorrellBendigo Senior Secondary CollegeInternalised Ageism
Aditya Krishna MoorthyMazenod CollegeProtest Now
Anika NicholapillaiSt Monica's CollegeClimate Change
Bayley MackiePhoenix P-12 Community College The Power of Words
Bonnie GreenStrathmore Secondary CollegeBenefits of multigenerational housing
Chloe DaviesHuntingtower SchoolEating Disorders: More than what we see in the mirror
Connor RogalskyGippsland GrammarThe Importance of Increasing the Focus on Primary Care in Regional Australia
Declan MolloyCornish CollegeMental health awareness: How aware is too aware?
Fatima ZahraSirius College EastmeadowsReforming Australia's Asylum seeker policy
Finnian ArmstrongOvernewton Anglican Community College Tell the Truth
Hannah CunninghamStar of the Sea CollegeThe AFL's Response to Domestic Violence
Julia AdesCaulfield Grammar SchoolWhat makes a culture?
Kayla JohnstoneHaileybury Girls' CollegeThe Domestic Violence Epidemic
Liam ShawCaulfield Grammar SchoolThe Great Replacement Theory
Lucy EalesLoreto College BallaratYarning
Mustafa HamdanPenleigh and Essendon Grammar SchoolWhere's the line?
Noah CameronYarra Valley GrammarStepping up
Ranudi Loku HitageIvanhoe Girls' Grammar She's a Liar - A Woman's Battle to Attain Justice (Against Victim-Blaming) within Society
Roshyna AttwalBacchus Marsh GrammarAustralia's Shame: Unveiling the Youth Justice Crisis
Sara AmendolaSacred Heart Girls' CollegeDifferent Teams
Stella ShuteGeelong Grammar SchoolSocial media: My generation's current crisis
Vince MandadoWilliamstown High SchoolExercise: The need to empower
Zainab ZaaimDandenong High SchoolModern Slavery

Passionate speeches at the Plain English Speaking Award 2023

Two young men holding their trophies

L-R: State Final Winner Wesley Chen from Caulfield Grammar,
and State Final runner-up Corbin Afanasyev
from Nossal High School, at the Wheeler Centre

Speeches on the importance of traditional languages in preserving cultures and the recent public backlash against trans communities took out first and second place respectively at the state final of the Plain English Speaking Award (PESA) 2023.

The final, held on Friday 21 July at the Wheeler Centre, was emceed by Zuva Goverwa, winner of the Victorian State Final in 2021.

Six state finalists spoke on themes of race, class, culture, capitalism, and gender. Adjudicators make their selections based on three categories – depth of research and quality of analysis; degree of logic and structure in developing an argument; and delivery.

Full recordings and transcripts of each speaker will be available on the PESA webpage from Tuesday 1 August.

Wesley Chen from Caulfield Grammar won with his speech ‘The Importance of Linguistic Heritage in a World of Globalisation.’

When Wesley’s grandpa visited Australia from China, they had no shared language and could not communicate. ‘Since that interaction with my grandpa, I knew I had to do something about it, about the embarrassment I felt, about the frustration of not being able to speak to him.’

In his speech, Wesley explored the connection between language, culture, and history with nuance and passion. ‘When we lose the ability to communicate in a certain language, we lose the chance to learn about the traditional wisdom of that culture, knowledge which has been distilled and refined through countless generations,’ he reflected.

‘The essence of cultural preservation lies within the ability to sustain language. And practicing traditional languages, whether written or spoken, is a fundamental right.’

Corbin Afanasyev from Nossal High School was runner-up with his speech ‘The Culture War’. Corbin delivered a blistering critique of the Australian public’s rhetorical attacks on trans communities. ‘One effect this has had on real people’s lives is to limit the access of transgender folk to life-saving medical care,’ Corbin said.

‘The widespread arguments surrounding transgender healthcare has made it politically challenging to provide special training to medical practitioners and to fund accessible public gender-affirming treatment, especially for young people .’

As state winner, Wesley will represent Victoria at the PESA National Final in August. The VCAA congratulates him and all other finalists for their remarkable speeches.


What is PESA?

About the competition

PESA is a public-speaking competition for students aged 15-18 years. It provides an excellent opportunity for students to build self-confidence and extend their skills in oral communication, speech writing and research.

The competition encourages students from government, Catholic and independent schools to speak to their peers from other schools on topics they are passionate about.

