Honors English 10 students share invaluable lessons with each other and wider audiences through their TED Talks


Since the first day of school, English teacher Ken George has been talking about and preparing his Honors English 10 Classes for their Ted Talks. As the culmination of their hard work approaches, all the pieces are beginning to come together, promising a worthwhile production.

“I’ve always loved Ted Talks,” George said. “[I] watch them all the time, really enjoy them, and I think you can learn a lot from them.”

George’s high level of appreciation for TED Talks, combined with his value of public speaking brought this idea to fruition. He first began the project hoping to further public speaking skills among his students. Now, just two years later, he is witnessing the growth and reach of these TED Talks.

His students have been working on their TED Talks for a couple of months now. During the “snow week,” George had them begin some brainstorming on Google Classroom. Since then, he’s shown them sample TED Talks and met with each of the students individually. George has taken advantage of every second to help his students be fully prepared.

“I think public speaking is so stressful for students,” George said. “But it’s one of the most important skills for them to have as they leave here.”

Sophomore Molly Vonk agrees that public speaking is an important skill and is grateful for this opportunity. The topic of her TED Talk is that normal doesn’t exist because everyone’s normal is different.

“I’m just overall excited to do it because I think public speaking is a cool thing,” Molly said. “And it’s definitely something that everybody should do at some point in their lives because it helps establish techniques and tactics for daily life, daily conversation, and meeting new people and learning about new things.”

Molly is also eager to hear from her classmates and hopefully learn some valuable lessons from them. With the opportunity to hear such a wide variety of perspectives, she’s sure the experience will be greatly enlightening.

However, she’s also nervous to share her own thoughts with a large crowd of students.

“It’s not a normal thing to have to go and sit in front of multiple classes listening to you all with their eyes just beating onto you like lasers,” Molly said.” It’s stressful, but it’s also enlightening. You learn so much about yourself, and you get to share things that you’re passionate about with other people.”

As each of the students shares a bit of what is important to them with their fellow peers, George hopes and believes that some of them will find their voice through this experience. He expects that not only will the speakers learn something new about themselves, but that the audience will be entertained by each performance.

He’s experienced this in past years, and it’s what makes these TED Talks some of the best teaching and learning he’s done in his twenty-five years of teaching.

“I think honestly some of them discovered that they have a voice,” George said, “that they can speak about what matters to them and what’s important to them, and speak well about it, and watch an audience be highly engaged while they do it.”

But despite the potential gratification from the TED Talks, it’s still a terrifying process for a lot of students. The TED Talks can seem like a looming dread for sophomores who have been mentally preparing since the beginning of the year, or sooner.

Coming up with an idea, crafting an introduction and conclusion, rehearsing, and adding the finishing touches can be stressful for a lot of students. However, the end result is often worth it for them.

“There are some kids that came back to me this year and said that was the worst experience ever and the best thing they ever did at the same time,” George said. “They hated getting ready for it, [and] they hated the stress. [But] then they were done, and they said, ‘That wasn’t so bad.’ ”

Sophomore Anika Garter thinks that’s how she’ll feel once the process comes to an end. The idea process hasn’t always been easy, but now that she’s settled, she’s ready to take on the rest of the project.

“I feel like people have been like ‘Oh, TED Talks, I’m so scared,’ ” Anika said. “But I really don’t think it’s going to be as bad as we expect it to be.”

Anika is reasonably nervous to perform her TED Talk, but she feels she has grown as a public speaker over the year. She’s also very excited to watch her classmates’ talks.

“I think a lot of the things people are talking about are important,” Anika said. “Some of them are more silly, you know, not as serious, but a lot of them teach you serious life lessons.”

The experience will be valuable for more than just George’s Honors English 10 students, however. Other classes are invited to watch and witness the power of these students’ voices. It’s also a good experience for some ASL students, who will be signing the TED Talks.

The level four ASL students focus primarily on interpreting throughout the year, so this is a chance for them to test their talents. ASL teacher Kimberly Anderson reached out to George when she heard about the talks a year or two ago. She hoped to partner up and give her students this new opportunity.

“I’m always trying to partner up with other classes,” Anderson said. “Because I think it’s really cool that people see what we do. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh sign language, you know, it’s there,’ but when they actually get to see something, they’re like, ‘Oh that’s really cool.’ ”

Anderson’s students will meet with George’s students to go over the TED Talks. While the talks aren’t memorized, the ASL students can still become familiar with the topic and related signs. The actual performance gives a taste of what it’s like to interpret on the fly, forcing the students to adjust in the moment.

“They can just [see] how hard it is to interpret,” Anderson said. “And then that gains respect for the interpreting field. So they are not only able to say, ‘Wow, this is something that’s really hard’ and then they can say, ‘This is something I want to do.’ ”

Every piece is slowly but surely coming together to create an educational experience for the speakers and audience alike. And once students complete their initial TED Talks, they will have the opportunity to take it a step further and apply to speak in front of a much larger audience at an FHC Inspires on May 23.

George is excited to watch his students perform what they’ve worked so hard on for so long. Through this process, he gets to watch them become more comfortable with themselves and their gifts.

“They learn how to just be more comfortable with themselves,” George said, “and how to overcome some pretty serious public speaking fears. And maybe, most importantly, they all learn that they have a voice and that they have a message and that what they say matters.”