How do you inspire middle school students to want to deepen research, craft arguments, and share their voice?
I’ll begin by sharing the lyrics to the fun, light-hearted jingle 7th graders wrote, produced and performed, to capture the essence of ERMS Talks, a project that created a platform for students to be heard, while also reinforcing critical research and argument writing skills.
ERMS Talks, show what you’re passionate about.
ERMS Talks, it’s time to shout it out!
ERMS Talks, research and discover,
ERMS Talks, new ideas to uncover.
Give us a declaration about immigration
Or a topic from your head, about something that you dread,
Don’t leave it unsaid.
There’s so many topics you could discuss,
And if you disagree, don’t cuss
Just sing along with us!
Students and faculty alike hummed this catchy tune throughout school hallways, classrooms, the cafeteria – you name it! Positive energy about the project spread; it was a testament to the amazing, powerful work students can create when teachers engage them in authentic learning opportunities that join personalized learning and student choice, with student voice.
A Contemporary Learning Experience
ERMS Talks (East Ridge Middle School Talks) are speeches students wrote, based on topics they were passionate about, and that they could tie to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Students delivered these five to six minute speeches before an audience of around 100 people made up of their peers, parents, teachers, staff and administrators, while also managing a Google slide presentation that highlighted key points.
For many years prior to ERMS Talks, students participated in debates. They wrote speeches based on pre-selected topics in English and researched during Social Studies class. Although this was a popular project, we were interested in shifting what the students created and basing the speeches around their interests. We looked to make this experience more authentic for students and prepare them for the types of presentations they would most likely give in high school, college and beyond.
What was so important is that this project engaged students with current issues and gave them a voice on the matter. As middle schoolers, they are growing into their identity and trying to find their place in the world. This project essentially said to them: your opinions are important, and you deserve to be heard. Adolescents are observant, know what’s going on, and want to be engaged with affecting change. The speeches that students delivered ranged from universal healthcare and gun control to school safety to gerrymandering, racial profiling, and government surveillance.
Students essentially became teachers, helping others understand issues important to them. From the ERMS Talk logo to the jingle, it offered students opportunities to shine in different ways as they worked together within a professional academic atmosphere.
One student said,
“[ERMS Talks] allows all students to express their beliefs and opinions on controversial topics while knowing that their ideas would be respected and acknowledged. ERMS Talks allows students a glimpse of the real world and how to speak your mind and fight for the things you believe it.”
Another student stated,
“ERMS Talks was not only fun and creative but it gave us as students the chance to spread awareness about something we believe strongly in and show everyone that even as kids we can still speak up and make a difference.”
Preparing and Researching for the Talks
The entire unit lasted three weeks long and followed a unit on argumentative writing, where students learned how to explain and incorporate evidence, add counterarguments and more. After the ERMS Talks kickoff, students choose one or two of their peers to work with. Then, once their thesis statements were approved, students engaged in three days of research in their Social Studies class. This was followed by a week of organizing their research, writing their speech and creating the Google slide presentation they used along with their presentation in English class. Prior to the event I organized the order of speeches. We did a rehearsal so students learned where they sat, the order, and practice with the microphone and presentation clicker.
Collaborating with Colleagues
This project was truly so successful because of my colleagues’ enthusiasm and willingness to take a risk and try something new. Because of our collaboration, ERMS Talks grew into much more that what I imagined. Our team consisted of myself, a social studies teacher, our library media specialist and technology integration teacher. We began to meet a month prior to kicking off the project. Through our meetings we developed the ERMS Talks name, a Google site full of information for students that included an overview, a calendar, a rubric, samples of speeches, etc., a fun kick-off event for students that invited administrators to share tips on public speaking, activities for student volunteers that included creating a life-sized ERMS Talks logo in makerspace and also a jingle. The Google site housed all of the important information students would need to be successful in this project: an overview, research information and links to databases, libraries, and more, rubrics, the project plan, calendars, samples of speeches by students and adults, resources on how to write the different parts of the speech and effective ways to deliver your speech.ERMS Talk Rubric 2018
We look forward to what this year’s ERMS Talks will bring as we continue to work to provide students with opportunities to share and celebrate their voice.