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I recently read Daniel Pink’s newest book, “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others.” I had a variety of reasons for choosing this book–I loved Dan Pink’s previous book “Drive” and I have come to see teaching and selling as similar skills. It is also useful in my work as the city representative of the Yale Teacher Institute trying to sell the idea of a local institute in Chicago to district officials and university partners.

Teaching Ideas

Steps of project development

Step One: Pitching your idea

When pitching your idea it is important to remember the three questions from Dan Pink’s book.

After your presentation/project…

1. What do you want people to know?

2. What do you want people to feel?

3. What do you want people to do?

One-word pitch-In today’s world of nano-attention spans being able to “essentialize” your idea into one word can help you shape how your project, lesson/unit, school year, etc develops. Pink cites corporate examples like Mastercard’s “Priceless” and Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election slogan “Forward” both of which help shape an idea that you can build off of. Once students have done research for their project, have them identify their one-word pitch and explain why they chose that word.

Another way to use this is to identify the one-word pitch for your unit and to have students identify why you chose that word at the end using evidence from the unit. I think this could also unite a staff around a word that identifies the focus of improvement for the year.

Rhyming pitch-Similarly, this idea has students creating a catchy rhyming summary of their idea. (A favorite of mine that I learned on a California farm is: If it’s yellow let it mellow; If it’s brown flush it down”) This would also work for helping students remember important concepts or procedures in the classroom.

Twitter pitch-This idea requires a little more development of the idea (and will likely lead to a new “one-word pitch” as well). The student has to create a pitch for their project in 140 characters. This is a great time to return to the three questions above to assess the twitter pitch and rework the project idea. This also leads to the compelling introduction of the idea when it is time to present.

Subject-line pitch-This idea does not necessarily build depth into the project, but it does make the creator think about how to draw people in to get support for your idea. One part of our first semester benchmark project is to email community leaders (aldermen, organizers, business owners, etc) to find out what issues they see as most important. We also want students to follow up with these people to share their final project and solicit their help/funding in making it happen. I plan to talk more purposefully about how you craft your subject line to get people to open your email and consider your request/ideas.

Pixar pitchHere is a detailed explanation of the idea with an education-related example. For a project that looks at community problems and solutions, this pitch idea works well. I also think it would work well in grade level teams, departments, or whole faculties in creating a narrative for the group.

Assessing your Knowledge

Five whys-This is a similar strategy to one I learned from a great PD run by the Chicago Metro History Education Center called “Reading in History.” The idea is to make a statement about your topic that you know and follow it with a “why.” After the why, try to provide another answer that responds to the why and then repeat the process.


My neighborhood has seen huge demographic change throughout its history.


Waves of immigrants coming to the neighborhood to work in the stockyards, but leaving once they made enough money.


The quality of housing improved as you moved further away from the industrial core of the city.


…I hope you get the idea.

This is a great way to assess what students know about a topic. When they get tripped up, they have a new research question to seek out answers.

Classroom Community Building Ideas

Mirror, Mirror: All of the ideas in this category come from the improv world. I learned many of them a number of years ago at a Second City class called “Improvisation for the Classroom.” I was taught it again when one of my Women’s Studies students who loves all things drama used it as a warm-up during our monologue assignment. The idea is that two people face each other and one person is the lead. The lead begins to move and the other person must do exactly what the lead does for 1-3 minutes. It requires concentration and trust.

Deep listening: I can’t remember the actual name of this one, but the idea is to listen to a person reveal something important to him or her and the other person listens. After the person is finished with the story, the other person remains silent for 15 more seconds before responding. One quote from the book that got me thinking about this was “Listening without some degree of intimacy isn’t really listening. It’s passive and transactional rather than active and engaged.” (p. 191)

“Yes and…“: I recently spoke at a Yale event and introduced the amazing principal of my school as a “yes and” principal. The idea of this is fundamental to improv philosophy. Basically, when someone comes at you with a proposition you don’t shut it down with a no or a “yes, but.” Instead, you take their idea and add to it with a “yes and.” Here is a great explanation and example.

‘I’m Curious”: Both this idea and “yes and…” could be used in project development as well as in team building. The idea of “I’m Curious” is to choose a relatively controversial topic and, in pairs, one person chooses a side and explains his or her position. The other person only asks questions. The questions must be open-ended and free of judgment or bias and seeking only to understand the other person’s position better. If the questioner violates the rules, the other person can ring a bell to let the whole group know.