Well folks, it’s my last day of summer break. Tomorrow, it’s back to the grind for my *11th* year of teaching. Wow. As always, the end of summer is bittersweet… On the one hand, I’m sad that my time with my kids will be dramatically decreased, and I’m dreading the super early mornings; but, on the other, I’m excited for another school year. I can’t wait to catch up with my students from last year, meet my incoming freshman, and implement some of the ideas/strategies/etc. in my classroom that I’ve been thinking about this summer (more on that coming next week).
Today I’m sharing a project that I’ve done the last couple of years to kick things off in my AP Language and Composition/ English 11 class using TED Talks. My kids are always really engaged in this unit, it isn’t super hard to implement, and it is the perfect way to introduce them to the most basic concepts of rhetoric so that they have a good foundation for the course moving forward…
If you need a good introductory unit for your AP Language and Composition class, I strongly recommend using TED Talks. Here’s what I do:
STEP ONE: On the second(ish) day of school, I show Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” If you haven’t watched this yourself, you need to go do it RIGHT NOW. There are SO many great TED talks out there, but I really like this one because its message is so relevant to my students (who have been “schooled” for the last 11 years by this point) – they always have a lot of thoughts about his message and it sparks a good conversation about the way current education is structured, where priorities lie in education, and how they feel they’ve been affected by that system. . I also really like the fact that this a pretty simple, straight-forward speech. There’s nothing fancy about it – just a man standing on a stage – BUT, it’s still one of the most downloaded TED Talks of all time. I have my students think (and talk) about why that is… My students have (hopefully) just finished reading Thank You for Arguing as part of their summer reading at this point, so they should have some good vocabulary to discuss Robinsons’ delivery and persuasive techniques.
Then, after we’ve watched and discussed Robinson’s Talk thoroughly, I share what this has to do with OUR class…
See why I like this so much for the beginning of the year?!?
If you’re pressed for time, you could definitely stop here, but I go further…
STEP TWO: Next, I ask my students to explore the TED website on their own and select two Talks that interest them to analyze and share with the class. (I have students sign up for the Talks they want to analyze on a Google Doc so that there are no duplicates.) Here are the posting instructions I give…
Analytical Work/Discussion Board Post:
Students will offer a two-part written summary of and analysis of the persuasive strategies used in the TWO TED Talk videos of their choosing and post a review/analysis on the class discussion board. Your post should have the same title as the Talk so that your classmates can easily find it if they’d like to watch for themselves. Each discussion board post should include the following —
Part One: Simply tell me about this particular TED Talk. What is it about? Why did you pick this Talk? What questions or thoughts did it spark in you? Would you recommend this to someone else? Why or why not? Write respectfully and thoughtfully. Attempt to be “remarkable,” so that visitors will want to choose and remark on your post. Beyond that, write in a way that is meaningful and compelling. You must be sure to include the TED talk title and the speaker’s first and last name in your first sentence. (5-10 sentences total)
Part Two: Identify the Rhetorical Situation (SOAPS) for your chosen TED Talk. Then, point out the speaker’s use of rhetorical appeals (logos, ethos, & pathos) as well as any additional persuasive/speaking techniques that you notice. Pay attention to the speaker’s ARRANGEMENT (How is his/her speech organized?), STYLE (things like repetition, humor, etc.), and DELIVERY (volume, pace, movement, visuals, etc.). Ultimately, tell whether the speaker is successful in achieving his/her purpose. (5-10 sentences total)
In addition to posting their own discussion board threads, I also require everyone to choose two posts on which to comment.
*Note* As I mentioned above, my students have some familiarity with these terms from their summer reading assignments, but this part may require some pre-teaching. I’d recommend at least introducing the Rhetorical Situation and SOAPS (subject, occasion, audience, purpose, and speaker) as well as logos, ethos, and pathos before moving on to the individual analysis. This can easily be done with the Ken Robison Talk.
STEP THREE: Finally, students have the opportunity to write their own TED Talk on a topic that matters to them. I intentionally keep the parameters pretty vague by saying that their Talk must be persuasive in nature, at least 2-3 minutes, and demonstrate an understanding of the rhetoric/persuasive techniques we have discussed in class and covered in our summer reading. Typically, I provide several resources from the TED website and elsewhere on “writing a TED Talk” and encourage students to do their own research. Ultimately, since my students are in a speciality program that gives them access to a green screen and editing software, they are required to actually film their talks, add special effects (they almost always add in the official TED background and logo), and upload to a shared class file for everyone to view. I also offer extra credit points for students that go above and beyond with additional graphics, videos, etc. that complement their content. (If you wanted to keep it a little simpler, you could just ask students to present their Talks live in class.)
I do not require students to write their TED Talks in a formal structure or anything like that, but these will become the basis for their first formal argumentative essay in a couple of weeks. (It really helps to show them early on that they really “already know how” to write an argument… Our class will just be about strengthening and tweaking those skills.)
So, there you go! In total, this unit takes about three weeks or 6-8 blocks with some class time devoted to independent work and some work done outside of class. It isn’t “quick” necessarily, but I really love how it sets up the rest of the course and introduces them to all the key components of rhetoric / AP Language and Composition. My students also really enjoy it — it’s one of the units they mention every year on their end-of-year surveys!
If you do something like this, I’d LOVE to hear how it works for you; and, if you have questions about my unit, please leave them in the comments – I promise I’ll come back and answer them asap!
Happy Back-to-School season!
P.S. Want more beginning-of-the-school-year resources? Here are a few of my favorites —