In Australia each year states and territories organise and conduct competitions at school, regional and state levels. State winners then go to the national final, which is held in the various states and territories on a rotational basis.

In Victoria, PESA is organised and conducted by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

Learn more about the competition and what it means to speak in plain English.

What is PESA transcript

History of PESA - 40th Anniversary

This short documentary celebrates 40 years of the national competition. The 40th anniversary national final was held in Melbourne in 2017.

History of PESA - 40th Anniversary transcript

National final – Plain English Speaking Award – 14 August 2017

The 2017 national final of the Plain English Speaking Award, hosted by the VCAA, took place on Monday 14 August at the National Gallery of Victoria. Seven Finalists gathered from around Australia to share the winning speeches from their state and territory finals. The competition was extremely close and saw Emily Kim from North Sydney Girls' High School in New South Wales take out top honours, with Aditi Tamhankar from St Peter's Girls' School, South Australia as the runner-up.

Emily Kim, whose winning speech 'The P word' unpacked the stigma around menstruation, will go on to represent Australia at the English Speaking Union's 2018 International Public Speaking Competition (IPSC) in London. The IPSC is one of the world's largest public speaking competitions, attracting more than 50,000 students from up to 50 countries across the globe.

Victoria was represented by state champion Fergus Dale, Caulfield Grammar School, whose speech 'The disregarded identity of regional Australia' challenged the long-held stereotypes of rural Australia by highlighting the innovation that occurs within regional multicultural societies.


Past Participants of PESA

2017 ESU International Public Speaking Award winner, Luke Macaronas

Schedule of finals

School level

Schools conduct their own competition and select a maximum of two students to go on to the state heats.

State heats

State Heats are held between Monday 20 and Friday 31 May 2024 from 9am-12:30pm each day.


Semifinals will be held on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 June 2024.

State final

The State Final will be held on Friday 26 July 2024.


State heats

  • Participants deliver a prepared speech of 6 minutes on a topic of their choice.
  • A warning bell sounds at 5 minutes and a final bell at 6 minutes.


  • Participants deliver a prepared speech of 6 minutes on a topic of their choice.
  • A warning bell sounds at 5 minutes and a final bell at 6 minutes.

State final

  • Participants deliver a prepared speech of 8 minutes on a topic of their choice.
  • A warning bell sounds at 7 minutes and a final bell at 8 minutes.

The impromptu speech

  • Speakers are given a topic 4 minutes before they are due to present the impromptu speech.
  • All contestants speak on the same topic.
  • The time allowed for the impromptu speech is 3 minutes.
  • A warning bell sounds at 2 minutes and a final bell at 3 minutes.

Please note

  • Students should prepare speeches that do not exceed the time limit (6 minutes for prepared and 3 minutes for impromptu). Adjudicators will allow students to finish a sentence or thought if it means going over the time limit but they will not take into account anything substantial that is spoken after the bell.
  • At the State final speakers will be required to  expand their prepared speech to 8 minutes. The time allowed for the impromptu speech is 3 minutes.
  • Speakers will not be allowed to use a lectern at any of the finals. A microphone may be needed at the state final.

Entry conditions

  1. Contestants must be Australian citizens or permanent residents of Australia.
  2. The competition is open to all secondary students who are between 15 and 18 years of age on the 1st of January of their competing year.
  3. Schools may enter a maximum of 2 students in one year.
  4. Students may enter the competition more than once (i.e. in subsequent years).
  5. When two students from one school enter the Award in one year, they must attend the same state heats.
  6. Adjudicator's decisions are final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  7. Individual written assessments of speakers will not be given. Adjudicators will provide verbal feedback on the day of the final.
  8. The entrant and the coordinating teacher are responsible for complying with these entry conditions and completing all sections of the entry form.
  9. The entry fee paid to the VCAA is $55.00 per school, not per student. The fee is GST free. This entry fee is waived for schools who host a state heats.
  10. The VCAA needs to know each student’s prepared speech topic and there is a section for this on the entry form. If this is unknown at the time of entry, or if it changes prior to the state heats, please inform the VCAA by email or tell the adjudicators on the day of the final.
  11. Microphones and lecterns will not be used in state heatss of the Award; students should practice speaking without them.
  12. Visual aids such as PowerPoint presentations or slides are not permitted in the Plain English Speaking Award.
  13. The VCAA will not be held responsible for any comments made by students who take part in the Plain English Speaking Award. Students take full responsibility for the content of their speeches and should be mindful that these speeches may be printed, recorded and distributed and, as a result, are subject to the Australian laws of defamation, slander and libel.

