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Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Engaging Assignment: Have Students Create Their Own TED Talks

If you really want to challenge your gifted kids, have them come up with a truly original idea or new perspective. A solution, a new invention, a new argument. This is indeed a challenge.

That is the whole premise behind the popular TED Talks videos featured on the Internet. TED, a non-profit organization, promotes the spreading of ideas by inviting people from all walks of life and disciplines to give talks on different subjects. This is also the premise behind the TED Talks ELA unit I created for my gifted students, which you can also use with your students if you like.

The unit incorporates a host of Common Core English language arts standards, from reading, researching, speaking, and writing, and engages students in creative and critical thinking skills. I broke the unit into four phases, which I will explain below.

Phase 1:

Students read a series of articles from the TED website, explaining the organization’s mission, requirements for speakers, etc. Students learn about concepts such as non-profits, bias, and pseudoscience. After each reading, I test students with a series of multiple-choice and short answer response questions, which I designed using the required articles.

Phase 2:

Students learn about the different types of talks and evaluate various TED Talks speakers (using a rubric I designed). I provide them a list of links to pre-approved videos. Many of the videos feature children giving talks (warning: not all TED Talks are appropriate for children. Watch them ahead of time!) Students study the speakers’ delivery, use of technology, topic, and organization.

Phase 3:

Now, students are ready to write their own TED Talk. The talk must be based around an approved idea, which must be either a new idea or invention or a new argument or way of approaching an old idea. This differs from many school speech competitions, where students, for example, can talk about any topic they’re interested in, such as bullying or cats. I tell them that unless they have designed a new technology to curb bullying, then it’s an overused, over-talked about topic that has been exhausted (not to say, of course, it’s not important, but it must be addressed in a new fashion). During this phase, you can have students write an essay or speech in an opinion paper format. I also asked students to consider how they will incorporate technology into the speech (a requirement). When finished, students practice rehearsing the speech in front of classmates, who can provide positive feedback.

Phase 4:

It’s time to videotape the talks. Students have a time limit (5 minutes) to film their talks. When done taping, they must consider how they want to share their talks, possibly with the class, school, or community. The talks could be aired over the school’s morning news, for example.

TED Talks are a fantastic way to use technology to expose students to new and different ideas, perspectives, and topics. They will watch people who are passionate and skilled in their various fields. But to take the experience to a new level, why not have them create their own “talk,” which will develop valuable 21st century skills in the process?


Steve Haberlin is a graduate assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida and an educator with 10 years of experience.