My mentor teacher assigns the children a monthly project as homework each month. The monthly projects are not designed to take up a lot of time. While we hope thought and effort are put into them, a quality project could be done in1-2 nights.
Our real reason for the projects is for the children to make something at home that they can present to the class. Yes, my first grade students give oral presentations. They talk about their project and then field questions. As teacher we sit back and watch (and give occasional help if needed). The children are in charge. The best thing is that the other children in the class LOVE seeing the projects and listening the presentations. It is not like high school and college in which you are dreading presentation day.
The skill that this project lays the foundation for is invaluable. Public speaking is one of the most common fears among adults. My question is, would these same adults be nearly as terrified if they had been practicing giving speeches in a safe environment since the first grade? My guess is no. As a communication major, public speaking is talked about, critiqued, and worked on regularly. It amazed me that the skills we are working on with our first graders are the same ones being worked on in early comm classes (Effective Public Speaking and Business Communication are the first two that come to mind). In college we preach eye contact, not relying on a pre-written speech, speaking confidently, clearly, and with animation. Guess what? In first grade we focus on the same things, and even the more advanced skill of answering questions on the spot from an audience.
After a few more monthly projects, I can promise you that my first graders will be better public speakers than many people I have seen in interview and in my classes. They are getting a foundation now, that if reinforced well carry well beyond school and into their careers and daily lives.
I can't wait for the next round of projects!