The prepared speech

The Plain English Speaking Award requires students to speak clearly and convincingly, in plain English, on an issue that shows an awareness of a world beyond their immediate environment.

General guidelines

There are four key components to a successful speech.

  1. The subject matter should be worldly and should concern a social issue.
  2. The subject matter should be well constructed.
  3. The delivery must be convincing and engaging.
  4. The words of the speech must be in plain English.

Read the adjudication criteria below to see how you will be marked at the Plain English Speaking Award.

Length of prepared speech

In the State heats  and Semifinals the prepared speech should be on a topic of your choice and no longer than 6 minutes. A warning bell sounds at 5 minutes and a final bell at 6 minutes. 

Adjudicators will allow students to finish a sentence or thought if it means going over the time limit but they will not take into account anything substantial that is spoken after the bell.

Choosing a topic

The Plain English Speaking Award requires you to speak convincingly in plain English on an issue that shows an awareness of a world beyond your immediate environment.

This competition places no rigid restriction on topic choices. You are free to speak on any topic, provided that it focuses on a social issue.

Your ideas are crucial to making a good speech. Aim to tell your listeners something new. There are many ways to do this. For example, you could raise awareness about a little-known issue, or give a new angle on a well-known one. Feel free to use personal experiences to illustrate your issue – these examples give the listeners an insight into who you are.

In contrast, clichés and platitudes make dull speeches. An example is a speech which tells us that homelessness is bad. This might be a topic that interests you greatly but simply telling the audience that homelessness is bad will not provide the audience with any insights because everybody knows that already. Ask yourself: what will be new to the audience?

The two steps for choosing a speech topic:

  • Choose a topic that genuinely interests you. Your own passion for that area will automatically infuse insight into your speech.
  • Ask whether your choice demonstrates social awareness. If it is overly personal, can you instead use your personal experiences to illustrate your view on a wider issue?

The best speeches will combine worldly issues with personal experiences to give the listeners a package of ideas that they may have never heard before.

Constructing a speech


Structure in a speech is essential because it makes the content of your speech more understandable to the listener. There is no single right way to structure a speech, but always ask whether your structure enhances the comprehension, effectiveness and persuasiveness of your speech.

In constructing your speech, consider these elements of structure.

Purpose of the speech
It is crucial that you establish the purpose of your speech within the first 30 seconds, that is, what you will achieve by the end of your speech. Establishing a purpose early is important because each subsequent sentence should then help to fulfil that purpose. Without a clear purpose, listeners will not appreciate the full power of your words because they will not know what you are trying to prove.

Logical structure of ideas
There should be a smooth flow from one idea to the next. Lead the listener to follow your train of thought. Whether or not you ‘signpost’ your ideas is up to you. Signposting is when a speaker succinctly summarises his or her points at the start of the speech before expanding on them. An example of signposting is: “Today I have three points to discuss. First …; second…; and lastly…" (all in two sentences). Signposting can be effective but you might find it too blunt for your speech. Ask yourself: will signposting enhance the comprehension of the information or will it jar too much to be useful?

Engaging opening to the speech
As well as establishing your purpose, your opening should capture the interest of the audience. Consider ways of doing this, for example, with an anecdote, a memory, a quote.

Powerful conclusion
Your conclusion should remind the audience of the purpose of the speech and reinforce your message. If you have not timed your speech to make sure that it goes no longer than six minutes, you may find that the powerful conclusion is made too late – well after the six minutes. That would result in you losing points.


In constructing your speech, consider the elements of content.

Message of the speech

Decide what you want your message to be and prepare your speech around that message. The message is the one idea you want your listeners to remember if they remember only one thing from your entire speech. This is also known as your ‘contention’. The message of the speech is closely associated to its purpose. The purpose of a speech should be to make the audience remember the message. But the two are not always the same. Sometimes the purpose is to weigh up a conflict of ideas, but the message resolves that conflict. For example, if the purpose of a speech was to explore the difficulties in balancing economic growth with environmental sustainability, then the message could conclude that environmental sustainability is a prerequisite for long-term wealth. If you struggle to articulate your message, look to the insight that motivated your topic choice. Often the two are the same – if your fresh thought drives your speech, the chances are that you will want the audience to remember your fresh thought. In other words, make your insight the central message of your speech.

