Several years ago, I was having lunch with a high school friend who asked if I’d heard of Ted Talks.  At that point I hadn’t, but I spent the rest of our lunch listening to how it sparked a personal passion in him and the project he was pursuing because of it.  We talked about all the topics you could learn more about from Ted.com and I was hooked. The teacher in me immediately jumped to asking ” How can I use this in my classroom?”.

The answer to that question was — a million ways!  I began incorporating Ted Talks in my lessons around 2010. They add a rich, visual component to illustrate concepts and teaching 9th graders an Advanced Placement course means I have to find multiple ways to illustrate topics to insure understanding.  Ted Talks also expose students to finding geography among many other topics, such as science, history and psychology.   But, most importantly, Ted Talks spark conversation.  They leave students asking questions, wanting to know more.

Some days I show short talks, ones to inspire conversation and reinforce content.  Just yesterday, I showed this Ted Talk –   Why Videos Go Viral.  While the speaker, never mentions the term “diffusion”, my students were able to pick out several examples of various types of diffusion — correctly.  Oh, and we got to laugh a little, too.

On days when I show longer talks — 15- 20 minutes, I plan to use the entire 50 minute class period to discuss the talk.  My students look for the following in these longer Ted Talks:

  • Who is the speaker?  What point is he/she trying to make?
  • They assess the author’s use of ethos, pathos, and logos (this makes my ELA friends happy)
  • They look for human geography connections
  • List ways in which the speaker draws in the audience and keeps their attention
  • Come up with questions they would ask the speaker and then we try to answer the questions ourselves.
  • We also discuss who an appropriate audience for this talk might be.

These questions, which I adapted from a colleague, turn an ordinary video into a higher level activity, encouraging thinking, questioning and drawing conclusions.  Our class conversations are richer due to these talks.  Some of my current favorite Ted Talks to show in AP Human Geography are listed below, but please don’t think only AP students can benefit.  My on level classes enjoy Ted Talks just as much as advanced courses.

Hans Rosling is a favorite of most AP Human Geography teachers.  His website Gapminder.com makes a wealth of information available to educators, researchers and other professionals.  Hans Rosling gave many Ted Talks over the years, but my favorite and the one my students remember, even years after my class, is his talk on Global Population Growth, Box by Box. 

Before we being our study of Culture, Language and Ethnicity, I show The Danger of A Single Story.  It is often a favorite on my end of the year survey.  The point is to encourage students to be aware of different points of view and that everyone has their own story that is worth learning.

When studying urban renewal, the only Ted Talk you need to show is The Renewal of Braddock Pennsylvania.  John Fetterman looks like an unlikely mayor, but he has made an impact on reviving one of America’s first steel towns.  His explanation of Braddock’s history and what the town is trying to accomplish today, paint a picture of urban renewal that helps students, from all areas, understand the how cities cycle.

I believe Ted Talks enrich my classroom and spark the interests of my students.  Do you use Ted Talks in your classroom?  If so, share your favorites in the comments.





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