Listen…do you want to know a secret?
Wednesday, March 08, 2017
However difficult life may be, there is always something you can do and succeed at.
–Dr. Stephen Hawking
As you learned from my previous article, I’m spending almost a year as an English Language Fellow in Moscow, Russia, where, in late December 2016, I had the great fortune to teach three classes to 10th- and 11th-level students at a distinguished English language school for students from primary through high school.
I chose to develop activities whose theme was succeeding in spite of — if not because of — obstacles, and embracing the inevitable challenges that we face. I have continued to develop the presentation.
(For this article, I devoted the title to a Lennon and McCartney classic.)
For the second class, I chose a brief TED Talk, Richard St. John’s "8 Secrets of Success," which, as you’ll see from the video, would be more aptly titled, "What leads to success?"
St. John alerts his audience, "This is really a two-hour presentation for high school students cut down to three minutes." He does a masterful job making the necessary adaptations, but be warned: He speaks and moves through his presentation at warp speed. Note, too, that St. John uses the word "a—holes," which no one in my audience — including teachers and the head of the school — found offensive.
Steps of the Lesson
Begin by asking students, "What is success?" Students brainstorm, and on the board, the teacher creates a mind map of their responses. Discuss the reasons behind their answers.
Introduce the TED Talk and ask them to take notes to use in the discussion that will follow the video. Ask them to note names and vocabulary with which they are unfamiliar (i.e., TEDsters; a long list of names; workafrolics).
Following the video, have a large group discussion with students based on their responses to these questions:
- Who is the speaker?
- What inspired him to investigate the secrets that lead to success?
- How did he investigate?
- Who are some of the people he interviewed, and at what have they succeeded?
- What are the eight secrets that lead to success? What is the difference between "secrets to success" or "steps to success" and "steps that lead to success?"
- What are some problems that stop people from success?
- What vocabulary did you hear with which you’re unfamiliar? What does "workafrolic" mean? In my presentation, I led students through the etymology of workaholic and workafrolic, discussing the term "frolic."
For the next part of the activity, I have students work in pairs or small groups rather than in a large group because I’ve found that students are more comfortable sharing in intimate settings those responses that draw upon personal information.
- Who has supported you, and who supports you? How do they support you?
- Who have you supported, and whom do you support? How do you support them?
- What has kept you from success? What have you done or can you do to address the issues that have kept you from succeeding?
When the pairs and groups have finished, ask if anyone would like to share their responses.
Next, ask students to individually answer the following questions, and write with them. Over 30 years ago, Donald Graves identified the value of teachers modeling writing with their students.
- What did you learn from the video?
- If someone you love tells you that they are discouraged and afraid, what would you say and do? Why would you say and do that?
- If you told someone you love that you are discouraged and afraid, what would
you want them to say and do? Why?
When students have finished writing, ask if anyone wants to share what they’ve written. You can share, too.
Then, give students the following story starter and have each student finish the sentence. Then, have students pass their paper to the student to her left or right and continue the story, with each student adding one sentence. When students have written at least a paragraph, have students volunteer to read their stories to the class.
I have purposely used my name in the story starter as a way to demonstrate to students my own vulnerabilities. Though I have never suffered from shyness, I have battled self-doubt for much of my life. Story starter: Debra always suffered from self-doubt and shyness, but…
Finally, ask students to revisit the question, "What is success?" Have a large group discussion and compare the before and after answers.
This is a lesson that you can use to begin the school year, one that will set the context for the learning environment. In groups, students can create their own lists of “what leads to success,” illustrate them, and post them on the wall, and you can periodically guide students to the posters for inspiration (e.g., before tests or presentations) or for reassurance and encouragement (e.g., after tests and presentations or report cards) just as students can guide each other.
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