Authoritative opinion
Adjudicators expect you to have a deep understanding of your issue. You can demonstrate your knowledge and understanding by supporting your analysis and your assertions with thoroughly researched evidence. Using a variety of sources will help you achieve this.

Humour in a speech can be enormously effective in capturing audience attention. However, the humour must be relevant and witty. Irrelevant comedy routines will sap meaning from the message and damage your credibility. Humour must also be natural and not forced. If you are not funny, then perhaps your speech will be more persuasive without jokes and that is fine too.

Summary: Constructing your speech

In constructing your speech, consider the elements of structure and content:

  • Have a logical structure.
  • State the purpose of your speech early.
  • Engage the audience from the outset.
  • Conclude by reinforcing your central message.
  • Research is important.
  • Humour is valuable but not mandatory.

Delivering the speech

The goal in effective delivery is to increase your credibility and to hold the audience’s attention. Remember always that you must create the impression that you are an authority on your topic.

Eye contact

People do not listen to speeches; they listen to people speaking.

In face-to-face human communication eye-contact is essential. Eye contact shows confidence. It suggests that you have nothing to hide, and increases the sincerity and credibility of your speech. It also engages your listeners because you will be speaking to them individually. Keep in mind that you are speaking to all the individuals in the audience. Focusing solely on a group of friends or the adjudicators will ostracise the other audience members and will destroy the attentive, intense atmosphere of your speech. The best speeches seize and hold the entire crowd’s attention. You can only do that if you involve the entire crowd.


The way you stand affects the image you project. Your stance should reflect the point you are trying to convey. If a speaker slouches while talking about the importance of discipline in everyday living, then he or she will lose credibility. Your stance might shift at different parts of the speech. That is fine, but always ask whether the way you stand, move or gesture enhances your credibility with the audience.


The audience must hear you. Ensure that you speak loudly, slowly and clearly. Your lowest pitch may be the most effective, especially if you are nervous. Practice presenting your speech in different sized rooms. Use a test audience to ascertain whether or not you can be heard clearly.

Make sure that you pace your speech so that you are not speaking too quickly or too slowly. Variety of pace is important and often used to make a point in the speech. A pause can also be used to stress a point.

Variation is the key - any vocal style, no matter how engaging initially, will fade into background noise if sustained for six minutes without variation. Light and shade are crucial.

In summary, to make your speech interesting, vary the pace, pitch and volume of your voice to suit the emotion you want to elicit at a particular point. 


Sometimes a speaker will dramatise his or her speech and act as though they were playing the orator in a melodrama. While this approach would certainly require abundant eye-contact and vocal variation, it fails the test of believability. Dramatised deliveries are always artificial and are not in the spirit of plain English speaking.

Summary: Delivering the speech

  • Make eye contact with your audience.
  • Your stance and gestures should match the point you are making.
  • Your words must be clear and audible.
  • Vary your vocal delivery.
  • Avoid dramatising your speech.

Using plain English

Plain English is using language that makes your message easy to understand. It involves being concise, being precise and avoiding inflated words.

Be concise
Being concise means using as few words as possible, without sacrificing meaning. You might need to cull words or sentences that do not add clarity or emotion to your speech.  

Being concise is important for two reasons:

  • Short sentences are easier to follow. In a speech, an audience has no opportunity to revisit what you have said. Long sentences require a listener to keep track of the whole sentence; short sentences register points quickly and allow the speech to maintain momentum.
  • It adds power to your words. You only have six minutes to speak and you want to pack as many ideas as possible into those minutes. To do that you must be concise. Excessive use of words dilute the power of your speech.

Be precise
Being precise means using words and sentences that have clear and unambiguous meaning. Words that are vague plurals, like ‘emotions’ or ‘policies’ are imprecise. If a speaker said that ‘government policies have failed to protect human rights’ then the audience would want to know which government, which policies and what precise human rights were being talked about.

Inflated words
Choose short words over long words if they have the same meaning. For example, use ‘improve’ rather than ‘ameliorate’; ‘buy’ rather than ‘purchase’. Short words are concise and more hard-hitting.

Avoid jargon as much as possible. Be sure to explain any jargon that is unavoidable because it is part of your topic. So if you use jargon, either you leave the audience ignorant, or you explain it. Unnecessary explanations take time without adding much meaning; too many explanations results in a speaker confusing the audience.

