The Danger of a Single Story Activity for Secondary ELA

The Danger of a Single Story Ted Talk Activity

Toward the end of last semester, my students completed a brief yet powerful classroom activity that I paired with Chimamanda Adiche’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.”

This TED Talk is one of my absolute favorite TED Talks to show in class. I love it so much that I show it every year to every class I am teaching, regardless of its grade level. And since I usually teach a span of grades (10-12 at my current school), that means that many of my repeat students see the TED Talk at least two times. That is completely fine by me. Adiche shares such an important message in this TED Talk, using concrete examples that students can relate to and humor to help amplify the meaning behind the talk.

As an educator, if you’ve never shown this TED Talk in your classroom, I strongly implore you to do so.

At the end of the last semester, I paired this TED Talk with the ERWC (the senior CA ELA curriculum) Value of Life unit. We had about a week left of the semester before winter break started, and I did not want to start a new unit. However, this activity worked as the perfect culminating discussion activity for the class.

At the beginning of the class, I had my students independently brainstorm how they want to be perceived by their peers and how they think their peers perceive them. We did not share this at all. It was a private and independent journaling activity.

Then, I showed the TED Talk. Before playing the TED Talk, I explained to my students how this is my absolute favorite TED Talk and that she shares a critically important message in it.

After the TED Talk, I assigned a quick, structured writing activity with my students. I shared a collaborative Padlet with them, and they anonymously submitted their responses on the Padlet for their classmates to see.

More than Just …. Writing Template

I want people to see beyond my single story. I am more than just a (what do people see you as). I am also a/an (adjective) and (adjective) (noun) and (noun) who (what is something you love or are passionate about)

The responses that my students submitted were remarkable. They were open, honest, and telling. I had students mention everything from gender to race to culture to religion to sexuality to disability. And while I’d love to share these responses with you, I know you understand why I cannot. These responses are private -between my students, the class, and myself. Even though I do not have this class or these students anymore, I would be breaking our trust by sharing their responses and single stories.

I think this writing exercise worked so well because I waited to do it until the end of the first semester. Not only did I provide my students with an entire semester to get comfortable with the class and their classmates, but I actively focused on fostering a positive classroom community all semester long. This activity wasn’t entirely out of left-field for them. All semester-long, we had shared our feelings, victories, losses, anxieties, and hopes. 

If you like activities like this, you might also be interested in my classroom community bell ringers. You can even download a free sample!

The Danger of a Single Story Ted Talk Activity

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