TEDxKids@NBCC Journal Entry 1: Teaching kids about story.

Today I began a six week journey with about 15 elementary school children toward a final destination of a TEDxKids event.   Yes, I’ll take your luck as I’ll likely need it.

“NBCC” is North Broadway Children’s Center where my two children have attended pre-school and now aftercare since they were 18 months and 10 weeks, respectively.  They are now 7.5 and 5.5 yrs young in 2nd grade and Kindergarten.

After producing three full-blown TEDxColumbus events featuring 40 speakers and performers to over 1200 people (collectively) my daughter (the 7.5 year old) said to me in passing one day, why can’t I do a TEDx event?  And there was only one response: why not?  Why not. Did I really say that?

So today we gathered at about 12 children in a classroom at NBCC, my two kids and about 10 others with a few kids from each grade – K through 4. The youngest is my son at age 5.5, and the oldest is 9. We expect there to be a flux of the attendance since we are holding these five classes at 4:30pm on a Friday, but it’s also a time when we know there’s no homework to be done! At some point the lack of attendance will eliminate them from participating in the event on 2/17, but we’ll address that later.

Full disclaimer about now – my TEDx colleague in Edinburgh, Ewan McIntosh, is responsible for inspiring this approach on which I’ll be reporting – and some of the curriculum pieces. He produced one of the first TEDxKids events at Sunderland (TEDxKids@Sunderland) with about the same aged kids. Since I’ve never taught a kid a thing in my life except to my own – and that’s questionable on most days – I’m grateful for his general direction. I’m hoping these posts and documentation will aid others in wanting to execute their own Kids events. Remember, my expertise is in adult learning and at that, centered on the process of being an effective public speaker and how to architect a story for business settings. I’m banking on it translating to those four, five or six decades younger.

Today’s subject: What makes a story.

After spending about 90 seconds trying to explain what TED was to the group and how in six weeks they will stand up and deliver a very short – as in 1-2 minute talk – I broke out a classic fairy tale. There was no easy explanation of TED for these kids and showing them any sort of TED talk would have scared the shit out of them.  In fact, the mere mention of this sentence “You will stand up in front…” started to give one 4th grader anxiety (why SO young?  more on that later). So off we went into the Brothers Grimm version of Little Red Riding Hood.

Cat, the teacher who is my cohort to make sure the kids don’t all rebel against me in this 30 minute session, later told me she thought that was really a PG-13 version of Little Red. Indeed, most had only heard the G version but it served me well.

Two of my older boys (4th grade) were not pleased about having been signed up to participate. Sitting in the back, they exhibited some “we’re too cool” to be here attitude. Until I said that the wolf ate Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother. And the Hunter later saved them. The mythic journey was real. Now, for some of the more sensitive kids, this might have not been the best choice of versions – but the story works great for the following learning outcomes:

– Demonstrating that the book was passed down by word of mouth for hundreds of years before it was written. Explaining that’s how stories really get passed around.

– Clear delineations to explain the introduction of the characters, setting, events and conclusion. (Or in my terms – the complication, question, answer). Also, it took a few moments for them to know that the wolf was the villain but once they did, BAM, those boys were hooked!  And loving to figure out that the hunter was the hero.

Here is the video from that portion, judge for yourself if it worked:


After we read it and discussed those main elements (15 minutes), I broke the class into four sections (3 kids each). And I passed out this form (see it here) that listed four categories of the story: character, setting, events and conclusion. Each section was assigned a category (I highlighted a different category for each section) and asked to change it in the story.  Think big.  Think tall. Think aliens, wormholes, noses and chocolate chip candy canes.  The learning objective was to demonstrate how easily a story can change, reinforce the elements of a story, get them to think those things (ie create) and then to actually talk – using their own ideas and thoughts.  And I’d say, it worked! Here are the videos after about 4 minutes of brainstorm (after a few minutes of explanation). Again, see for yourself.


I didn’t introduce any “event” planning elements today.  I’m still unsure how to handle the distribution of labor except that I think a sub-group of the class will be interested and I’ll meet with them separately. Here’s my working list for a TEDxKids event – with a breakdown of what the kids should do without adults and where they need adult help.

Please check a later post if you want to see if it got refined which is pretty assured. Likewise with the schedule of classes:

Friday, January 13         Storytelling frameworks through traditional fiction

Friday, January 20        Illustrative Language (how to describe things)

Friday, January 27        Idea Generation around a passion and community need

Friday, February 3        Public Speaking Basics

Friday, February 10        Visuals and demonstrations to support key points / Rehearsal of ideas

I’ll post a summary of each week.  At the end, we’ll recap the curriculum into something a bit fancier.