Summary: plain English

  • Be concise.
  • Be precise.
  • Use short words where possible.
  • Avoid jargon.

Quotation and plagiarism

You must acknowledge your source when using the words of others. A brief reference can easily be made in the context of a speech to acknowledge authors of phrases and sayings.

The deliberate unacknowledged use of the words of other speakers or writers in order to claim ownership of those words is a serious infringement of accepted ethics in any context and will result in the disqualification of Plain English Speaking Award participants.

Notes and prompt cards

The use of notes, in any form, is permitted. However, it is difficult to give the appearance of knowledge and sincerity if speeches are merely read, or if there is excessive use of prompt cards. Excessive reading of speeches and referral to notes also interrupts and adversely affects presentation.

Use of microphones, lecterns and props

In the Plain English Speaking Award:

  • A microphone is not permitted in state heats. Sound amplification may be provided by the VCAA at Semifinals and the State Final.
  • A lectern should not be used at any level of the competition.

Props are not permitted at any level of the competition, including visual aids such as slides or PowerPoint.

Read the speeches of state finalists.

The impromptu speech

In the impromptu section of the Plain English Speaking Award students are asked to prepare a short speech in four minutes, immediately prior to delivering the speech. In life, it is common to be asked to speak ‘off the cuff’ with little or no preparation time. This is therefore excellent practice for such situations.

Length of impromptu speech

In the school and state heats the length of the impromptu speech should be no longer than 3 minutes. A warning bell sounds at 2 minutes and a final bell at 3 minutes. Adjudicators will allow you to finish a sentence if it requires going over the final bell.

Topic of impromptu speech

The topic will be set by the VCAA for Victorian state heats, semifinals and state finals.

You will have 4 minutes to prepare the impromptu speech after sighting the topic.

Important notice: Printed materials and pre-written notes are not allowed to be taken into the preparation room (e.g. dictionaries or notes on palm cards), although you can use writing material (pen and paper) to plan your response. 

Mobile phones are not permitted in the preparation room either.

The set topic will be broad and will assume knowledge of current social and political issues. A broad general knowledge is an advantage as it enables speakers to quickly recognise the context of the topic and draw on relevant references at short notice.

Impromptu speech topics should be familiar ground for all speakers. They should be open-ended and allow for a range of interpretations.

Some examples of past impromptu speeches

  • The best things in life cost
  • Home is where the heart is
  • The power of one
  • Make my day

Constructing the impromptu speech

Although the impromptu speech can not be prepared prior to the day it is delivered because the topic is unknown, it is definitely possible for you to speak ‘off the cuff’ with confidence. Having a plan or structure can minimise the fear associated with impromptu speaking.

Hints on how to approach the impromptu

As soon as the topic is sighted, brainstorm ideas/responses on paper. Three or four headings should be sufficient.

Starting with one concrete point, extend your response to include two or more related points. For example:

  • personal response, wider arena (e.g. school or family), even wider arena (Australia or the world) OR
  • three separate responses/reactions to the topic, preferably signposted at the start of the speech OR
  • make a point, state your reason for believing in it, give an example to illustrate your belief and also draw a conclusion at the end of the speech.

Draw on life’s experiences and knowledge and try to discuss the topic in broad terms. It is preferable to move beyond your personal response and refer to world or local events/issues.

Open with a definite statement or turn the topic into a rhetorical question followed by a comment that gives some indication of what is to follow.

Close on a decisive note.

Try not to repeat the issues discussed in your prepared speech.

Prepare your palm cards with headings and key words/phrases which can be recalled at a glance when you are speaking.

Awareness of current events/issues/personalities is crucial to performing well in the impromptu. Read the newspaper and watch or listen to the news in the media – particularly on the day of the Plain English Speaking Award final.

Delivering the impromptu speech

The impromptu speech is intended to reveal your ability to develop a point of view on a general topic and to organise a three-minute presentation within a limited preparation time (4 minutes).

Adjudicators look for clarity of thought, structure (see Constructing the impromptu speech) and the effective use of plain spoken English.

The guidelines provided under the Delivering the prepared speech and Using Plain English sections of the Prepared speech  apply to the impromptu as well.

It is common to experience anxiety during the delivery of the impromptu speech. If this happens and you freeze, it is advisable to pause and take a deep breath (from the diaphragm) in order to gather thoughts before speaking again.

