Sharing Lessons and Ideas: 8th Grade TED Talks

Students in eighth grade Civics and U.S. Government seek an understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America as they investigate major events that served as catalysts of political change through the evolution of American democracy. In this class, centered around project-based learning, students strengthen their skills in conducting effective research, writing non-fiction essays and persuasive opinion pieces, thinking critically, making presentations, and collaborating with their peers.

For their final project this year, each student is writing, producing, and starring in a TED Talk*, a short video (4-10 minutes in length) that is intended to inform or persuade an audience.

“This is a major, cumulative assignment that emphasizes skills students will be using in Upper School next year,” said faculty member Matt Kingston. “The topics relate to citizenship [one of Whitfield’s six Habits of Mind & Heart], or a broad understanding of citizenship, in some way. It’s a lot of work but the students enjoy it because it allows them to pursue something that they are passionate about and really dig in. We just finished the research process and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.”

To begin the project, students selected a topic they care deeply about and chose whether to inform or persuade through their speech. Next, they gathered information by conducting research using valid, credible sources. Then, students created an outline for their talk and planned the visual components.

Over the next two weeks, students will write their scripts, rehearse, and refine their presentations. Finally, these eighth graders will deliver their TED Talks in class using their computers as teleprompters. Following each presentation the students will field questions from their classmates and write a self-reflection about the project.

Some TED Talk topics chosen by this year’s students include inequality between men’s and women’s sports, humanitarianism, the future of automobiles, the importance of space exploration, and the challenges of living with dyslexia and ADHD.

Several students share their perspectives about the project:

“I think the TED Talk Project fits into our 8th grade civics curriculum because it helps educate people about important topics and become better citizens. My topic is dyslexia and I hope that through my talk, my classmates learn that people with dyslexia really aren’t that different or less smart—they just struggle with certain things and need to use certain strategies to help them become successful in life.”

--Whitney Bryan

“The topic for my TED Talk is the evolution of the monetization of video games. I chose it because I am interested in the correlation between finance and economics, and our civics curriculum. And because I play a lot of video games. This assignment is helping us build our persuasive and presentation skills.”

--Noah Epstein

“My TED Talk topic is Representation in Movies and Film. Through my research, I learned that people are happier when they see themselves represented. I knew there was a mental health aspect to this topic, but I didn’t know it was as strong as it seems to be.”

--Grace Cooperstein

*TED, an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, is a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading ideas globally in the form of short, powerful talks. TED-Ed, the organization’s youth and education initiative encourages students to pursue passions and speak on what interests and drives them.