Think for yourself

Classroom activities

Here you’ll find some practical ideas for working with the clip. Choose the ones that suit your teaching aims, particular group of learners, your teaching style, and then plan your own lesson.


‘Why go to school?’

Ask your students to complete the sentence below in as many ways as they can. Give them a minute and ask them to work individually.

I go to school to … 

Then ask for volunteers to read out their sentences. Finally, vote on the funniest / most interesting / most creative sentence.


Show the picture of Julia, and tell your students that they will listen to a  teenager talk about school and education.  Ask them to write down 3 questions they would like to get answers to from Julia.

‘How many words?’

Read out the following sentences taken from the text in a quick pace. Ask students to listen carefully to each one and write down how many words it contains. After reading out all four sentences check the answers. Get them to repeat the sentences slowly, counting the words with their fingers, and then quickly as part of natural speech.

  1.  How’re you going to fit it all in your day?
  2.  They’ve been up all night.
  3.  Tell me everything that’s going on right now.
  4.  Education should teach you how to speak and think for yourself.

Note: When students listen to Julia,  these sentences will ‘stand out’ and ring familiar.



Read /Listen to the questions below and decide which one is the odd-one-out. Be ready to justify your answer.

  1. How old is Julia?
  2. Where did she grow up?
  3. How old is her sister?
  4. Are public schools killing creativity?
  5. What do guidance counselors do?
  6. Why do students have their head down sleeping in class?
  7. What is mic-mac?
  8. How does Julia learn best?
  9. How do you learn best?

Note: There is no right answer. E.g. it could be number 3 (answer not in the text), or number 4. (yes/no question), or number 9. (is about the students in the class). This task gets learners to process the questions and works on comprehension in an indirect way.

‘Spot the Difference”

Give out the text and ask students to spot the words that are different from what they listened to. Ask them to work individually first, and then pull their resources in small groups. The Group Challenge is to find all 10 differences! …  Then listen one more time and check the answers.  Here is the ‘Spot the Difference’ Text: Think for yourself Spot the Differences

Answers: 1/ praise – a good grade 2/ the day – exams 3/ head – day 4/ dreaming – sleeping 5/ finance – guidance 6/ music – art 7/ talented – intelligent 8/ bag – air 9/ personal – hands-on 10/ exciting – valuable

Don’t Fill in the Gap

This task focuses on some key language from the clip.
From the point of view of retention and learning new language chunks, ‘don’t fill in the gap’ activities can be very effective. They encourage learners to work with and strengthen their oral memory. By writing the words on the side, they are creating a worksheet that allows them to revise language a few days later: they just fold over the right-hand side and recall the missing words.  The initials are given to jog their memory! After the activity, listen one more time and check the answers.

You can download the worksheet from here: Think for yourself Gapped Text

‘Create your Own”

Put your students into groups of 3-4. Ask them to create their own ‘School Manifesto’. They can choose to make a recording, or create a poster. You can give them some guiding questions that their presentation needs to respond to, if you feel its necessary. E.g.

  1. Who are you, where are you from, what school are you attending? (If the recording will be made public.)
  2. What do you think of your school?
  3. What engages you the most?
  4. What changes would you like to see?
  5. How do you learn best?















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2 Responses to Think for yourself

  1. Bill March 15, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

    Students can compare what Julia says with the other four students interviewed in this set of five interviews (Julia’s included) on blogTED, done in May 2013: “Meet five New York high school students with fascinating stories.” All are very much urban kids, all have problems coping with the stress of pressure to perform or find their own identity in the mazeways of urban American schools.

    Significantly, three are from immigrant backgrounds, first generation American. Even more significantly (I think), three of the five teenagers go to very elite high schools, Shahruz Ghaemi, for example, from Iranian and Chinese parents, attends Stuyvesant High, one of the really top high schools in New York and the United States. Shayna goes to Bard High School Early College, a very experimental kind of high school, for gifted students in New York.

    And what about Julia? She attends Bronx High School of Science, maybe the best high school in the eastern U.S. You can Google bxscience or find on Wikipedia. She doesn’t tell us that but if you watch closely, this is the school building she is entering and looking out of.

    It is one of THE elite schools in the New York metro area and considered among the best, most prestigious high schools in all of North America. Eight of its graduates have won Nobel Prizes, more than any other high school in the U.S., maybe the world. In 2012, it was ranked among the 22 ‘top-performing’ high schools in the U.S. Bxscience is mainly for very ‘gifted’ students and it is extremely hard to get into as a student, based on a rigorous admissions examination after 8th grade. Acceptance rate on the entrance exam is less than 6%.

    Listen to Julia’s monologue. What does she say that reflects the fact she is going to a very elite quite famous public high school? Competition there naturally is fierce. Almost all its graduates go on to highly selective prestigious universities. Is that also Julia’s plan?

    Micro-macro economics (a subject she loves) is one of its special course areas along with the arts. But science and math are its main focus. Bronx Science teachers are among the best anywhere in North America. Julia says they’re “extremely intelligent.” Very hard to get a job teaching there.

    She says: “I think the best kind of education is one that teaches you to speak and think for yourself, that’s much more valuable than passing your exams.” But passing exams is the big pressure cooker at Bronx Science, since students are pushed hard to perform, as she alludes. We can wonder what Julia thinks about the nature of Bronx Science, hardly representative of New York education. Julia lives in a city where 45% of the residents live now in poverty or near poverty, according to latest assessments. Part of the Bronx is a slum. She studies economics. How does she see this?

    Compare Julia’s video with that of Melissa, who is a poor working-class Latina, parents from Mexico. A teenage mother, nearly a school dropout, poverty background. Her last proud sentence: “I am the first person from my family to graduate from high school.” Julia and Melissa are both Latinas, but from totally different backgrounds and with very different life chances. Interesting for students to compare. I wonder how they’d relate to each other.
    Shayna is African-American but very unlike most African-American teenagers, many of whom go to substandard elementary and high schools. She wants to be a doctor. Students could try to find out more about Bard High School Early College. Just Google.
    Grier, aged 14, is a bright kid who suffers from bullying. He’s something of an outsider, loves the theater, acting. His story is very different from the others. He talks a lot about stress. Listen to his story. He alludes at one point to something about why some guys bully him. I think he goes to an ordinary, maybe working-class high school.

  2. Bill March 17, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    After some exploration, I found that Grier Montgomery is also a young recognized playwright: at the age of 12 [!], his play “The Assignment” won an award in New York. He is a talented young kid in the NY public eye, one reason for interviewing him. If you Google “Meet Grier Montgomery, Kid Playwright,” you can learn more about Grier in an article on him in 2011, also discussing the play, which is autobiographical. With the article, his interview with TED has some concrete personal context that can be more interesting for students and the basis of further comparison.

    Here an excerpt from the article: >No stranger to the creative arts –his father is an actor and his mother is herself a writer—Grier nonetheless never saw himself winning prizes for his work. “When I got home from school and my mom shouted ‘You’re being produced!’ I was shocked! I thought some genius in Connecticut was going to win it.”<

    So Grier comes from a very special artistic background. Maybe some of your own students write, sculpt, sing or do something artistically creative, or want to. Or have a parent or relative who is artistic, even as a hobby.

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