Avoid repetition, unless it is intended. You can avoid repetition if you have prepared three main headings as suggested in Constructing the impromptu speech as these enable you to make new points.

Adjudication criteria

The prepared speech (60%)

The panel of adjudicators are looking for a prepared speech which engages the audience, uses plain English and demonstrates social awareness.

They use a set of criteria for the prepared speech that covers the following:


  • Does the speech demonstrate research and planning?
  • Is there evidence of supporting material for the topic (for example, statistics, examples, quotes)?

Subject Matter

  • Does the speech demonstrate social awareness?
  • Is the speech original and intelligent in its exploration of the topic?
  • Does the speech have a convincing message that engages the audience?


  • Does the speaker develop the argument and line of thought logically and effectively?
  • Is the topic or purpose established early in the speech?
  • Does the speech have a satisfactory conclusion?
  • Does the speech have an overall sense of structure?


Are the speaker’s views stated clearly and in plain English? This is evident when the speaker avoids:

  • ineffectual repetitions, e.g.  frequent use of 'Ladies and Gentlemen'
  • pompous or condescending language
  • over dramatic expressions
  • awkward pauses
  • conspicuous use of notes, reading and shuffling palm cards
  • inappropriate quotations
  • irrelevant or inappropriate humour
  • cliches

Is the language appropriate for the topic and the audience?

Is the delivery audible and articulate?

Does the speaker use pitch, pace and pauses effectively?

Is the speaker's style confident, fluent and natural?

Does the speaker avoid extravagant gestures or movement?

The impromptu speech (40%)

In the impromptu section the adjudicators are looking for speeches which have a structure and move beyond the speaker’s personal experience to the wider arena (local and/or world events).

They use a set of criteria for the impromptu speech that covers the following:

  • Does the speaker demonstrate a broad general knowledge?
  • Does the speaker show that they can think clearly and creatively under pressure?
  • Is the speaker able to structure a speech in a relatively short time?
  • Does the speaker use plain English?

Overall impression

The combination of all the various components of speechmaking leaves an impression on the audience at the end of the speech. Adjudicators will consider:

  • Was the message clear and engaging?
  • Was it worth listening to?
  • Did the speaker appear to believe in what he/she was saying?
  • Did the audience appear to show understanding and appreciation?

Plain English speaking in the curriculum

The Plain English Speaking Award provides students with the opportunity to build self-confidence and extend their skills in researching, speechwriting and public speaking.

Participation in the competition supports student learning and assessment in VCE English/EAL by providing further opportunity to learn the key knowledge and practise the key skills. Participation in the Plain English Speaking Award also supports learning and assessment in VCAL Literacy (Oral Communication) and VCAL Personal Development Skills.

The Award supports learning and assessment in the Victorian Curriculum F-10, in a range of learning areas and capabilities.

VCE, VCAL and Victorian Curriculum F-10 links to the Plain English Speaking Award are detailed below.

VCE English/EAL

Students' success in the Award depends on their ability to use the same kinds of key knowledge and skills as those described in the VCE English/EAL Study Design .

Unit 1, Area of Study 2 Analysing and presenting argument

  • the conventions of discussion and debate such as active listening, checking for understanding and questioning
  • develop sound arguments using logic and reasoning and identify bias and reasoning in the arguments of others

Unit 4, Area of Study 2 Presenting Argument

  • understand how authors construct argument to position audiences, using sound reasoning, evidence and persuasive use of spoken language
  • apply the conventions of discussion and debate
  • develop reasoned arguments in oral form

In preparing and assessing students for VCE English/EAL teachers can use the Plain English Speaking Award as a context for task-oriented, authentic activities.

In preparing students for public speaking, teachers can involve the whole class in a range of related activities such as brainstorming ideas for speeches, delivering speeches in various class formats, and listening for a speaker's effectiveness.

Those students who may be reluctant public speakers can participate in significant supportive ways by providing 'critical friends' for speakers and by assisting in research and the writing of speeches.

VCAL Literacy Oral communication

In this unit learners will be able to use and respond to spoken language across a broad range of contexts.

The Plain English Speaking Award could be used to meet a number of the learning outcomes form either the Intermediate or Senior Literacy Oral Communication unit.

The research and writing of the presenter’s speech may also meet Literacy Reading and Writing learning outcomes.

