a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Monday, December 29, 2014


I want my students to be doing the work of readers and writers, not the work of school, as often as possible.  So, whenever I come across a text that interests me, I immediately wonder about the possibilities for application in the classroom.  For years, I have been using TED talks as non-print text for ‘reading,’ but recently I started to think about TED talks as a model for writing.

One of our power standards for our last unit was the 8th grade English Language Arts Common Core Standard 7 for Reading Informational Text.  This standard requires students to “evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.”

What better way to achieve this standard than by analyzing TED talks and ultimately creating TED talks of our own?

So, we got started. 

My students had already viewed Philippe Petit’s TED talk on creativity, 

Sarah Kay’s TED talks on spoken word and storytelling, 

and Angela Duckworth’s TED talk on grit.

So, to start, we revisited these TED talks and began to talk about what we remembered in regards to content and presentation.  I ended up creating this chart to organize our thinking.

Then, we watched a few more TED talks with blank charts in hand: Crystal Chang’s Before I die I want to, Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Why lunch lady’s are heroes.

At this point, I introduced the idea of our own TED talk event.  Using How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentations by Jeremy Donovan as a reference, I developed some expectations and guidelines for students to create their own TED talks.  I even used the example outline in Donovan’s book to create a template for the students to use to plan their talks. 

As students began to plan their own talks, they needed constant reassurance and modeling.  I wanted students to focus on TED talks that were short and delivered the sort of expertise my students possess.  So, I also shared Stacy Kramer’s The best gift I ever survived and Laura Trice’s Remember to say thank you.

When the frustration level had reached a record high and confidence had a reached a staggering low, we regrouped by spending almost an entire class period going through this list of actual TED talk titles and discussing who in the class might be able to give a TED talk with the same title or a similar structure.  My students always impress me at times like these by identifying strengths in each other that I wouldn’t even been able to name.  Our discussion led to most of the topics that students ultimately chose. 

I used this presentation to illustrate some key points about creating slides.  We talked about the fact that a noisy slide background takes away from the image that matters, that basic fonts communicate messages more clearly, that images are stronger than words, and that fewer slide transitions make it easier to concentrate on talking.  To my amazement, students really got the idea.  I think it helped to have seen so many successful models.

To make the actual day of our TED event special, I did a few things, too.  I made sure we had reserved a space in our building that is set up for special presentations like this.  I got white plastic tablecloths, juice, and granola bars, crackers, and cookies.  I brought in a giant red circle (an oversized tree skirt my mom had made me from red canvas) to serve as the standard red dot on which the presenters would stand.  My husband brought in his amp and microphone set-up to make things really official.  Students were given my remote to advance slides with the click of a button while remaining on the red dot.  Students had used Google Slides.  Once they had shared their presentations with me, it became fast and easy to transition from one presenter to another.  For students who chose not to use slides, I had a generic “TED voices” title slide to project behind them as they spoke. 

What really made the day a success, though, was that the students stepped up.  Not only did each student come prepared with an idea and a plan, but each student got quiet and listened during the presentations.  They cheered and encouraged one another.  Although they had whined, complained, and even tweeted about how hard it was to create a TED talk:
students actually talked about how much fun it was to experience the presentation day.  I had been worried about sitting through 22 TED talks in an hour and a half, but there was no way my students would’ve let me stop them.    

More than a week later, I am still glowing with pride. 

Here are the 22 Voices Strong TED talk topics my students presented:

1.    How NBA players inspire me

2.    My life with cars

3.    Live your life strong

4.    How to get along with people

5.    Before I die I want to live

6.    Do what you love

7.    Life in sports

8.    Benefits of being quiet

9.    A world of peace

10. People who are important to me

11. Why I ride horses

12. Pay attention to who inspires you

13. Benefits of having a pet

14. How to be lazy

15. How people make my life better

16. Body image

17. Roads guide us through life

18. Depression and why we should talk about it

19. How to avoid doing schoolwork

20. We need bikes in our lives

21. Forgive your siblings

22. How friends help each other