This, my friends, is probably the very best lesson plan of all time. Okay, perhaps slightly hyperbolic, but what I do know is my students love it, I love it, and it’s never the same thing twice all year. Who isn’t already using TED talks in their classrooms? Who doesn’t already love them? This assignment takes something we already love, and makes it even better! You’re welcome.
First, as part of my AP Language students’ summer homework, they were required to visit the TED site. They were to browse through the categories, watch as many TED talks as they could find which sparked their interest, and then select one that they wanted to argue either for or against in an argumentative essay.
When school began in September, I graded all the essays as rough drafts. I compiled a list of their chosen TED talks and made a schedule of TEDnesdays. Any Wednesday not booked by a student’s talk became teacher choice, and allowed me to get in some of my favorites as well.
Some favorite talks that generate really great conversations are:
Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”
This one is good to use at the beginning of the year, to start a conversation with students about what they want our classroom to look like to spark and inspire creativity rather than kill it.
Dan Pick’s “The Puzzle of Motivation”
This talk is engaging, informative, and relevant for students who are struggling to get or stay motivated.
Tim Urban’s “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator”
Urban uses humor & stick figure drawings to discuss this highly relatable topic.
I distribute the schedule to all students, so they know which talks they’ll miss if they are absent, and can watch them and complete an analysis on their own.
Each TEDnesday follows the same plan and allows me to address the following CCSS in Speaking & Listening:
Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.
- I will be able to identify the claim and analyze the rhetorical appeals presented by the speaker
- Complete the TED Talk analysis chart
- Participate thoughtfully and respectfully in the group discussion
The person who chose the talk has a special job on their TEDnesday. Essentially, they become the teacher. They come up and introduce their talk to the class, with an emphasis on why they selected the talk. They give us background on the speaker so we know we’ve got the ethos part covered before we begin watching. Students complete the following analysis chart before, during and after watching the talk:
Next, the student who selected the talk is responsible for leading a discussion (Socratic seminar-style) using deeper-level questions they’ve developed in preparation for their TEDnesday and sent to me in advance.
At the end of the 1st semester, students take their original argumentative essay they wrote for summer homework and edit, revise, and resubmit a polished final draft based on our TEDnesday analysis and class discussions.
I love this assignment for many reasons.
- It is different every Wednesday, (even every period) but is structured in the same way, so it adds routine and structure to the class while at the same time it’s always new and fresh. This is an integral part of both classroom management and student engagement.
- Students are given autonomy to select any talk their hearts desire, which means the topics are vast and varied, they are interesting, they are out of the scope and sequence of a normal English lesson, and I learn more about what my students care about and why.
- It sparks my imagination and creativity for assignments. For instance, we watched Josh Kauffman’s TEDx talk “The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything” and I assigned the 20 hours project, which requires students to commit to a task for 20 hours between now and June and to record themselves doing the task or presenting it in front of the class and then writing a reflection. Students signed up for many things, from snowboarding, to learning French, to playing guitar.
- In terms of their speaking & listening skills, it’s a fantastic way to teach students how to engage with their peers in deeper-level conversations about a variety of subjects. We engage in large-group discussions, which allow students to learn from each other, to deepen their own understanding of the different topics, and to hear other unique perspectives they may not have previously considered. They also see wonderful examples of effective public speaking and can note and use those traits in their own presentations throughout the year.
- It teaches them the elements of effective argumentation. They note the overall claim and then have to find supporting evidence. They also label that evidence with the type of rhetorical strategy and the appeal. This helps shape their own understanding of not only the topic of the talk, but also the way to present a balanced, effective, engaging, and persuasive argument.
There are so many reasons to love TEDnesday, but the best one of all is that student after student comes into my classroom on Wednesday morning saying “Yay, it’s TEDnesday today!” What more can a teacher hope for?
In fact, I’ve had such success with this process that I have implemented it with my general education English 10 and 11 classes, just omitting the summer work component, and they love it too.
Let me know if you try #TEDnesday in your classroom and how your students respond.