VCAL Personal Development Skills

The purpose of the Personal Development Skills strand is to develop skills, knowledge and attitudes that lead toward:

  • social responsibility
  • building communities
  • civic responsibility
  • improved self-confidence and self-esteem
  • valuing civic participation in a demographic society.

The Plain English Speaking Award could also be used to meet outcomes from Intermediate Unit 1 Personal Development Skills or Senior Unit 2 Personal Development Skills.

Victorian Curriculum F-10

Students participating in the Plain English Speaking Award are able to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and understanding in various learning areas and capabilities of the Victorian Curriculum F-10, particularly in learning areas such as English and The Humanities, as well as capabilities such as Ethical capability and Critical and Creative Thinking.

While public speaking is the main focus of the Award, students also practise and demonstrate research skills, observe and apply the strategies of effective speakers, refine their thinking and reflect on the benefits of working together.


The Level 10 Speaking and listening mode of the Victorian Curriculum F-10 English describes knowledge, understanding and skills closely related to the preparation and delivery of formal speeches.

Content descriptions

  • Understand how language use can have inclusive and exclusive social effects, and can empower or disempower people (VCELA483)
  • Reflect on, extend, endorse or refute others’ interpretations of and responses to literature (VCELT484)
  • Identify and explore the purposes and effects of different text structures and language features of spoken texts, and use this knowledge to create purposeful texts that inform, persuade and engage audiences, using organisation patterns, voice and language conventions to present a coherent point of view on a subject (VCELY485)
  • Plan, rehearse and deliver presentations, selecting and sequencing appropriate content and multimodal elements to influence a course of action, speaking clearly and using logic, imagery and rhetorical devices in order to engage audiences (VCELY486)

Achievement standard

Students listen for ways features within texts can be manipulated to achieve particular effects. They show how the selection of language features can achieve precision and stylistic effect. They explain different viewpoints, attitudes and perspectives through the development of cohesive and logical arguments. They develop their own style by experimenting with language features, stylistic devices, text structures and images. They create a wide range of texts to articulate complex ideas. They make presentations and contribute actively to class and group discussions building on others' ideas, solving problems, justifying opinions and developing and expanding arguments.

Other learning areas

Student speeches in the Plain English Speaking Award frequently reflect knowledge gained in other learning areas of the Victorian curriculum. In particular, the speeches require students to demonstrate their social awareness and perspectives gained from Civics and Citizenship.

Speeches also draw on students' knowledge of:


The Victorian Curriculum F–10 also includes four capabilities, which are a discrete set of knowledge and skills taught explicitly in, and through, the learning areas. The four capabilities are Critical and Creative Thinking, Ethical, Personal and Social, and Intercultural. The Ethical and Critical and Creative Thinking capabilities are particularly important in the development of students’ speeches in the Plain English Speaking Award.

Ethical / Critical and Creative Thinking

Student speeches often involve ethical issues. Grappling with ethical issues involves drawing on knowledge and skills from a range of learning areas and capabilities, including the Critical and Creative Thinking capability and Ethical capability.

Ethical capability content can assist students in the following ways:

  • Identity what has ethical significance and why
  • Identify, analyse and evaluate ways to respond to ethical problems
  • Engage with ethical concepts and principles.

This content will assist students, for example, to pose an ethical issue, make nuanced claims, and to identify and respond to contestabilities that may shape the speech topic and its direction.

Critical and Creative Thinking capability content can assist students in the following ways:

  • Questioning and possibilities content, will, for example, assist students to construct a speech topic for the prepared speech and to analyse the impromptu topic
  • Reasoning content will assist students to present a coherent speech and to evaluate sources.
  • Metacognition content will assist students in strategies for learning, both in relation to the prepared speech and in planning how to approach the impromptu.

Participation of reluctant public speakers

Many people are reluctant and fearful of having to speak in public. It is often said that next to death, giving speeches is the most feared event.

In any public speaking activities in schools, teachers consider the needs of all students and provide positive, alternative roles or 'comfort zone' speaking situations for students who are fearful of speaking in some public situations.

In relation to the Plain English Speaking Award, reluctant speakers will obviously not benefit from being coerced or cajoled into a public speaking role. However, all students can be involved in some way in the event by providing input for preparatory activities such as group discussions and research. Participation of all students in writing and editing speeches can also be encouraged.

Some reluctant speakers are encouraged to speak and gain confidence when they see that thorough preparation and practice makes a difference, and when they see their peers improving and gaining confidence in highly supportive settings.